Chen Yingning

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Life of Chen Yingning (AD 1880-1969)

Chen Yingning, whose Daoist name was Yuanchunzi, was a renowned contemporary Daoist scholar, and a lay Daoist of the 19th generation of the Complete Perfection Dragon Gate sect. He was a native of Huaining in Anhui, and was formerly named Zhixiang and Yuanshan, and styled Zixiu. Later, because he liked reading the Book of Master Zhuang, he changed his name into 'Yingning', a term mentioned by Zhuangzi in the sentence 'Yingning -- the attainment of calm in spite of disturbance from the outside world".

Main activities

Chen Yingning studied Confucianism since childhood and knew the Four Books and the Five Classics well. He once took part in the imperial examinations and passed the examination at the county level. At the age of 15, owing to his being ill, he switched over to study traditional Chinese medical science. So Chen Yingning traveled to all the famous mountains, looked for teachers and friends, and started to get involved in the field of Nourishing Life and Immortalist studies. He spent three years reading the Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Era. Simultaneously, he read a large number of books on Nourishing Life, astronomy, philosophy, medicine and Buddhism, and became more and more interested in Nourishing Life. He started publication of the bimonthly Promotion of Good to advocate Immortalist studies, and later started publishing the Immortalist Studies Monthly. During the War of Resistance Against Japan, he practised medicine and gave active treatment to the wounded and refugees. In 1956, he participated in the preparations for the founding of the Chinese Daoist Association, and was elected vice-president the following year. After 1960, he became a committee member of the second and third Chinese Political Consultative Conferences. In 1961, he was the second president of the Chinese Daoist Association. He made positive contributions in assisting the government in carrying out policies on religion and uniting with Daoists to join in the construction of socialism, and promoting Daoist academic studies.

Thoughts on "Immortalist Studies" and the theory of saving the nation by Immortalism

Chen Yingning was good at "Immortalist Studies", and had great attainments in the theories of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism. But he emphasized especially that Immortalist Studies was a branch of learning independent of the Three Doctrines, and that it should be developed independently. He held that the realistic significance of Immortalist Studies was to prolong life, while its highest level was to secure longevity. At the same time, he held that the Immortalist way was the only way to save and rejuvenate the country. He was particularly against being passive when a national crisis was imminent. He advised people to "be concerned about current affairs temporarily and to wait for the good opportunity" and held that Daoism can save the country. He said that "so-called Immortalist Studies refers to alchemy, including Outer and Inner Alchemy". He held that there are three methods of Immortalist Studies, i.e. taking Divine Elixirs of celestial origin, transforming the Numinous Elixirs of terrestrial origin, and Inner Refinement of the Golden Elixirs of human origin. He once engaged himself in making external elixirs together with his Daoist friends but failed. So he switched from the Alchemical Arts of terrestrial origin to the Inner Refinement of human origin. In other words, he turned from Outer Alchemy to Inner Alchemy. Theoretically, he based himself on Laozi and Zhuangzi's concepts of "deepening the root to firm the base for fruit" and "Keeping to Oneness and Remaining in Peace". Starting with Refining and Nourishing the human body's Material Essence, Vital Breath, and Spirit, he advocated the Integrated Cultivation of Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life, with an emphasis on Bodily Life.

The gist of refinement and nourishing

"To unite the Spirit and the Vital Breath into One, and spontaneously practise motion and motionlessness". In his later years, he promoted the "Method for Convalescence by Still Meditation".


Chen Yingning engaged himself in the study of Daoism for over 60 years, and did scholarly research meticulously and diligently. His works include:

  1. "The Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of the Four Repositories" Doesn't Give a Complete Picture of Daoist Learning;
  2. A Classification of the Contents of the Daoist Canon;
  3. Lectures on the Book of the Yellow Court;
  4. Commentary to Sun Bu'er's Poems on Feminine Alchemy;
  5. Vernacular Explanations to the Ballads of the Great Dao of the Numinous Origin;
  6. On Spiritual Nature and Bodily Life;
  7. Differentiation of the Ten Immortals in the Book of Lengyan; and
  8. The Inner and Outer Chapters of the Book of Nanhua.

In his later years, he wrote the Method for Convalescence from Neurasthenia by Motionless Exercise and the General Explanation of Motionless Exercise. He was also the chief editor of A Corpus of Daoist Knowledge, An Outline of the History of Chinese Daoism, and so on.