Cantong qi: The Seal of the Unity of the Three

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The Seal of the Unity of the Three

A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi,
the Source of the Taoist Way of the Golden Elixir

Fabrizio Pregadio


324 pp.
Golden Elixir Press, 2011
ISBN 978-0-9843082-8-6 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-9843082-7-9 (hardcover)

Paperback, US$ 26.95 ● € 21.95 ● GBP 18.95 (list prices)
Hardcover, US$ 39.95 or equivalent in other currencies (list price)

Chrome bullet For the PDF abridged translation, see this page

See also the companion Vol. 2 — Bibliographic Studies on the Cantong qi: Commentaries, Essays, and Related Works. The two volumes can be purchased separately.

Under an allusive poetical language and thick layers of images and symbols, the Cantong qi, or Seal of the Unity of the Three, hides the teachings that gave birth to Taoist Internal Alchemy, or Neidan.

Traditionally attributed to Wei Boyang and dated to about 150 CE, the Seal of the Unity of the Three (also known in English as Kinship of the Three) is concerned with three major subjects: Taoism (the way of "non-doing"), Cosmology (the system of the Book of Changes), and Alchemy. These subjects are joined to one another into a unique doctrine. The charm of its verses, the depth of its discourse, and its enigmatic language have inspired a large number of traditional commentaries and other works, attracting the attention not only of Taoist masters and adepts, but also of philosophers, cosmologists, and poets.

In addition to a complete translation of the Seal of the Unity of the Three, this book contains a detailed introduction to its history and its teachings, explanations of each of its sections, and notes on its verses. Also included are several tables and pictures, an index of subjects, and the complete Chinese text.

Preface, ix

     The Title of the Cantong qi, 2
     A Single Author, or Multiple Authors?, 5
     The Dating Riddle, 11
     The Three Books and the "Ancient Text," 28
     Main Commentaries, 33
     Dao, Cosmos, and Man, 36
     The Way of "Non-Doing," 47
     Alchemy in the Cantong qi, 53
     From the External Elixir to the Internal Elixir, 58

     Book 1, 69
     Book 2, 92
     Book 3, 114

NOTES, 127



     Two Biographies of Wei Boyang, 263
     Chinese Text, 266
     Index of Main Subjects, 286

Glossary of Chinese Characters, 295
Works Quoted, 303

Chrome bullet "[This book] has already opened my eyes to things that I would not have appreciated before." (Email from a Reader)

Chrome bullet The Cantong qi is a pillar of China's religious tradition and is also one of its most mystifying and puzzling texts. Pregadio, editor of Encyclopedia of Taoism, is the leading expert on this text and on the field of Chinese alchemy in which the text is situated. His account of its origin and history is masterly. He shows that its roots lie in the study of the Book of Changes that occupied scholars in the 2nd century CE and their thoughts on analogies between micro- and macrocosm. Untangling a web of hagiographic fiction, he proposes 450 CE as the date when the text's composition process arrived at a first conclusion. From the 8th century CE onwards, it was adopted by practitioners of Neidan (Internal Alchemy) and thus came to strongly influence meditation practices well into the 19th century. Today, the text still has a considerable audience, which adds to the importance of Pregadio's book. It contains the text's first reliable English translation, which is moreover eminently readable, explanatory notes, an annotated edition of the Chinese text, index, glossary, and enough lists of tables and figures to allow even the nonspecialist to follow the text's reasoning and directly enter the world of Daoist cosmological speculation. (Full text of review by Barbara Hendrischke, University of Sydney, in Religious Studies Review, 38.4, December 2012, p. 259)

Chrome bullet "[Pregadio] offers a glimpse of the painstaking detective work required to produce a high quality translation. . . . He faithfully translates the Can Tong Qi into readable English without sacrificing the richness of the original. . . . Fabrizio Pregadio's translation of the Zhou Yi Can Tong Qi is a remarkable contribution to those interested in the study of Taoism and Internal Alchemy. Very few of the old texts have been translated into English, let alone with such high quality." (Shawn Cartwright, Traditional Chinese Culture Institute International - Read the original review)

Chrome bullet ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Best translation of Cantong qi. — [Pregadio] offers in this translation with commentary, a very readable and clearly explained version of an extremely important inner alchemy work called "Can tong qi" (Pronounced "tsan tong chi" in modern accent). In a very readable introduction (pp. 1-63) the origin and content of the present text is examined, after which the text itself is translated, pp. 69-126. The most important contribution of Pregadio's work is found in the extensive notes, pp. 130 to 244, which are easily understood by the lay person . . . A must read! Recommended for university courses as well as the general public! (Prof. Michael Saso - Read the original review)

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