A Beginner’s Guide to Translating Daoist Scriptures

Daoism [also spelled “Taoism”] is the only organized religion ever to have arisen in China. It is commonly known as the “religion of immortality” because followers hoped to merge their bodies with the Dao, the basic life-force of the universe. Recent scholars have made tremendous advances in studying the contents and organization of Daoist scriptures. There have already been a handful of bibliographies detailing the scholarship about the history and contemporary Daoism (see below). The following list of articles and books is focuses on providing a short list of basic resources intended to assist translating Daoist scriptures into English.

What are Daoist Scriptures? (Preliminary Readings)

  • Bokenkamp, Stephen R. “Daoism: An Overview.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 2176–92.
  • Boltz, Judith M. “Daoism: Daoist Literature.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Detroit: MacMillian Reference, 2005. 2202–12.
  • Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. “Daoist Sacred Scriptures.” In Empowered Writing: Exorcistic and Apotropaic Rituals in Medieval China. St. Petersburg, FL: Three Pines Press, 2012.113–33.
  • CHEN Guofu 陳國符. Daozang yuanliu kao 道藏源流攷. Rev. ed. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1963.
  • Komjathy, Louis. “Scripture and Scripture Study.” In The Daoist Tradition: An Introduction.  London: Bloomsbury, 2013. 225–42.
  • ŌFUCHI Ninji 大淵忍爾. Dōkyō to sono kyōten: Dōkyōshi no kenkyu, sono ni 道教とその経典:道教史の研究、其の二. Tokyo: Sōbunsha, 1997.
  • Pregadio, Fabrizio, ed. “Overview: Scriptures and Texts.” The Encyclopedia of Taoism. London: Routledge, 2008. 24–46.
  • Schipper, Kristofer. “Introduction.” In The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. 1–40

Where are Daoist Scriptures? (Navigating the Canon[s])

  • DZ (or CT, HY) Zhengtong daozang 正統道藏 [Daoist canon of the zhengtong reign period]. Eds. ZHANG Yuchu 張宇初 (1361–1410), and ZHANG Yuqing 張宇清 (d. 1426) .
  • JC  = Daoshu jicheng 道書集成 [Anthology of Daoist books]. Eds. TANG Yijie 湯一介 and DING Huang 丁煌. Beijing: Jiuzhou tushu chubanshe,1999.
  • JH = Daozang jinghua 道藏精華 [Essential blossoms of the Daoist canon]. Ed. XIAO Tianshi 蕭天石 (1909–86) et al. Xindian: Ziyou, 1963–65.
  • JHL = Daozang jinghua lu 道藏精華錄 [Record of essential Blossoms of the Daoist canon). Ed. DING Fubao 丁福保 (1874–1952). Beijing: Beijing tushuguan chubanshe, 2005.
  • JSL  = Daojia jinshi lue 道家金石略 [Collection of Daoist epigraphy]. Eds. CHEN Yuan 陳垣, CHEN Zhichao 陳智超, and ZENG Qingying 曾慶瑛. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe,1988.
  • JY = Daozang jiyao 道藏輯要 [Collected essentials of the Daoist canon]. Eds. PENG Dingqiu彭定求 (1755–1819), JIANG Yupu 蔣予蒲 (1755–1819) and YAN Yonghe 閻永和 (fl. 1900). Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1995.
  • XB = Daozang xubian 道藏續編 [Supplementary collection of the Daoist Canon]. Ed. MIN Yide 閔一得 (1758–1836). 1834; Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 1989
  • XDZ =  Da Ming xu daozang jing 大明續道藏經 [Scriptures in supplement to the Daoist canon of the great Ming], also known as Wanli xu daozang 萬曆續道藏 [Supplement to the Daoist canon of the wanli reign period] or simply as Xu daozang 續道藏 [Supplement to the Daoist canon] was edited by ZHANG Guoxiang 張國祥 (d. 1611), and was distributed by the Wanli emperor to various temples between 1605–07.
  • YS = Sandong yishi 三洞拾遺 [Lost works of the three caverns]. Eds. WANG Ka 王卡 (b. 1956) and WANG Guiping 汪桂平 Hefei: Huangshan shushe, 2005.
  • ZH = Zhonghua daozang 中華道藏 [Chinese Daoist Canon]. Eds. ZHANG Jiyu 張繼禹 (1962–) and WANG Ka王卡 (1956–). Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 2004.
  • ZHX = Zhonghua xu daozang 中華續道藏. [Supplemental Chinese Daoist canon]. Eds. GONG Pengcheng 龔鵬程 and CHEN Liaoan 陳廖安. Taipei: Xinwenfeng, 1999.
  • ZL = Zhuang-Lin xu daozang 莊林續道藏 [Zhuang(chen) and Lin family supplement to the Daoist canon]. Collected by Michael Saso (1930–). Taipei: Chenwen chubanshe, 1975.
  • ZW = Zangwai daoshu 藏外道書 [Daoist texts outside the canon]. Eds. Hu Daojing 胡道靜, Lin Wanqing 林萬清, and Chen Yaoting 陳燿庭 (1939–). Chengdu: Bashu shushe, 1992–94.

