T A O I S M A N D T H E A R T S O F C H I N A
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
28 Lunar Mansions (n, pl) constellations situated along the moon's path as it rotates around the earth each month. They are called "mansions" or "lodges" because they were once understood to be resting places for the moon during its journey.
alchemist (n) one who practices alchemy, a Taoist set of procedures and principles meant to prolong human life
alchemy (n) in Taoist practice, a set of procedures and principles meant to prolong human life. In Taoism, there were two types of alchemy: Outer Alchemy consisted of the chemical production of elixirs that were meant to be swallowed; Inner Alchemy, however, relied on symbolic meditation to achieve the same end.
attendant (n) one who guards, looks after, or serves an important person; a servant
attribute (n) symbolic object which is conventionally used to identify a particular deity
auspicious (adj) pertaining to good fortune or luck
Buddhism (n) major religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a sixth-century-B.C. prince who became known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. In its philosophical teachings, Buddhism seeks the liberation of the individual from the suffering inherent in life. As Buddhism spread from India to South and Southeast Asia and finally to China, many diverse forms of the religion developed.
Buddhist (adj; n) of or relating to the philosophical teachings of Buddhism; one who believes in or practices Buddhism
celestial (adj) related to heaven or the divine
Celestial Worthy of the Way and its Power divine title of Laozi by the second century A.D. In this guise, Laozi is one of the Three Purities, the greatest Taoist gods. The name is derived from the Taoist text attributed to Laozi, the Classic of the Way and Its Power.
Chan (Zen) Buddhist (n) one who practices the type of Buddhism that developed in China in the sixth and seventh centuries. This type of Buddhism combined the doctrines of Indian Buddhism with Chinese ideas, including some based on the Classic of the Way and Its Power. More than any other type of Buddhism, Chan stresses the importance of the enlightenment experience and the uselessness of rituals while encouraging intellectual analysis of the doctrine.
Chinese zodiac (n) organization of the calendar into 12-year cycles, each represented by an animal associated with specific personality traits. The animals include: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, cock, dog, and pig. People born in the zodiac year of a specific animal are said to possess that animal's traits. See the Chinese zodiac diagram for a year-by-year list of each sign's particular characteristics.
cinnabar (n) red mercury ore, or mercuric sulfide, which was highly valued and used for its color and chemical properties; a primary ingredient used in the Taoist elixirs of Outer Alchemy
Classic of the Way and Its Power (Daode jing) (also spelled TAO TE CHING) the earliest-known text of the Taoist tradition, which is said to have been authored by the legendary figure Laozi. The text is actually a compilation of various writings collected over the course of generations. It may have assumed its current form by the third or fourth century B.C. The Classic of the Way and Its Power includes poetic passages, sayings, fragments of political texts, and passages intended for recitation. It served as the foundation for both philosophical and religious Taoism.
Complete Realization sect (n) a Taoist monastic order founded in northern China around 1160. The sect combines the teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. The goal of the sect's followers was to attain immortality by perfectly realizing the Tao in themselves. Both male and female members of this sect practiced a strict monastic lifestyle. It survives today as one of the two major sects of Taoism, and its headquarters is the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing.
Confucianism (n) a philosophical practice based on the teachings of Confucius (c. 550478 B.C.), a Chinese scholar and teacher. Confucianism offered a model of government that emphasized a ruler's moral qualities, such as the correct and harmonious fulfillment of his family relations. The relationship of father and son provided the model for all relationships, including that between the ruler and his ministers. Later Confucianism of the Song dynasty (called Neo-Confucianism by Western scholars) added a cosmological dimension that drew on the principles of Taoism and Buddhism.
contrition (n) state of guilt or remorse resulting from wrong or evil actions
cosmology; cosmological (n; adj) beliefs about the origin and structure of the universe. Chinese cosmology referred not only to the structure and operation of the heavens, but also to that of the earth and human beings. Cosmology in this context implies the way that these realms work together and affect the others; of or relating to the origin and structure of the universe
Eight Immortals a group of legendary, semi-historical figures important in both religious Taoism and popular religion. Artistic representations of each are usually recognizable by identifying their respective attributes. The names of the Eight Immortals are Zhongli Quan, He Xiangu, Zhang Guo, Lό Dongbin, Han Xiangxi, Cao Guojiu, Li Tieguai, and Lan Caihe. Stories of the Eight Immortals were popularized in folklore, drama, novels, and woodblock prints.
