Daoist Nursery Rhymes

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Daoist Nursery Rhymes

Daoist Nursery Rhymes are ballads spread among children. They are distinctive in that they are sung without being accompanied by musical instruments.

Nursery rhymes have a very early origin. According to the chapter "The 25th Year in the Reign of Duke Zhao" in the Spring and Autumn with Commentary by Zuo Qiuming, nursery rhymes existed as early as in the days of King Wen and King Wu of the Zhou dynasty. Later, they were popular among the people. Nursery rhymes are either spontaneously created by children or taught by adults. There are different types of nursery rhymes, and one of them is the Daoist nursery rhyme.

Daoist nursery rhymes refer to popular ballads that reflect Daoist ideological tendency and are spread among children. As for their function, they may contain prophecy. At critical moments of dynastic changes in history, Daoist prophetic nursery rhymes usually appeared in society. For example, before Yang Jian ascended the throne in the Sui dynasty, some people spread the word that he had "imperial appearance" and would become the emperor. It is recorded in the chapter "Biography of Wang Shao" in The History of the Sui Dynasty that there was a shrine for Laozi in Chenliu, where there was a withered cypress. People all said that Laozi would "transcend the mundane world". He had predicted that once branches of the cypress grew in the southeast, a saint would come into the world and Daoism would prevail. In the Sourthern Qi days, branches really grew in the lower part of the cypress and pointed up to the southeast. Three boys sang a ballad together at night, "The ancient withered tree in front of the shrine for Laozi, looks like an umbrella in the southeast, where the saintly lord goes by." As the story goes, when he went to Bozhou to take office as provincial governor, Yang Jian looked around the shrine for Laozi in person. He saw that the cypress branches formed a circle, which tallied with the boys' ballads. So he regarded himself as the "saintly lord". In the last years of the Sui dynasty, another nursery charm sang as follows: "a swan flies around Mt. Yang, where there grow peaches ("Tao") and plums ("Li"). It shuttles among the flowers and trees. Never gossip, for no one allows it." People explained that in this nursery rhyme, "Li" suggests that somebody surnamed Li would rise to be the emperor. "Tao" (peaches) signifies "Tao", which means the surname "Taotang". "Tao" is omitted and only "Tang" is left, which implies that the Tang dynasty would replace the Sui dynasty. This prophetic nursery rhyme resembles the prophecy that somebody surnamed Li would ascend the throne and promote Daoism, which was made by Qi Hui, a Daoist of the Lookout Tower Tradition (樓觀道 louguan dao) . So it was likely to have been created by a Daoist.

Daoist nursery rhymes make smooth reading and are therefore easily spread. Objectively they play a special function of propagation.