Where are Daoist Scriptures Located? (Concordances)

  • Chen, William Y (CHEN Youfang 陳有方). A Guide to the Tao Tsang Ching Hua.  Taipei: Chinese Materials Center, 1984.
  • ———. A Guide to the Tao-tsang Chi Yao.  Stony Brook, NY: Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, 1987.
  • ———. A Guide to Cheng-T’ung Tao-tsang.  Taipei: Chinese Materials Center, 1989.
  • HUANG Zhaohan 黃兆漢 (Wong Shiu Hon). Daozang danyao yiming suoyin 道藏丹藥異名索引. Taipei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1989.
  • Komjathy, Louis. Title Index to Daoist Collections.  Cambridge, MA: Three Pines Press, 2002.
  • ŌFUCHI Ninji 大淵忍爾, ISHII Masako 石井昌子, and OZAKI Masaharu 尾崎正治. Kaitei zōho Rikuchō Tō Sō no kobunken shoin: Dōkyō tenseki mokuroku, sakuin 改訂増補六朝唐宋の古文献所引ー道教典籍目録索引.  Tokyo: Kokusho kankōkai, 1999.
  • Pregadio, Fabrizio. Index of Zhonghua Daozang.  Mountain View, CA: Golden Elixir Press, 2009.
  • Schipper, Kristofer. Concordance du Tao-tsang: Titres des ouvrages. Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient. 1975.
  • SHI Zhouren施舟人, and CHEN Yaoting陳耀庭. Daozang suoyin wu zhong banben Daozang tongjian 道藏索引——五種版本道藏通檢. Shanghai: Shanghai shudian, 1996.
  • Van der Loon, Piet. Taoist Books in the Libraries of the Sung Period: A Critical Study and Index.  London: Ithaca Press, 1984.
  • WENG Dujian 翁獨健. Daozang zimu yinde 道藏子目引得. Beijing: Yenching University, 1935.

What Have Previous Scholars Written? (Bibliographies)

  • Komjathy, Louis. “Bibliography for Daoist Studies.” http://www.daoistcenter.org/bibliography.pdf
  • Pas, Julian F. A Select Bibliography on Taoism.  Stony Brook, NY: Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, 1988.
  • Seidel, Anna. “Chronicle of Taoist Studies in the West 1950-1990.” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 5 (1989–90): 223–347.

What Do Daoist Scriptures Mean? (Dictionaries)

Despite the fact that at least twelve dictionaries have been published on the Daoist religion, few provide detailed etymological analysis and barely scratch the surface about how words developed over time. Thanks to its synoptic table of contents and alphabetical arrangement, Pregadio’s edited volume, The Encyclopedia of Taoism, is presently the best place to begin when searching for meanings of words. Nevertheless, students might find the following books helpful depending on the subjects of their inquiries:

  • DAI Yuanchang 戴源長. Xianxue cidian 仙學辭典. Rev. ed. Taipei: Zhenshanmei chubanshe, 1970.
  • ———.  Daoxue cidian 道學辭典.  Taipei: Zhenshanmei chubanshe, 1971.
  • Daojiao dacian 道教大辭典. Ed. Zhongguo Daojiao xiehui 中國道教協會 [Chinese Daoist Association]. Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe, 1994.
  • HU Fuchen 胡孚琛. Zhonghua Daojiao da cidian 中華道教大辭典. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1995.
  • HUANG Haide 黄海德, and LI Gang 李剛. Jianming daojiao cidian 簡明道教辭典. Chengdu: Sichuan daxue chubanshe, 1991.
  • LI Shuhuan 李叔還. Daojiao da cidian 道教大辭典. Taipei: Juliu tushu gongsi, 1979.
  • LI Yangzheng 李養正, and MIN Zhiting 閔智亭. Zhongguo daojiao da cidian 中國道教大辭典. Taizhong: Chenjiu qiye, 1996.
  • NOGUCHI Tetsurō 野口鐡郎 et al. Dōkyō jiten 道教事典 Tokyo: Hirakawa shuppan, 1994.
  • Pas, Julian F., and Man Kam Leung. Historical Dictionary of Taoism.  Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998.
  • SAKADE Yoshinobu 坂出祥伸. Dōkyō no daijiten: Dōkyō no seikai o yomu「道教」の大事典 : 道教の世界を読む.  Tokyo: Shin jimbutsu ōraisha, 1994.
  • WU Feng 吳楓, and SONG Yifu 宋一夫. Zhonghua daoxue tongdian 中華道學通典.  Haikou: Nanhai chuban gongsi, 1994.
  • ZHANG Zhizhe 張志哲. Daojiao wenhua cidian 道教文化辭典.  Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1994.

Reading Daoist texts, however, is difficult not only because of their complex lexicon, but due to the fact that many (even those written by contemporary writers) are composed in an ornate classical style. For more on deciphering the classical prose and poetry in Daoist scriptures, see the following:

  • Chinese-English Dictionary. Ed. Robert Henry Mathews. Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942. See Edward H. Schafer’s Combined Supplements to Mathews (Berkeley: University of California, 1978).
  • Dai kan-wa jiten 大漢和辭典. Ed. MOROHASHI Tetsuji諸橋轍次. Tokyo: Taishūkan shoten, 1955–60.
  • Pulleyblank, Edwin G. Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar.  Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995.
  • Schuessler, Axel. ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese.  Honolulu: University of Hawai‛i Press, 2006.
  • Wang Li gudai hanuyu zidian 王力古漢語字典. Ed WANG Li 王力 et al. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2000.

[Cover photo by Pierce Salguero]

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