The Huang-Lao Tradition

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The Huang-Lao Tradition ( 黃老道 Huanglao Dao ) flourished after The Magic and Immoratality tradition ( 方仙道 Fangxian Dao ). Later integrated into Daoism, it constitutes an important component of the religious background to the birth of Daoism. The Huang-Lao Tradition is a product of the marriage of Huang-Lao philosophy with the Immortalist ( 神仙 Shenxian ) practises of the Magic and Immortality Tradition.


Huang-Lao philosophy emerged in the Qi state during the middle of the Warring States period (475-221 BC). It emphasized the cultivation of virtue as advocated by the Yellow Emperor and Laozi. By the early Han dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), the mainstream of Huang-Lao thought concerned itself with the Art of Government ( 帝王南面之術 Diwang Nanmian Zhi Shu ) and with Yin-Yang studies, but also included Immortalism. During the reign of the Han emperor Wu, the Magicians ( 方士 Fangshi ) reinterpreted the Yellow Emperor's teachings, to the point of completely merging them with Immortalist thought, so that the Immortalist Tradition ( 神仙道 Shenxian Dao ) came to be associated with the Yellow Emperor.


As Huang-Lao philosophy flourished in the Qi state, where the Immortalists were also most active, the two schools developed in the same environment, mutually influenced each other, and finally merged to form the Huang-Lao Tradition. This mutual integration was a long process which took place in three stages.


The first stage occurred when the Han emperor Wu gave exclusive patronage to Confucianism, leading the Huang-Lao and Immortalist schools to come closer together. The second phase occured from the reign of Han emperor Xuan to the end of the Western Han dynasty (AD 24). Emperor Xuan approved of Huang - Lao philosophy, and allowed the Magic and Immortality Tradition to flourish. During the third phase, the two currents merged to form the Huang-Lao Tradition in the reign of emperor Huan of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 147-167).


During the reigns of emperors Ming and Zhang of the Eastern Han dynasty, the Huang-Lao Tradition had already become popular in the Imperial Court, and by the time of emperor Huan it was recorded in the official histories. In the Story of Wang Huan in the History of the Later Han, it is recorded that emperor Huan (reigned AD 158-167) patronized the Huang-Lao Tradition and ordered the destruction of the old sacrificial halls. After emperor Huan openly recognized the Huang-Lao Tradition, he sent officials twice a year to Laozi's ancestral shrine at Ku Xian, and to the Yellow Emperor's Guanlong Hall, marking the final stage of the formation of the Huang-Lao Tradition.


During the reign of emperor Ling, Zhang Jiao, founder of The Supreme Peace Tradition ( 太平道 Taioang Dao ), gave himself the title of Great Virtuous Master ( 大賢良師 Daxian Liangshi ), affiliated himself to the Huang-Lao Tradition, took disciples and was honoured by the common people.


During the period of integration of Huang-Lao philosophy with the Magic and Immortality Tradition, there was a strong wave effect of magicalized Confucianism, leading the literary school of Esoteric Speculations ( 讖緯 Chenwei ) to stimulate the formation of the Huang-Lao Tradition.


Like the Magic and Immortality Tradition, the Huang-Lao Tradition did not have systematic teachings or religious doctrines, nor did it have a religious organization. But it was the predecessor to Daoism; without understanding the Huang-Lao Tradition, it is impossible to come to a full knowledge of the history of Daoism.

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