The Scripture on Great Peace: The Taiping jing and the Beginnings of Daoism / Edition 1

The Scripture on Great Peace: The Taiping jing and the Beginnings of Daoism / Edition 1

by Barbara Hendrischke
Pub. Date:
University of California Press


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The Scripture on Great Peace: The Taiping jing and the Beginnings of Daoism / Edition 1

This first Western-language translation of one of the great books of the Daoist religious tradition, the Taiping jing, or “Scripture on Great Peace,” documents early Chinese medieval thought and lays the groundwork for a more complete understanding of Daoism’s origins. Barbara Hendrischke, a leading expert on the Taiping jing in the West, has spent twenty-five years on this magisterial translation, which includes notes that contextualize the scripture’s political and religious significance.

Virtually unknown to scholars until the 1970s, the Taiping jing raises the hope for salvation in a practical manner by instructing men and women how to appease heaven and satisfy earth and thereby reverse the fate that thousands of years of human wrongdoing has brought about. The scripture stems from the beginnings of the Daoist religious movement, when ideas contained in the ancient Laoziwere spread with missionary fervor among the population at large. The Taiping jing demonstrates how early Chinese medieval thought arose from the breakdown of the old imperial order and replaced it with a vision of a new, more diverse and fair society that would integrate outsiders—in particular women and people of a non-Chinese background.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520247888
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/10/2007
Series: Daoist Classics Series
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 420
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Barbara Hendrischke is Honorary Member of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. She is author of Wen-tzu—Ein Beitrag zur Problematik und zum Verständnis eines taoistischen Textes and Taiping jing: The Origin and Transmission of the ‘Scripture on General Welfare’—The history of an unofficial text.

Read an Excerpt

The Scripture on Great Peace

The Taiping jing and the Beginnings of Daoism

By Barbara Hendrischke


Copyright © 2006 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-93292-0



How to Distinguish between Poor and Rich

This section is one of the most practice-oriented in the text. It consists of two parts, one analyzing relations of property and the other the lot of women. The first is too short to be a separate section of its own, and there is no other material in the received text to which it could belong. The second part is linked closely to the following section, section 42, an indication that here, at least, the sequence of sections is not haphazard.

The first half of the section discusses the stages of wealth and poverty and how they are achieved. I have found no parallel in Han dynasty or earlier material of these different stages. Rhetorical as this account might be, the enumeration of the different types of poverty stresses the severity of social conditions and the prevalence of misery. Poverty is depicted as an element of the apocalyptic scenario. Its rapid increase is supposed to persuade men that there is an urgent need to change their ways. An almost theological need to tie different levels of being into one unified structure induces the Master to juxtapose men's poverty with that of the earth. However, heaven's position is too exalted to allow the idea of celestial poverty.

Once the Master has defined the stages of poverty and environmental destruction, as we might understand the expression "earth's poverty," he moves toward an analysis of what causes them. He points out that the plight of individual families stems from outside factors. Both poverty and wealth have a cosmic dimension. Since men are children of heaven and earth, they thrive only when their parents thrive. Thus an individual and his family cannot prosper in a community that is in misery. Even the royal house is not exempt from this nexus. Individual wealth is said to be a fake; only a self-sufficient community can be called wealthy. In line with the Laozi's image of ideal communal life, wealth is seen as created exclusively by agricultural production. The possession of valuables becomes relevant only when basic necessities are in short supply.

The prevention of poverty and the achievement of wealth, then, are the same thing, and both are said to result from proper political action. Here the Master assembles lines of thought common in quietist political philosophy, for instance in the Huainan zi. Impoverishment is the result of poor politics. It came into being when dao was replaced by wen (culture) and by military rule. The Master does not seriously pursue these thoughts, referring to them only in passing before he arrives at his own message: a community will be wealthy when its government takes the triad of heaven, earth, and men into proper account. The government must establish a direct relationship between the agricultural producer and the cosmic, natural sources of fertility and growth. This precludes other, more prominent, ancient approaches to the problem: neither individual industriousness nor proper economic policy will create wealth.

