Declarations of the Perfected Part Two: Instructions on Shaping Destiny

Declarations of the Perfected is the first complete, annotated translation of Zhen’gao, Tao Hongjing’s (456-536) masterful compilation of the Shangqing or Higher Clarity revelations, setting the stage for the heyday of medieval Daoism. The present volume presents the Declarations’ second part (fasc. 5-8), which focuses on the various difficulties that Daoist practitioners are likely to encounter in a dangerous world, and how to overcome them. It begins with instructions of a more general nature, before moving on to problems faced specifically by Xu Mi (303-376) and his family and fellow officials. This volume also sheds much light on the history of its time—the kinds of moral and philosophical issues that were being debated, as well political intrigues in the Eastern Jin court.

Contents and Introduction

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Thomas E. Smith received his Ph.D. in Chinese from the University of Michigan, then worked twenty years as a translator and editor for Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade before moving back to Ann Arbor in 2016. He is now a full-time, free-lance translator and editor of scholarly books and articles, mostly in Chinese social sciences and fine arts.


The Zhen’gao or Declarations of the Perfected offers the unique opportunity to look over the shoulders of the “founder” of a new religious tradition. The text collects notes taken by the medium Yang Xi and his adherents, dealing with questions addressed to the immortals and their answers and admonitions. Chapters 5-8, which are translated in this volume, contain information on the otherworldly destiny of deceased members of the Xu family as well as of their acquaintances and their sepulchral plaints. They present a firsthand insight into the religious ideas and concepts that became the fashion of a southern Chinese elite from the third through the sixth centuries CE. Both the author’s translation and copious comments together with helpful contextualizations are praiseworthy. Not only Daoist specialists but anybody having an interest in comparative religion and Chinese history is well advised to peruse this work.

—Stephan Peter Bumbacher, University of Tübingen