elixir (n) in Outer Alchemy, a magical potion that bestows immortality when swallowed; in Inner Alchemy, the life-prolonging energy attained through spiritual purification
emolument (n) money or other compensation for work that has been done
Five Phases (n, pl) the relationship of nature's five elements (water, wood, fire, metal, and earth) to various natural cycles and phenomena. In Taoism, each of the five elements corresponds to a time of day, direction, and season. Movement from one phase to the next occurs in defined sequences. For instance, water (night, north, winter) eventually becomes wood (morning, east, spring). The Five Phase system also includes the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (for example, the rat and pig are water signs). The movements of the Five Phases are rooted in the cycles of yin and yang.
Five Sacred Peaks (n, pl) five sacred mountains located along the five directions (north, south, east, west, and center) that occupy powerful places in Taoist geography. The sacred mountains are not actually single peaks; rather they are networks of peaks, cliffs, gorges, hills, ravines, etc. To communicate with the deities on these mountains, emperors ordered the construction of important Taoist temples on each peak. Taoists also believe that immortals inhabit the Five Sacred Peaks. On their slopes grow the magical mushrooms that bestow immortality (see map).
Han dynasty (206 B.C.A.D. 220) the period of great cultural and territorial expansion that brought China into contact with other cultures, including those of Southeast Asia and Korea. During this time, Confucianism began to flourish and Buddhism was brought to China by merchants along the Silk Roads. In the Han dynasty, the civil service was developed, the first history of China was written, and the first Chinese dictionary was compiled. Many concepts that became the foundations for religious Taoism (e.g., notions of the cosmos and immortality) developed during this period, and Laozi was deified. Taoist-inspired rebellions ultimately brought about the collapse of the dynasty. Many of the art objects that survive from this period are burial objects that reflect ideas about cosmology and the afterlife.
handscroll (n) a painting or piece of calligraphy made in the form of a horizontal scroll specifically intended for occasional, intimate viewing. Handscrolls are viewed just as Chinese is read: a section at a time, from right to left. Handscrolls vary considerably in length; although some are quite short, others may extend to over 70 feet in length (see scroll diagram).
hanging scroll (n) a painting or piece of calligraphy made in the form of a vertical scroll hung either on a wall or from the end of an attendant's pole. Unlike oil canvases or panels, scroll paintings could be easily taken down and replaced at various times of the year to suit the tastes of visitors or to mark certain occasions, such as the changing seasons. Scroll paintings are remounted every few decades to repair any damage and help preserve the image (see scroll diagram).
hierarchic scale (n) an artist's method of indicating the importance of individuals through relative size, regardless of actual dimensions. Persons of lesser importance are thus depicted smaller in size in relation to their superiors.
hierarchy (n) a social structure in which individuals or classes of people are ranked so that some people occupy higher levels of importance than others
immortals (n, pl) in Taoism, individuals who have achieved eternal life through perfect realization of the Tao. One may become immortal through meditation or Inner Visualization, physical training and breathing techniques, the ingestion of elixirs, or moral behavior. Taoists believe that immortals dwell in the heavens, in caverns, on mountains, and in other magical paradises.
Inner Alchemy (n) a procedure, based on Taoist principles, designed to prolong human life, with the ultimate goal of immortality. Inner Alchemy involves meditation, which produces a symbolic elixir in the body.
Inner Visualization (n) a form of Taoist religious practice that directs the practitioner's imagination toward spiritual transformation. The process may either involve an imagined journey or the metaphoric transformation of the human body into the form of a mountain. The goal is immortality.
Jade Emperor chief of the pantheon of popular gods incorporated into Taoism
Laozi literally, "old master," traditionally assumed to have been born in the sixth century B.C. He is considered the author of the earliest Taoist philosophical text, the Classic of the Way and Its Power (Daode jing). Historians now agree that Laozi was a legendary figure developed to provide an author for the Daode jing, which was compiled by a group of scholars in the third century B.C. During the Han dynasty, Laozi was deified; he remains one of the most important deities in religious Taoism.
