Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong's Traditions of Divine Transcendents

Robert Ford Campany
Series: Daoist Classics
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 633
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth
    Book Description:

    In late classical and early medieval China, ascetics strove to become transcendents--deathless beings with supernormal powers. Practitioners developed dietetic, alchemical, meditative, gymnastic, sexual, and medicinal disciplines (some of which are still practiced today) to perfect themselves and thus transcend death. Narratives of their achievements circulated widely. Ge Hong (283-343 c.e.) collected and preserved many of their stories in hisTraditions of Divine Transcendents,affording us a window onto this extraordinary response to human mortality.Robert Ford Campany's groundbreaking and carefully researched text offers the first complete, critical translation and commentary for this important Chinese religious work, at the same time establishing a method for reconstructing lost texts from medieval China. Clear, exacting, and annotated, the translation comprises over a hundred lively, engaging narratives of individuals deemed to have fought death and won. Additionally,To Live as Long as Heaven and Earthsystematically introduces the Chinese quest for transcendence, illuminating a poorly understood tradition that was an important source of Daoist religion and a major social, cultural, and religious phenomenon in its own right.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92760-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xix-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
    Stephen R. Bokenkamp

    Not fifty years after the compilation of the Chinese text on which the translation you hold in your hands is based, on the night of July 28, 365, the Daoist Yang Xi retired to his meditation chamber with a troubled mind. He had only the year before begun presenting to his aristocratic patrons various writings, poems, and instructions that he had transcribed from the oral communications of female and male divinities during midnight meetings. Now his earthly sponsors had directed him to ask the deities a question, precisely the sort of question you or I might want someone else to...

    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
    (pp. xxvii-xxviii)
  7. PART ONE: Traditions of Divine Transcendents AND ITS CONTEXT

    • Opening
      (pp. 3-12)

      We die, we humans, like all other forms of the mysterious phenomenon known as life. It turns out that we are biochemically programmed to die, cell by cell, although the reason why is no clearer to microbiologists than to anyone else. Dying is so much a part of living that the two come to seem part of a single process and almost indistinguishable.

      Almost. It is perhaps only the sages who can look on their own death or that of a loved one with utter equanimity, who can, with Zhuangzi, “think of nothingness as the head, of life as the...

    • Ge Hong and the Writing of Traditions of Divine Transcendents
      (pp. 13-17)

      Ge Hong (styled Zhichuan 稚川) was born in 283 c.e., in Jurong district 句容縣, Danyang commandery, in northern Yangzhou (in modern Jiangsu), some thirty kilometers east-southeast of what would in his lifetime become the Eastern Jin capital city of Jianye (modern Nanjing) and roughly halfway between that city and the Maoshan hills farther to the southeast.¹ Jurong, a virtual epicenter of early Daoist textual production, would see the Supreme Purity channelings to Yang Xi in 364–70, then the writing of the Numinous Treasure scriptures about thirty years later.

      Ge Hong was born into an aristocratic clan with deep roots...

    • The Nature of the Religion Reflected in Ge Hong’s Works
      (pp. 18-97)

      Hagiographies—narratives concerning religious achievers—are by nature case oriented. Their didactic messages may be delivered blatantly or subtly, but in either event they are delivered inductively. From one point of view, even (or especially) for readers who approach Chinese religions for the first time, there is value in letting the narratives speak for themselves. That is why I o er a translation ofTraditions—and as literal a translation as possible. From another point of view, there remains the task of further interpreting these stories; I suggest some interpretations in my comments and annotations to Ge Hong’s hagiographies. And...

    • Traditions as Hagiography
      (pp. 98-117)

      To this point I have mostly approached Ge Hong’s hagiographic and other writings, and other texts, as rare windows onto their religious and social world. They are windows, but that, of course, is not all they are. In this chapter I consider the nature ofTraditionsas a text: the sort of book it is, how it is likely to have been composed, how it was probably received in its time, and ways in which it was constructed to persuade readers.

      A historian of Chinese religions encountering early medieval hagiographic works needs to know what sort of writings these are,...

