Daozang and Subsidiary Compilations

The Encyclopedia of Taoism

Reproduced from:

Judith M. Boltz, "Daozang and Subsidiary Compilations"

In The Encyclopedia of Taoism, vol. 1, pp. 28-33
Edited by Fabrizio Pregadio
Routledge, 2008

The Encyclopedia of Taoism

Table of Contents and List of Contributors


Sample Entries

Daode jing (Scripture of the Dao and Its Virtue)

daojia (Taoism; "Lineage[s] of the Way")

daojiao (Taoism; Taoist teaching; "Teaching[s] of the Way")

Daozang (Daoist Canon) and Subsidiary Compilations

jiao (Offering)

jindan (Golden Elixir)

Lingbao (Numinous Treasure)

Quanzhen (Completion of Authenticity)

Shangqing (Highest Clarity)

Tianshi dao (Way of the Celestial Masters)

What has popularly come to be known as the Daozang (Taoist Canon) is indisputably the foremost body of texts for research in the field of Taoist studies. The Ming Canon of 1445, or so-called Zhengtong daozang (Taoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign Period), lies at the heart of all modern editions of the Canon. Its origins are closely linked to catalogues of Taoist writings prepared more than a millennium earlier. Canonic collections to which the Ming Canon is heir were produced under Tang, Song, Jurchen, and Mongol rulerships.

To some extent, each successive Canon may be regarded as the result of a working relationship between church and state. Both parties may very well have had particular needs in mind but if there was any motivation uniting them on this mission, it would have been the desire for ritual order. By joining forces to define a Taoist Canon imperial and clerical leaders could exercise their respective powers of regulatory control. Like all such endeavors, the compilation of every Canon in turn allowed the demarcation of textual authority to be established anew.

Later collections of texts derived from the Zhengtong daozang obviously narrow its boundaries. Those that stand in supplement to it alternatively offer an expansion of canonic limits. All such anthologies, as well as bibliographic guides to the Canon itself, serve to make the vast textual heritage of Taoist teachings more accessible.

Catalogues and Canons through the Ming

There is as yet no definitive study tracing the history of the Daozang. Canonic compilations prior to the Tang are particularly difficult to document, owing to disparate accounts found in a variety of texts ranging from Buddhist polemical writings to historical and topographical works. One of the more frequently cited resources is a stele inscription dating to 1275, but certain portions of this text remain to be verified. A copy of the inscription is appended to the Daozang quejing mulu (Index of Scriptures Missing from the Taoist Canon), presumably compiled by the editors of the Ming Canon. The anonymous text is entitled Daozang zunjing lidai gangmu (Historical Survey of the Revered Scriptures of the Taoist Canon). It will serve here as an anchor for the summary of the early history of the Canon that follows.

The origins of the Ming Canon are commonly traced to the editorial endeavors of Lu Xiujing (406-77), codifier of the Lingbao corpus. His preface to the Lingbao jingmu (Catalogue of Lingbao Scriptures) dates to 437. The catalogue he reportedly submitted to Song Mingdi (r. 465-72) in 471 is assumed to be what is known as the Sandong jingshu mulu (Index of Scriptures and Writings of the Three Caverns). A collection of texts collated under the supervision of the Director of the Bureau of Evaluation in 471 is said to have been approximately a third of the size of that catalogued by Lu.

The titles of two catalogues are dated to the time of Zhou Wudi (r. 560-78). Buddhist accounts speak of a Xuandu [guan] jing mu[lu] (Index of the Scriptures of the [Abbey of the] Mysterious Metropolis), produced in 569 at the Xuandu guan (Abbey of the Mysterious Metropolis) in the capital of Chang'an (Shaanxi). Taoist writings speak of a [Sandong] zhunang [jingmu] ([Catalogue of the Scriptures in] the Pearl Satchel [of the Three Caverns]), produced in 574 at the Tongdao guan (Abbey of the Pervasive Way) in Chang'an.

By the next century, during the early Tang period, additional catalogues of Taoist texts appear to have been compiled in succession. Yin Wencao (622-88) is credited with a Yuwei jingmu (Catalogue of the Scriptures of the Jade Weft Texts). Although there is no apparent trace of this text, the compilation of an Yiqie daojing mu (Catalogue of the Complete Taoist Scriptures) is confirmed by the extant prefaces of the compiler Shi Chongxuan (or Shi Chong, ?-713) and Tang Xuanzong (r. 712-56). Another catalogue, also lost, accompanied what came to be known as the Kaiyuan daozang (Taoist Canon of the Kaiyuan Reign Period), in reference to the reign period (713-41) during which it was compiled. Entitled Sandong qionggang (Exquisite Compendium of the Three Caverns), this catalogue is ascribed to a Taoist Master named Zhang Xianting. Neither catalogue nor Canon is thought to have survived the An Lushan and Shi Siming uprisings of 755-63. Later efforts to recompile a Canon apparently met a similar fate following the Huang Chao rebellion of 874-84.

