The Li Tradition

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During the Wei and Jin dynasties (AD 220-420), the Li Tradition was active in the South. According to the chapter 'The Meaning of Dao' in the Book of The Master Who Embraces Simplicity, during the reign of Great Emperor Wu, a certain Li A, also named 'the eight hundred-year-old gentleman', lived without food for years in the caves of ancient Sichuan. No one ever knew where he went at last.


Later, a man named Li Kuan came to the Wu state. He spoke the dialect of Sichuan and used Talismanic Water to cure the sick. The locals considered Li Kuan to be Li A himself. So they called him "Eight-hundred-year-old Li" (Li Babai). Locals, including high ranking officials, thronged his home, to the point where many could not get in and had to show their respects outside his home. Some low-ranking officials and ordinary civilians escaping from corvee labour became his disciples. Accordingly, almost one thousand locals became his followers. Li Kuan set up a room for Daoist worship, which he called 'Lu'. Afterwards, when he suffered from seasonal febrile disease, he went into the 'Lu' on the pretext of fasting, and died in the room. His followers declared that their master had ascended to heaven and that he had merely been 'Delivered from his corpse'.


The Li Tradition started in Sichuan and later spread throughout the ancient Wu state in the lower reaches of the Yangtze river during the Three Kingdoms era (AD 220-280). Just like the Zhang Celestial Masters Tradition, it used Talismanic Water and Talismans to cure the sick. Compared with the earlier Five Pecks of Rice Tradition, the Li Tradition was more mature. It had some influence even in the upper classes of society. During the Eastern Jin dynasty (AD 317-420), during the life of Ge Hong, the Li Tradition remained popular in the South. Only after the Jin dynasty did it disappear gradually. It was probably then integrated into the Celestial Masters Tradition.