    • Text-Critical Matters
      (pp. 118-128)

      Three difficult issues concerning the text ofShenxian zhuanshould be dealt with by anyone who sets out to translate, study, or even cite this work as historical evidence. One is its authorship: some scholars have challenged its attribution to Ge Hong. Another is the problem of versions of the text and their provenance, that is to say, the history of the text. As will be explained below, the two most commonly used editions ofShenxian zhuan, often cited as if they had flowed directly from Ge Hong’s brush, are in fact late recensions. A third problem collapses into the...


    • Conventions
      (pp. 131-132)

      On the rare occasions when I include more than one version of a hagiography in this part, I do so on the following criteria: both versions are relatively brief; both are attested relatively early; and the versions vary significantly in content. Otherwise, I have confined almost all comments on variations among versions of hagiographies to part 3.

      The symbol † indicates that the adept whose name follows is the subject of a hagiography inTraditions. I occasionally omit it when it is unmistakably clear that this is the case.

      Text placed within angle brackets < > is unattested before the end...

    • GROUP A: Earliest-Attested Hagiographies
      (pp. 133-286)

      Bo He, styled Zhongli 仲理, was a native of Liaodong.¹ He entered the Earth’s Lungs Mountains² to serve †Dong Feng. Dong Feng transmitted to him methods of circulating pneumas,³ ingesting atractylis,⁴ and then he said to Bo He: “At this point, my Way is exhausted. I have been unable to obtain [methods for making] divine elixirs, gold, or cinnabar, even though I have traveled all over the world and there is no mountain I have not been to. But you are still young and strong. [You should] seek [these methods] far and wide.”

      So Bo He went...

    • Group A: Earliest-Attested Fragments
      (pp. 287-291)

      Xu You and Chao Fu obtained “stony cinnabar,”¹ “stony cassia,” and “efflorescence [of stone]”² from Winnowbasket Mountain (Jishan 奠山) and ingested them.

      Xu You and [Chao] Fu obtained “stony cinnabar” and cassia flowers on Winnowbasket Mountain. Today these products may be found on the Central Marchmount.

      InInner Chapters, Ge Hong mentions Chao Fu and Xu You, along with †Laozi and Zhuangzi, as examples of the sort of ancient renouncer of high social position whom his contemporaries now find it hard to credit because of their own lust for power.³ He also cites a “local legend” (fang yan方言) to...

    • Group B: Early-Attested Hagiographies
      (pp. 292-357)

      Master Whitestone was a disciple of the Master of the Dao of Central Yellow (Zhonghuang daoren 中皇道人).¹ ...

    • Group B: Early-Attested Fragments
      (pp. 358-359)

      Master Feihuang ingested stony honey andziliang¹ from the Central Marchmount and thus attained transcendence.

      These sketchy details are suspiciously similar to those concerning †Xian Men.

      Liu Yuanfeng was a native of Nanyang. He ingested an elixir made fromfulingfungus and another made from chicken eggs.

      Sire Rong Cheng ingested “the three yellows” and thus attained transcendence. [“Three yellows”] means “male yellow,”² “female yellow,”³ and yellow gold.

      Sire Rong Cheng receives a brief hagiography inArrayed Traditions, the gist of which is as follows: he, like Peng Zu († Jian Keng), had been associated with sexual arts since early...

    • Group C: Later-Attested Hagiographies
      (pp. 360-372)


      chiand served as a lictor at the district...


    • On the Source Texts and the Temporal Di erentiation of Passages
      (pp. 375-386)

      Below I briefly introduce, in chronological order, the texts I have used as sources forShenxian zhuanquotations in preparing my translation, focusing on the quantity and nature of the quotations and eschewing most other comments about these works. Here I also indicate the principles of temporal grouping and marking that have governed my translation, because these relate directly to the dates of the sources used.

      Titles are here given in full (but usually not translated), followed by the abbreviations used in the lists of sources for each translated hagiography. Chinese characters for the titles of these works are given...

    • Group A: Sources of Earliest-Attested Hagiographies
      (pp. 387-478)

      TPYL 45/10b, 187/4a, 663/6b (citingDaoxue zhuan), 736/7a; CXJ 8/178, 24/585; XYBZ 2/17b; HLSS 15/10a; LeiS 3/9b; GZJ 2/13a; LWMS 7/6a–b; SKQS 7/3a–4a.