Three canonic compilations of significance arose during the Song. A comprehensive search and collation of texts began in the year 990, at the command of Song Taizong (r. 976-97). The catalogue to this initial Canon of the Song bore the title Sandong sifu jingmu (Catalogue of the Scriptures of the Three Caverns and Four Supplements). By 1009, Song Zhenzong (r. 997-1022) had authorized a new recension of the Canon. Seven years later the Minister of Rites Wang Qinruo (962-1025) presented the emperor with a catalogue entitled Baowen tonglu (Comprehensive Register of Precious Literature). The Canon of 1016 came to be known as the Da Song Tiangong baozang (Precious Canon of the Celestial Palace of the Great Song). The successor to this Canon is the Zhenghe Wanshou daozang (Taoist Canon of the Ten-Thousand-Fold Longevity of the Zhenghe Reign Period). Compiled under the aegis of Song Huizong (r. 1100-1125), it is the first Taoist Canon to have been produced in print. Approximately 70,000 blocks were cut for this Canon, a task apparently not completed until 1119 in Fuzhou (Fujian), a major publication center at that time.

The Canon of 1119 served as the foundation for a new compilation undertaken in 1190 by the authority of the Jurchen ruler Zhangzong (r. 1190-1208). Completed in 1192, the Da Jin Xuandu baozang (Precious Canon of the Mysterious Metropolis of the Great Jin) provided in turn the backbone for a Canon edited under the direction of the Quanzhen patriarch Song Defang (1183-1247). It was replaced in 1244 by the [Da Yuan] Xuandu baozang (Precious Canon of the Mysterious Metropolis). Although Khubilai khan (r. 1260-94) later ordered the destruction of both texts and printing blocks of this Canon, small components of it have rather miraculously survived.

The so-called Zhengtong daozang, or Da Ming daozang jing (Scriptures of the Taoist Canon of the Great Ming), may be regarded as the culmination of Taoist canonic compilations undertaken within the imperial age of China. The forty-third Celestial Master Zhang Yuchu (1361-1410) served as the initial editor, by the command of the Yongle Emperor (r. 1403-24). It was only by the grace of his great-grandson the Zhengtong Emperor (r. 1436-49) that publication of the Ming Canon was finally accomplished in 1445. An addendum to the some 1400 titles in this Canon was completed in 1607. This supplemental collection of some fifty titles is given the title Da Ming xu daozang jing (Scriptures in Supplement to the Taoist Canon of the Great Ming). It is more popularly known as the Wanli xu daozang (Supplementary Taoist Canon of the Wanli Reign Period), in reference to its compilation by order of the Wanli Emperor (r. 1573-1620). The responsibility for it fell to the fiftieth Celestial Master Zhang Guoxiang (?-1611).

Modern Editions

Access to the Ming Canon remained limited until the Hanfen lou branch of the Commercial Press in Shanghai issued a threadbound edition in 1923-26. The former Minister of Education Fu Zengxiang (1872-1950) played a major role in the achievement of this landmark in publication. His persuasive endorsement of the academic value of the Canon convinced President Xu Shichang (1855-1939) to authorize a government subsidy for the project.

The copy of the Ming Canon photolithographically reproduced in 1,120 threadbound fascicles by Hanfen lou came from the Baiyun guan (Abbey of the White Clouds) in Beijing. Missing portions of it are known to have been replaced in 1845. Reprints of the Hanfen lou edition have made the Ming Canon even more accessible, beginning with the threadbound copy issued in 1962 by the Yiwen Publishing House in Taipei. Among the more widely available editions in modern binding is the 60-volume Zhengtong daozang produced by the same publishing house in 1977. Another edition, the 36-volume Daozang, appeared in 1988 as a joint publication of Wenwu chubanshe in Beijing, the Shanghai shudian, and the Tianjin guji chubanshe. This new edition overcomes a number of defects in earlier editions, replacing missing texts as well as correcting misplacements, but it also retains and introduces new defects.

