Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life of a Taoist Master


For the first time in one volume—an extraordinary spiritual odyssey of the making of the Taoist master Kwan Saihung. Born into a wealthy family in a remote province of China, Kwan defies his parents' wishes and enters into the rigorous and mysterious discipline of Taoist practice. Renamed "Little Butterfly" by his Taoist masters, he survives the upheaval of the Japanese occupation, and the later the Chinese Revolution, all the while becoming adept in the Taoist arts. Eventually his inner and outer journey lead ...

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For the first time in one volume—an extraordinary spiritual odyssey of the making of the Taoist master Kwan Saihung. Born into a wealthy family in a remote province of China, Kwan defies his parents' wishes and enters into the rigorous and mysterious discipline of Taoist practice. Renamed "Little Butterfly" by his Taoist masters, he survives the upheaval of the Japanese occupation, and the later the Chinese Revolution, all the while becoming adept in the Taoist arts. Eventually his inner and outer journey lead him to America, where he becomes a Golden Gloves boxer and martial arts instructor.

Part adventure, part parable, Chronicles of Tao travels through a labyrinth of enigmatic Taoist practice, marital arts discipline, and international adventure.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
An intriguing story . . . evokes both a China that no longer exists and its headlong clash with modern times.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062502193
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/1993
  • Edition description: 1st HarperCollins paperback ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 665,572
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Deng Ming-Dao is the author of eight books, including 365 Tao, The Living I Ching, Chronicles of Tao, Everyday Tao, and Scholar Warrior. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. He lives in San Francisco.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


In 1929, Kwan Saihungaccompanied his family on a pilgrimage up the steep slopes of Taishan. They were traveling to the Emerald Cloud Temple at the mountain's summit for the Festival of the Jade Emperor. This religious event combined weeks of ritual and devotion with a carnival-like atmosphere in the temple courtyard. The Guan family, members of an immensely wealthy warrior clan, were devout patrons of Taoism who were completing a long and arduous pilgrimage of over five hundred miles from their home in Shaanxi Province to Shandong Province. They would be guests of the temple for a month.

The final ascent of Taishan, by means of sedan chairs, was slow. Taishan's towering precipices could not be scaled in a day. But the gradual climb, divided by overnight lodging in rustic inns situated in pine groves, provided an opportunity for final ablutions. All the inns served only vegetarian foods. Cleansing the taint of animal flesh and contemplation quieted the pilgrims' minds.

The mountain itself made complete their otherworldly state of mind. Taishan was the foremost of the Five Sacred Mountains of China. It rose steeply above Shandong Province's vast expanse, disdaining all the other mountain ranges. It had a heavenly magnitude, an air of Imperial seclusion. Humanity was invisible from its summit. In the cool and rarifed air surrounding its high cliffs of rock, Taishan was the perfect place of solitude for the Jade Emperor.

An emperor, whether celestial or mortal, was a personage never to be seen by common people. He was a mystery, a force, an inaccessible but dominating power. But on theannual occasion of the festival, the Jade Emperor granted one exception to that rule and descended to his earthly abode to accept the supplications of his subjects.

Saihung, an energetic, mischievous, and curious nine-year-old boy, was less interested in the religious significance of the event than he was in simply having fun. His grandfather Guan Jiuyin, his grandmother Ma Sixing, and his aunt Guan Meihong understood this. They did not want to force things on Saihung but nevertheless felt that it was time for him to experience his first pilgrimage. It was with that in mind that the family faced the final approach to Taishan, the Eighteen-Twist Path.

The path was a narrow ribbon of seven thousand stone steps that followed the twisted crags of a huge cleft. Compared to the rugged granite cliffs, netted with tenacious shrubs and trees, the pathway seemed positively fragile. It was a man-made object, insignificant compared to nature. The adults were carried up in their sedan chairs, but Saihung, though he had the option of being carried on the back of a manservant, bounded up the stairs in excitement.

The early morning air was thin and cold, and Saihung was warmly dressed in a high-collared, fur-lined coat of mountain-lion skin over a suit of heavy maroon cotton. Knicker pants buttoned at the knee over white leggings, and both his shoes and money pouch were intricately embroidered silk. The shoes were felt-soled, with blue and white clouds decorating the sides and gaily colored appliqued lion heads at the toes. His money pouch, barely visible at the hem of his coat, had a design of a frolicking lion. For good measure he wore a tiger's tooth around his neck as a talisman. All of Saihung's clothing was designed to ward off evil.