The second half of the section is possibly premodern China's most outspoken attack on female infanticide. The argument is characteristic of the way the Celestial Master sets forth his doctrine. He argues on cosmic rather than on moral grounds. The main evil in infanticide is the distress and resentment it provokes in females. Their protests reach heaven and earth, which react by causing harvest failures. Another evil resulting from it is a shortage of women, which makes it difficult for each man to have two wives and thus ensure his progeny. But the problem is too fundamental to be solved by decree. Parents don't kill girls because they want to. They feel they can't afford to bring up children from whom they will get no return. The Master thus suggests that girls should be made more valuable by permitting them to earn their keep, just as boys do. They should be to their husbands what an official is to his lord. This would enable a daughter to support her own parents in exchange for the trouble they took to raise her. In this situation a wife would be happy and not of "two hearts," as the Master puts it. She would no longer serve her in- laws at the cost of forsaking her own parents.

It is remarkable that the position of the TPJ in this matter is as isolated as it is. Clearly, infant mortality was such that newborn children were in general not yet seen as human beings, so that Confucian arguments for humane behavior were not applicable to them. As a consequence, the Master does not apply moral considerations, but rather points to the "resentment" created by such killings and its destabilizing cosmic effect. The Master's program for changing the situation amounts to premodern China's only attempt to allocate to women the full measure of human responsibility. Their filial piety, which to those in the second century C.E. was roughly equivalent to their morality, was to be equated with that of men.

* * *

(41.29) Step forward, Perfected! You have been coming to study the doctrine (dao) for such a long time. You have really learned it all by now, don't you think?

If you had not again spoken to me, I might have thought so. But as soon as I hear your words, I know it is not so. Now I would like to reach the end but I can't think of another question. If the Celestial Master would only reveal my shortcomings once again!

All right, come here. What do we mean by "rich" and "poor"?

Well, those who own a lot are rich and those who own little are poor.

What you have said appears to be true but is in fact false.

What do you mean?

Take someone who often cheats, deceives, flatters, steals, and robs. How could we call him "rich"? Or take a situation where the people in general own a lot while the sovereign owns but little. How could we call him "poor"? (41.30)

Foolish and stupid as I am, I felt I had to speak up when the Celestial Master set out to instruct me. I am not good enough; I am at fault.

If you say you are not good enough, how shall the common people know the meaning of poor and rich?

If only you would think of my ignorance as being as that of a small child who must be instructed by its father and mother before it gains understanding.

True. Modest as you are, you don't go amiss.


Collect your thoughts. I will tell you all. We speak of "rich" when there is sufficient supply. By making everything grow, heaven provides enough wealth. Thus we say that there is enough wealth when supreme majestic qi arises and all twelve thousand plants and beings are brought to life. Under the influence of medium majestic qi, plants and beings are slightly deficient in that it cannot provide for all twelve thousand of them. This causes small poverty. When under the influence of lower majestic qi, plants and beings are again fewer than under the influence of medium majestic qi, and this causes great poverty. When there are no auspicious portents [signifying the approach of majestic qi] at all, the crops won't grow, which is extreme poverty. Take a look at a peasant family if you wish to know what this amounts to. Should they not possess any rare and valuable objects, they are considered a poor family. Should they not be supplied with what they need, they must be seen as an extremely poor family.

The problem lies in the poverty of heaven and earth. Once all twelve thousand plants and beings come forth and are nurtured by earth without detriment, earth becomes rich. If it can't nurture them well, it becomes slightly poor as long as injuries remain small, and quite poor should they be large. If crops were to shy away from being seen and fail to grow, injured by earth's body, this would lead to extreme poverty. Without jade and other valuables and with half the yields damaged, great distress and poverty would come about. Such complete damage would eradicate a poor family.