Lotus (n) a plant of the water-lily family that grows in water or mud. Because its blossoms emerge pure and beautiful out of muddy waters, Buddhists view the lotus as a symbol of human beings' true nature, which can remain unstained by the mud of the world. The lotus may also symbolize the soul that has attained enlightenment, freed from the mire of the everyday world. The many seeds of the lotus make it also a symbol of fertility. Although it was borrowed from Buddhism, the lotus appears in many Taoist religious images.
mandorla (n) an almond-shaped halo of light enclosing the whole of some sacred figures
matriarch (n) a woman who controls a family or a social group
microcosm (n) a miniature version of a larger object or entity
Ming dynasty (13681644) the period following the Yuan dynasty in which native rule was restored. Ming emperors and empresses sponsored the renovation of Taoist sacred sites and the practice of reformed Taoist rituals. In the Ming dynasty, the Taoist god Zhenwu became a national protector. Paintings characterized by great energy and vigor flourished during this time, and the porcelain industry received major imperial patronage. Early Ming energy was followed by a powerful conservative movement, echoed in the efforts to isolate China from the outside world. Nevertheless, the Portuguese landed in China in 1514. In the 17th century, trade with the Netherlands began and Jesuit priests entered southern China. Corruption in the late-Ming imperial court ultimately led to another foreign occupation.
minister (n) the head of a governmental department
Mongol (adj) of or relating to the inhabitants of Mongolia in central Asia, who ruled China during the Yuan dynasty
mudra (n, pl) mystical hand gestures common in Hinduism and Buddhism
Northern and Southern dynasties (386589) long period of political disunity after the fall of the Han dynasty. During this time, China was divided into a number of smaller kingdoms. The period is also known as the Six Dynasties.
Northern Song (9601126) the early Song-dynasty period, during which the capital, Bianjing (modern Kaifeng), was located along the Yellow River. A period of political reunification, the Northern Song was characterized by strong sea trade rather than military power. The dynasty also brought improvements in river, canal, and road transportation. The Northern Song emperors were great patrons of Taoism and the arts. They were avid collectors and generous supporters of a painting academy. The Song emperor Huizong (r. 11101125) believed he was an incarnation of a Taoist god.
numinous (adj) having spiritual, mysterious, or holy qualities
ordination; ordain (n, v) the act of granting religious authority; to officially grant religious or ministerial authority
Outer Alchemy (n) the branch of alchemy that used elixirs, which would produce immortality when swallowed. The most important ingredients were cinnabar and gold. As Taoism developed, the belief that immortality must be achieved by ingesting an elixir was supplanted by the doctrine of Inner Alchemy.
pagoda (n) multistoried tower, usually but not exclusively associated with Buddhist shrines
pantheon (n) all the gods of a particular religion, people, or nation
patriarch (n) a man who is the head of a family, group, or race
patron (n) one who gives financial support to a person or cause, especially by purchasing a work of art
phoenix (n) according to Taoist tradition, a mythical bird not related to the phoenix of Western mythology, which arises from ashes. The Chinese phoenix is often paired with the dragon. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the phoenix symbolized the empress and the dragon symbolized the emperor. According to ancient Chinese lore, the appearance of the phoenix on the wutong tree was a testament to the peaceful rule of a virtuous emperor.
popular religion (n) belief in local Chinese deities. The majority of these gods, some of whom were added to the Taoist pantheon beginning in the Song dynasty, are associated with mountains, cities, springs, trees, human heroes, or animal spirits.
primordial (adj) existing at or from the beginning
qi (pronounced: chee) (n) literally air, water, vapor, or breatha central concept in Taoism, Chinese medicine, philosophy, and art in general. Qi refers to the rhythmic energy that constitutes each and every thing. In Taoism, energy and matter are one and the samethus all people are actually qi itself.
Qin dynasty (221207 B.C.) dynasty in which China was unified under the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di. He established central rule and standardized weights, measures, coins, and the writing system. Some claim that it was his idea to create the Great Wall in 214 B.C. to protect China from invasion. He was a particular believer in the notion of immortality and is famous for his terracotta army of over 7,000 life-size pottery soldiers, found buried near his tomb in the early 1970s.
Qing dynasty (16441911) period during which the Manchus, foreigners from central Asia, took advantage of Ming imperial weakness and successfully occupied China. During this period, China became the most heavily populated country in the world. While the Manchu emperors adopted many aspects of Chinese culture and political philosophy, they also actively strove to retain their native identity. Traditional Chinese art and culture continued to flourish, however, often with imperial sponsorship. Although Qing-dynasty officials practiced Tibetan Buddhism, they sponsored Taoist rituals and maintained a Taoist temple in Beijing.