Two other items of clothing completed this outfit, and Saihung hated them both. He first pulled off his hat. It also was of mountain-lion skin, with flaps that covered the ears and two decorative lion's ears that stuck up at the crown. These protrusions were the one detail Saihung most disliked, and he took the opportunity to fling the cap away. He also removed the second item he hated, his mittens. These were, to his chagrin, impossible to dispose of. They had been securely sewn with silken cords to his coat sleeves. Still, with the hat gone and the mittens dangling, he finally felt free of encumbrance as he ran up the steps. His bobbing head, completely shaven except for a square patch of hair at the forehead, could be glimpsed as he darted among the other pilgrims.

The steps seemed endless. Saihung had stopped to rest at the side when his family's entourage caught up with him. The lead sedan chair, with its latticework windows, reduced his grandfather to a silhouetted presence. Evidently, however, his grandfather could see him perfectly well, for his deep voice soon came booming out from behind the grill.

"Saihung! Where is your hat?"

Saihung looked up innocently. "I must have left it at the inn, Grandfather."

There was a patient sigh from within the chair. One of the servants brought the hat out. Saihung grimaced at him and was preparing to kick the man's shins when his grandfather called sharply to him. With a pout, Saihung put on the hat.

Once again running ahead of the procession, however, Saihung grinned. He knew he was his grandfather's favorite, and he knew that his grandfather, though firm, was also indulgent and forgiving.

When the Family reached the temple gates, the abbot personally came out to meet them. An old friend, he had prepared one of the temple's pavilions for the Guan family's living quarters during their stay.

Guan Jiuyin was the first to descend from his chair. Already in his mid-seventies, he was nevertheless impressively large and muscular. More than six feet in height, his size alone would have set him apart from others. The richness of his dress and his obvious charisma completed his unusual image. His fur-lined burgundy tunic and pants, black brocade vest, black cap with its piece of apple-green jade, snow-white beard, and braided hair fittingly accentuated the placid but alert expression of a warrior.

Ma Sixing, a year younger and only a few inches shorter than her husband, was the next to greet the abbot. In spite of bound feet, she walked unaided. Her slender figure was covered by expensive brocades. Over her own fur-lined tunic and trousers, she wore a long apron and a cowl, both of which were hand-embroidered in a palette of bright colors and metallic thread.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Note on Romanization 7
1 The Wandering Taoist
1 The Taishan Festival 11
2 A Chance Encounter 18
3 The Guan Family Mansion 25
4 The Mischievous Student 30
5 Journey with Two Acolytes 40
6 Entering Another World 46
7 The Grand Mountains 50
8 Learning from the Natural World 58
9 Immortals 68
10 Turning Point at Twelve 77
11 Wudangshan 84
12 The Grand Master Challenges Saihung 91
13 A Decision Made Alone 101
14 Internal Alchemy 111
15 War 123
16 Homecoming 132
17 The Labyrinth 137
18 Temptation and Knowledge 144
19 Internal Gazing 154
2 Seven Bamboo Tablets of the Cloudy Satchel
20 Master and Student 161
21 Two Butterflies 184
22 Nocturnal Lessons 201
23 A Quest 212
24 Shanghai 237
25 Ashes 263
26 Butterfly Dream 284
27 The Golden Embryo 305
3 Gateway to a Vast World
28 Beyond Immortality 327
29 Contemplating the Void 344
30 The Hairpin 349
31 Chinese of Pittsburgh 354
32 The End of Huashan 373
33 No Song to Sing 387
34 Child of Peace 402
35 Isle of Anonymity 407
36 Golden Gloves 419
37 Renunciation 434
38 Gate of Liberation 442
39 Perseverance 458
Afterword 469
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2004

    Good book

    This book is well written, extensive vocabulary is utilized, and if you like martial arts, it can be an excellent adventure

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2003

    This is an outstanding book

    In my life i have liked only two novels. I LOVE THIS BOOK. If you like magic, and stories, and adventure this is a great book for you. Please, buy this book, i think it will make you very happy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2000

    Well written, and a Great Adventure

    This book, written by Deng Ming-Dao, is excellent. It takes you along on the journey of a young Chinese boy who decides to become a Taoist, secluding himself in the Mountain temple of Huashan. You follow him through his life and many adventures from China to the US and many lands in between. If you are looking for a good account of Taoist monastic life and life as a Taoist in general, this is it, and it is very well-written.

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