Now think of heaven as father and earth as mother. Should father and mother be in such extreme poverty all their children would suffer from poverty. The king's government is a replica of this. Thus the wise kings of antiquity, whose reign reached out to all twelve thousand plants and beings, became lords of great wealth. Harvests that reach two-thirds of their potential provide a lord with medium wealth. When they amount to only one-third, he has but little wealth. With neither valuables nor crops, he becomes a lord of great poverty. Once half of his harvests are damaged, his house is in decline. If all are damaged, he becomes a man of great poverty.

The wise and worthy of antiquity reflected deep in their dark chamber on the question of how poverty and wealth were achieved through [adhering to] dao and virtue. Why should anyone ask about this? Through meditation, men will find out for themselves. (41.31)

Excellent! If the Celestial Master would only show kindness to emperors and kings! They have suffered bitterly and for a long time, and have been frustrated in their ambition. Whereby does one achieve such poverty and such wealth?

Yes, fine! Your question touches upon the crucial point of certain subtle sayings. Well, how they are put into practice brings about gain or loss. Once someone follows the true doctrine (dao) with all his might, heaven's life-giving spirits will help his mission. So spirits sent by heaven and good harvests will be plenty. If a man enacts virtue, earth's nourishing spirits will come forth to assist his conduct of affairs. Thus, he will gain half of his potential wealth. Once someone enacts humaneness, the humane spirits of the harmony that prevails in the realm between heaven andearth will step forward to help him conduct his affairs and achieve a small measure of wealth. Someone who attempts cultural refinement is on the way to intrigues and deceit, so that deceitful spirits will come forth to help him. Thus his conduct will be in some disorder. (41.32) But if he were to undertake military action, bandit spirits would be bound to appear in his support. Government would thus be directed against the will of heaven. It would injure and harm even good men.

Dao sets the rule for heaven's conduct. Since heaven is the highest of all spirits (zui shen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), true spirits come forth to assist its mission. Since earth nurtures, virtuous spirits step forward to assist its mission. Humane spirits come forth to help a man's mission if he is humane. Cultured men are preoccupied with deceiving each other by means of culture. They have lost their root. Thus deceitful spirits appear to assist them. Once superiors and inferiors deal with each other by means of culture, their affairs are in disorder. Soldiers subdue others through punishment, murder, and injury. Bandits do the same. Any man who in subduing others is guided by anger, joy, violence, and severity is a bandit. So, large numbers of bandits step forth to threaten his reign. Since they often damage people's belongings, such a way of government entails a loss of property.

Thus antiquity's supreme lords, who subdued others through dao, largely accorded with the will of heaven. They governed as if they were spirits. They subdued others through true dao without causing distress. Lords of middle rank exert control through virtue, and lords of lower rank through humaneness. Lords of chaos subdue others through cultural refinement, and those of disaster and defeat rule by punishing, murdering, and injuring others. Thus the supreme lords of antiquity ruled over others through dao, virtue, and humaneness instead of inflicting injuries by means of culture or through punishing and murdering others. Since this is the case, the use of such means is despicable.

However, a supreme lord resembles heaven and earth. Since heaven is prone to giving life rather than to inflicting injuries, we call it lord and father. Since earth likes to nurture the ten thousand plants and beings, we call it honest official and mother. Since man thinks in a humane manner and shows the same concern and care as heaven and earth do, we call him humane. Through their goodness these three manage to govern and to lead the ten thousand plants and beings. But one cannot govern by deceiving and punishing, [for then] disasters grow in number and make it impossible for emperors and kings to achieve great peace. So this must stop.

Now if you, Perfected, were to give my book to a lord in possession of dao and virtue and he implemented what it says energetically, he would reach a position that would correspond to that of heaven. Thus he would achieve great peace. There is no doubt that we would call his house rich. In this case nothing would cause emperors and kings to suffer distress. In the opposite case we would speak of a poor house.

Nowadays people sometimes call each other "rich families." Why is this so?

