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A Stairway to Heaven: Daoist Self-Cultivation in Early Modern China

Paul van Enckevort defended his thesis on 3 June 2020.

P.G.G. van Enckevort
03 June 2020
Leiden Repository

By the eleventh century, communities of religious practitioners in China had developed a theory and practice of self-cultivation that combined elements from the so-called Three Teachings: Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Since their doctrines make abundant use of alchemical metaphors, they have become known as masters of “inner alchemy,” an umbrella term that covers a variety of lineages. By the seventeenth century, one of these masters, Wu Shouyang (1574–after 1641), synthesized what he thought to be the best elements from the various lineages of inner alchemy and combined them with elements from Buddhism and Confucianism. By the late nineteenth century, his writings had become best-sellers in the genre and his interpretation of inner alchemy became representative of the standard account of this tradition. This study aims to accomplish two things. First, it provides a thorough presentation of Wu Shouyang’s life and works, filling a gap in the scholarship on this important figure. Second, it aims to use Wu’s writings to answer some fundamental questions about the standard account of inner alchemy as it developed in late imperial China.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. B.J. ter Haar

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