The Magic and Immoratality tradition

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The expression 'Magic and Immortality Tradition' was used for the first time in the Records of the Historian. It mentioned that Song Wuji, Zheng Boqiao, Chong Shang and Mu Mengao of the Yan State were Masters of Magic and Immortality, transforming their bodies with supernatural powers. During the Warring States period (475-221 BC), the Magicians in the Yan-Qi area combined the theory of Immortality and Magic Arts with Zou Yan's philosophy of the Five Agents, forming the Magic and Immortality Tradition, which was mainly prevalent in the upper class of the Yan and Qi states. It required their devotees to practice transforming their bodies with supernatural powers in order to pursue an everlasting life.


'Magic' ( 方 Fang) here refers to divine magical formulas for immortality; 'Immortality' ( 仙 Xian) refers to everlasting life. The concept of Immortality had a long history, and consequently a community of Magicians pursuing an everlasting life was formed in the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 BC). Using their Immortalist Magic Arts, the Magicians were very active in society, and they made their living using their skills, influencing and permeating the noble people of high rank. At the time of King Wei and King Ling of the Qi State, the followers of Zou Yan discussed the philosophy of Yin-Yang and of the Five Agents, which were absorbed by the Magicians, forming the Magic and Immortality Tradition. The Magicians, though not real scholars, came to be known as Immortalists and propagated the Immortalist faith, catering to the rulers' fear of death. From the middle and later period of the Warring States era to the time of the Wu Emperor of the Han dynasty, the Immortalists and the rulers encouraged one another. As a result, there occured the widely known events in Chinese history, of rulers sending Magicians to look for elixirs for Immortality beyond the sea. King Wei and King Xuan of the Qi State, King Zhao of the Yan State, the First Qin Emperor, and the Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty all sent Magicians to the three sacred mountains on the sea to look for Immortals and bring back elixirs for immortality. Nevertheless they did it in vain, even if more and more Magicians were involved in it.


The most prosperous period of the Magic and Immortality Tradition was the phase from the later Warring States Period to the time of the Wu Emperor of the Han dynasty. The representative figures were Song Wuji, Zheng Boqiao, Xu Fu, Lu Sheng, Li Shaojun, Li Shaoweng, Le Da, Gong Sunqing, etc. Immortalist ideology became an essential belief of religious Daoism, and the Immortalist Magic Arts were absorbed and perpetuated by religious Daoism in later periods. The Magic and Immortality Tradition was one of the sources of religious Daoism, from which the later Immortalist Daoism originated. After integrating with the philosophies of the Yellow Emperor and Laozi, the Magic and Immortality Tradition gradually evolved into the Huanglao Tradition ( 黃老道 Huang Lao Dao).