This is what they do, but the common people talk nonsense. When we use the word "rich" we mean that everything is provided for. (41.33) If one single item is lacking, [supplies] are incomplete. For this reason the wise and worthy of old did not demand perfection from individuals, since they did not see them fit for it. Today goods are in short and incomplete supply in all eighty-one territories. It is impossible to achieve any long-term sufficiency, so goods are obtained from other territories. Now to what degree can one individual family be rich? Would you like to go along with the nonsense that common people put forth?

No, I would not dare to.

You have learned to watch your words, so don't utter nonsense, or you might bring disorder to the standard patterns (zheng wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of heaven and earth and they won't serve as a model for men. Be careful.

Yes, I will. Now the Celestial Master has shown himself to be merciful and loving. He has a kind regard for emperors and kings who on their thrones suffer distress and fail to be in favor with heaven.

Since it has all been explained to them they should be able to find the path that leads to the great peace of supreme majesty.

Foolish as I am, I have received a large amount of writings. I feel dizzy and confused as if I was a youngster and I don't know what to ask next. Since you are heaven's enlightened teacher, do convey all its warnings!

Yes, fine. Well, according to the model set by heaven, Yang's cipher is one and that of Yin two. So Yang is single and Yin is a pair. Therefore, lords are few and subordinates are many. Since Yang is honored and Yin is humble, two Yin must jointly serve one Yang. Since heaven's cipher is one and that of earth is two, two women must jointly serve one man.

Why should it be necessary that two persons care for one?

The place next to someone in an honored position must never be left empty. When one is employed the other must remain standing or sitting next to the person in the center to look after his needs. So the one resembles heaven while the two are similar to earth. (41.34) Since men are children of heaven and earth, they must imitate both. The world has nowadays lost dao, so girls are often despised and even maltreated and murdered, which has caused there to be fewer girls than boys. So Yin's qi is reduced, which does not agree with the model of heaven and earth. Heaven's way establishes the model that a solitary Yang without a partner will bring drought and cause heaven not to rain when it should. Women correspond to earth: Should one single woman be despised, it is as if all in the world despise their true mother. Should they maltreat, hurt, or murder earth's qi, it will be cut off and cease to give life. In great anger the earth would then turn hostile, so that a plethora of disasters would make it impossible for the king's government to achieve peace.


Excerpted from The Scripture on Great Peace by Barbara Hendrischke. Copyright © 2006 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents



Section 41. How to Distinguish between Poor and Rich
Section 42. One Man and Two Women
Section 43. How to Promote the Good and Halt the Wicked
Section 44. How to Preserve the Three Essentials
Section 45. The Three Needs and the Method of [Dealing with] Auspicious and Ominous Events
Section 46. You Must Not Serve the Dead More Than the Living
Section 47. How to Verify the Trustworthiness of Texts and Writings
Section 48. An Explanation of the Reception and Transmission [of Evil] in Five Situations
Section 50. An Explanation of the Master's Declaration
Section 51. The True Contract
Section 52. How to Word Hard to Do Good
Section 53. How to Distinguish between Root and Branches
Section 54. How to Enjoy Giving Life Wins Favor with Heaven
Section 55. How to Classify Old Texts and Give a Title to the Book
Section 56. How the Nine Groups of Men Disperse Calamities
Inherited from Former Kings
Section 57. How to Examine What is True and What is False Dao
Section 58. On the Four Ways of Conduct and on [the Relationship between] Root and Branches
Section 59. Big and Small Reproaches
Section 60. How Books Illustrate [Rule by] Punishment and [by] Virtue
Section 61. On Digging Up Soil and Publishing Books
Section 62. Dao is Priceless and Overcomes Yi and Di Barbarians
Section 63. Officials, Sons, and Disciples of Outstanding Goodness Find Ways for Their Lord, Father, and Master to Become Transcendent
Section 64. How to Subdue Others by Means of Dao and Not by Means of Severity
Section 65. Threefold Cooperation and
Section 66. On the Need to Study What Is True

Appendix: The Composition of the TPJ


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