A reorganized, punctuated edition of the Taoist Canon is now in print. Intermittent reports on this team effort began to appear as early as 1997 in Zhongguo daojiao (Chinese Taoism), a publication of the Zhongguo daojiao xiehui (Chinese Taoist Association) headquartered at the Baiyun guan in Beijing. The final product is the 49-volume Zhonghua daozang (Taoist Canon of China) published by Huaxia chubanshe in 2003.


Available indices are not in agreement on the total number of titles contained in the Ming Canon. This discrepancy primarily reflects the occasional difficulty in determining where one text ends and the next begins. The earliest annotated table of contents to the Ming Canon, the Daozang mulu xiangzhu (Detailed Commentary on the Index of the Taoist Canon) ascribed to Bai Yunji, dates to 1626. It has been superceded by the Daozang zimu yinde (Combined Indices to the Authors and Titles of Books in Two Collections of Taoist Literature), compiled in 1935 by Weng Dujian. This volume in the Harvard-Yenching Institute Sinological Index Series lists altogether 1476 titles in the Daozang and indicates which texts are also found in the Daozang jiyao (Essentials of the Taoist Canon) of 1906. An additional list of the texts recorded in the Daozang jiyao alone is followed by indices to both titles and compilers. The closing index to biographies is keyed to seventy-seven hagiographic resources in the Canon.

An index volume accompanying the 60-volume edition of the Zhengtong daozang lists altogether 1487 titles in the Canon. Li Diankui is responsible for this reedition of the Concordance du Tao-tsang compiled under the direction of Kristofer Schipper in 1975. The editors of the Daozang tiyao (A Conspectus of the Taoist Canon), Ren Jiyu and Zhong Zhaopeng, alternatively list a total of 1473 titles in the Canon. This collection of abstracts for all texts in the Canon also includes a supplement of brief biographical accounts on compilers cited. Another comprehensive guide to the Canon has been under preparation since 1979, with the establishment of the "Projet Tao-tsang" under the auspices of the European Science Foundation. The results of this massive collaborative enterprise, edited by Kristofer Schipper and Franciscus Verellen, have been published in 2004 by the University of Chicago Press under the title The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang.

The recently published Xinbian daozang mulu (A Newly-Compiled Index to the Taoist Canon) compiled by Zhong Zhaopeng (1999) presents a reorganized table of contents to the Canon. This two-volume threadbound publication lists a total of 1527 titles under six major headings and twenty-two subheadings. Recorded under each title are the fascicle number(s) in the Hanfen lou edition and volume number(s) in the 60-volume Yiwen edition. The few editorial notes recorded after this data in some entries offer clarifications of provenance. The appearance of the 1988 edition late in the course of his work on this index led the compiler to add a chart listing the fascicle numbers of the Hanfen lou edition in correspondence with its thirty-six volumes (labelled Sanjia ben). The second volume of this publication contains indices to compilers and titles.

Subsidiary Compilations

The Daozang jiyao mentioned above is by far the largest of anthologies chiefly derived from the Ming Canon. Other collections of note include the Daoshu shi'er zhong (Twelve Books on the Dao), the Daozang jinghua (Essential Splendors of the Taoist Canon), and the Daozang jinghua lu (Record of the Essential Splendors of the Taoist Canon). Publications that go beyond the Canon include the Daozang xubian (Sequel to the Taoist Canon), the Zhuang-Lin xu daozang (Supplementary Taoist Canon of Zhuang[-Chen Dengyun] and Lin [Rumei]), and the Zangwai daoshu (Taoist Texts Outside the Canon).

Specialized publications not to be overlooked include the collections of texts pertinent to the Taoist heritage that have been recovered from Dunhuang (Gansu) as well as from archaeological sites such as Mawangdui (Hunan) and Guodian (Hubei). In addition to the Tonkō dōkyō (Taoist Scriptures from Dunhuang) compiled by Ōfuchi Ninji (Ōfuchi Ninji 1978-79) there is now in print a five-volume Dunhuang daozang (Taoist Canon of Dunhuang) edited by Li Defan (1999). The study of Taoist institutional history should also be enhanced by the recent publication of a 36-volume Zhongguo daoguan zhi congkan (Collectanea of Monographs of Taoist Temples in China), edited by Gao Xiaojian (2000). This publication will not only supplement monastic records in the Taoist Canon but also surely offer further supplement to the invaluable yet still largely overlooked Daojia jinshi lüe (A Collection of Taoist Epigraphy) compiled by Chen Yuan (1988). The recent appearance of so many new resources is truly without precedent in the field of Taoist studies.

Judith M. BOLTZ