Daoist Literature

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Daoist Literature
Daoist Poetry and Ci Poetry
Daoist Poetry
Daoist Ci Poetry
Daoist Prose
Daoist Fiction
Traditional Opera
Pillar Couplets
Daoist literary Anecdotes
Daoist Nursery Rhymes

Daoist literature is the general name for all kinds of literary works that propagate Daoist doctrines and reflect Daoist life. On the whole, Daoist literature can be classified into four categories, namely Daoist prose, Daoist fiction, Daoist poetry, and Daoist drama.


At the beginning of the founding of Daoism, Daoist leaders called on disciples to study the classics of philosophical Daoism of the pre-Qin on the one hand, and created prose in person to establish Daoist teachings and carry forward Daoist laws. Early Daoist argumentative prose is in the style of quotations in order for the devotees to comprehend easily. For example, Black Scarf Book of Supreme Peace ( 太平清領書 Taiping Qingling Shu ) is basically a piece of prose of quotations. In sharp contrast with argumentative prose, Daoist narrative prose is based on narration, and the idea of "following spontaneity" is embodied between the lines.


The gestation of Daoist fiction can be traced back to immortal legends of the Pre-Qin period. Ever since the Wei and Jin dynasties, Daoist fiction became more and more flourishing. Writers not only created Daoist tales of mystery and the supernatural and romance, but also paid attention to popularize them. Consequently, "huaben (printed versions of the prompt-books used by popular storytellers in Song and Yuan times) -styled" Daoist fiction that told people stories came into being. These kinds of works often systematized folk legends, improved some crucial details, and warned the people with descriptions of Daoist arts. Moreover, a great many full-length "zhanghuiti" (a type of traditional Chinese novel with each chapter headed by a couplet giving the gist of its content) novels that drew materials from Daoist life and aimed at propagating Daoist ideas, such as Romance of the Gods ( 封神演義 Fengshen Yanyi ) and Records of Immortal Lü's Brandishing Sword ( 呂仙飛劍傳 Lüxian Feijian Zhuan ) came out in Ming and Qing times. Some works systematize or further fantasize the immortal tales spread in Daoist community or among the people, and some expound Daoist beliefs in the framework of historical stories. Daoist fiction is endowed with great power of imagination and characterized by a distinctive romantic flavor.


This is a big category of Daoist literature as well. In Chinese history of literature, poetry holds a high and important position. In Daoist literature, the large amount of poetry is also striking. Daoist poetry mixes full feelings, rich imagination and Daoist immortal tales in dreams. It is of strong artistic inspiration.

An exotic flower in the garden of literature, the form of poetry known as "Ci"--poetry written to certain tunes with strict tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, with fixed numbers of lines and words-- was also often used by Daoist scholars. According to the classified statistics of the "cipai" (i.e. names of the tunes to which ci poems are composed) listed in Tunes Compiled by Imperial Order ( 欽定詞譜 Qinding Cipu ) printed in the 54th Kangxi year of the Qing dynasty, there are at least 42 cipai originating from immortal tales or relating to Daoist activities. This fully shows that the emergence of ci was irrevocably associated to Daoism. As far as the content of ci is concerned, it is not difficult to find that profound Daoist thought underlies quite a few works, and that immortal tales and divine traces of Daoism permeate these works. For example, Capeline Cantos ( 女冠子 Nüguanzi ) composed by Wen Tingyun portrays a female Daoist. The poet reflects her charming gesture through the description of her gentle and graceful figure.

Another form deserving mentioning in the scope of Daoist poetry is the "Daoist Lyric" ( 道情 Daoqing ). It is one kind of folk song of the Music Bureau and was always sung by roaming Daoists. Its words are rather popular, so it could be prevalent among the people. In history, many Daoists preached Daoist teachings and expressed their feelings by means of the "Daoist Lyric". For example, The Daoist Lyric by Zhang Sanfeng conveys his veneration of Daoism. It is endowed with moving and inspiring power.

Traditional opera

It can neither be ignored in Daoist literature. Daoist opera originated before the Yuan dynasty, but it was at the height of splendor in the Yuan dynasty. According to the records in Register of Demons ( 錄鬼簿 Lugui Bu ) by Zhong Sicheng, at least 40 kinds of the poetic dramas of the Yuan dynasty are Daoist operas. Selections from the Yuan Drama compiled by Zang Maoxun and Supplementary Selections from the Yuan Drama compiled by Sui Shusen record 17 Daoist operas, such as Chen Tuan Lies Highly and The Yueyang Tower. They total about 1/10 of what was disseminated. In terms of subjects and ideas, Daoist operas can be classified into the following categories: propagating Dao and saving the people, transforming monsters, settling cases and warning the people, and living in seclusion and cultivating perfection Daoist literature has not only a long history but is also filled with peculiar images. It enriched the treasury of Chinese literature during its long-term spread and development. Today many works are still of high value of artistic appreciation and are worth being discovered and sorted out seriously by the academic circle.