      LWMS seems based on the TPYL 663 citation fromDaoxue zhuanbut adds geographic information (unattested in earlier texts) on the Linlu Mountain mentioned in the narrative.

      Bo He appears at SDZN 1/7a and XYBZ 2/13b in connection with †Gan Ji; I treat these passages in the Gan Ji entry.

      Version 1: The first paragraph is based on TPYL 663 (except for the phrase in < >, which appears in XYBZ), the second on TPYL 187...

    • Group A: Sources of Earliest-Attested Fragments
      (pp. 479-481)

      YWLJ 89/1537; TPYL 957/5b, 987/3b; XYBZ 3/13b.

      YWLJ 89/1537 omits the Chao of Chao Fu. It gives the names of the ingested substances asdanshi(notshi danshaas in TPYL 957) andguiying“cassia blossoms” (notshigui ying“stannic oxide ‘blossoms’” as in TPYL 957).

      TPYL 987/3b has: “Xu You and Chao Fu ingestedshiliu dan石流丹 on [or from] Winnowbasket Mountain.”

      Fragment 1 is based on TPYL 957; Fragment 2, on YWLJ.

      XYBZ 3/13b, citing no source, says: “Chao Fu and Xu You both ingestedshigui ying.”

      Xu You appears in several early medieval anomaly accounts.

      YWLJ 86/1469;...

    • Group B: Sources of Early-Attested Hagiographies
      (pp. 482-533)

      YWLJ 6/108; TPYL 51/3a, 663/3a (citingLiexian zhuan); XYBZ 1/5b; TPGJ 7.1; SLF 7/14b; GZJ 2/10b (2); SDQX 14/14b–15a; LeiS 3/5a–6b; TDTJ 4/1b; LWMS 2/1a–b; SKQS 1/8a–b.

      LWMS = TPGJ. TDTJ seems based on TPGJ but, as is typical of this work, carefully omits mention of “the way of coupling.”

      Except for the opening sentence, the first paragraph of the translation is based on TPGJ; XYBZ gives a version of the second sentence, however, with his age at three thousand, and SDQX 14/14b–15a gives a version of the third sentence. The first sentence of the...

    • Group B: Sources of Early-Attested Fragments
      (pp. 534-535)

      TPYL 857/2a is the text translated here. TPYL 986/3b also cites a brief fragment of material on this figure, but it is so garbled as to defy comprehension. These passages seem to be the only two surviving fragments about Feihuang zi.

      TPYL 985/4a seems to preserve the only fragment about Liu attributed toTraditionsand is the basis of my translation.

      The content of the Han-periodArrayed Traditionshagiography summarized in “Comments” in the main text is reflected in the material collected in YJQQ 108/2a–b and TDTJ 3/6b–7a. There is also an XYBZ passage whose source is ambiguous...

    • Group C: Sources of Later-Attested Hagiographies
      (pp. 536-546)

      XYBZ 1/8a–b; TDTJ 5/20a; LWMS 10/3b; SKQS 8/7a–b.

      LWMS and SKQS are both obviously based on TDTJ (which cites no sources), although both texts contain what appear to be copyist’s errors. TDTJ is more detailed than XYBZ and di ers in some details. For comparative purposes, I translate it below.

      TDTJ: “Chen Yongbo was a native of Nanyang. He obtained the Prince of Huainan’s method for [making] Seven Star Powder, and tried synthesizing and ingesting it. Twenty-one days later he suddenly disappeared. Chen Yongbo had an elder brother [?]¹ named Zengzu who was seventeen years old at the...

    • Items Attributed to Shenxian zhuan Excluded from This Translation
      (pp. 547-552)

      Material on the following adepts is attributed toTraditionsin some sources, but in each case, for the reasons explained below, I judge that the attributions are erroneous and that these materials cannot have formed part of Ge Hong’s text.

      TPYL 669/6a, a mere 23 characters long, appears to be the only passage about this adept attributed toShenxian zhuan. The passage gives him a title in the celestial hierarchy (already an indication that the passage is probably of Shangqing origin), credits him with having ingested the Rainbow Phosphor Elixir, and notes that he compiled the hagiography of Lady Wei....

    (pp. 553-580)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 581-607)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 608-608)