Queen Mother of the West the Taoist goddess who rules over the western paradise and is the head of a pantheon of goddesses and female immortals. In her garden, she grows the peaches of immortality.
religious Taoism (n) a term used to define Taoism as an organized, institutionalized religion as opposed to the original philosophical tradition. Religious Taoism developed between the second and fifth centuries A.D. and built on the earlier philosophical foundations. Unlike philosophical Taoism, religious Taoism incorporated new ritual practices and religious institutions, established a priesthood, defined the Taoist Canon, and created a pantheon of deities.
rubbing (n) a copy of a raised, inscribed, or textured surface made by placing paper over it and rubbing the paper with a colored substance
sacred mountains (n, pl) sites where qi is most refined, the ingredients for elixirs of longevity are found, and immortals dwell. The Taoist sacred mountain connects heaven and earth. By the Han dynasty, the Five Sacred Peaks and other holy mountains were worshiped.
scepter (n) a staff or baton carried as an emblem of authority
seal (n) an impression in the form of an emblem stamped on a document, painting, or piece of calligraphy to document authorship, ownership, or general appreciation. Seals and inscriptions might also be added to a work over the course of centuries, as the work passes from collector to collector; thus, the study of seals can reveal the history of a work. Seal carving was considered to be a gentleman's pastime in China, and many modern Chinese artists still carve their own seals. The emblems themselves may be carved in stone or ivory. Impressions are always made in red ink.
secular (adj) of or relating to the worldly or temporal; not connected with religion
self-cultivation (n) program of meditation and self-discipline that may include scripture study, restricted diet, and breathing exercises designed to bring the individual to a state of spiritual purity
Shang dynasty (c. 1600c. 1050 B.C.) dynasty that marks the first great flourishing of Bronze-Age China. Materials recovered from this period include ceremonial bronze vessels and jade implements. Early Chinese writing from the Shang dynasty has also been recovered, in the form of inscriptions on oracle bones used for divination ceremonies.
shogun (n) (literally, "general") one of a line of military leaders in Japan until the revolutions in the middle of the 19th century, when the emperor was restored in the Meiji period (18681912).
Sichuan (Szechwan) a province in southwestern China noted for its warm climate, fertile farmland, and abundance of natural resources; the birthplace of religious Taoism (see map)
Silk Roads (n, pl) the long and arduous routes by which traders, missionaries, and others traveled between China and the ancient Middle East, so named because silk traveled to the Mediterranean along these routes. The Silk Roads stretched across northwest China into central Asia and then southward to what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and finally westward toward the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The Silk Roads were active as early as the Han dynasty and thrived through the cosmopolitan Tang dynasty. Buddhism made its way from India to China along these routes (as well as the Southern Sea route).
solstice (n) either of the two times of the year when the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky at noon, marking the longest and shortest days of the year and the change of seasons
Song dynasty (9601279) period of reunification after the disruptive Five Dynasties period (906960). Not a strong military power, the Song turned to maritime trade. The publication of handbooks and encyclopedias promoted the widespread dissemination of information. Mining, metal-casting, and industrial mass production reached a high level as water and road transportation improved. During the Song dynasty, "Neo-Confucianism," a reinvigoration of traditional Confucianism with Buddhist and Taoist ideas, developed. In religious Taoism, Inner Alchemy rose in importance and popular deities were incorporated into the tradition. Song emperors were among the greatest imperial patrons of the arts in Chinese history. Likewise, members of the civil-service bureaucracy, educated in literary, historical, and artistic traditions, shaped a new and potent artistic taste that continues to affect Chinese art today.
Southern Song dynasty (11271279) the period within the Song dynasty during which invasions from the north and west forced the move to a southern capital, Hangzhou. Art during the Southern Song period is characterized by lyrical, intimate landscape painting and ceramic works noted for their quiet subtlety.
stele (n) a stone slab erected for commemorative purposes, usually with lettering or images in relief
stylized (adj) executed in an artificial style that usually involves a degree of exaggeration or abstraction
Sui dynasty (581617) a short-lived dynasty important in helping to lay the foundation of unity for the succeeding Tang dynasty. The first Sui emperor developed the grand canal system, which enabled grain to be transported during famines, while the second pursued an active foreign policy, sending expeditions to Taiwan and initiating diplomatic relationships with Japan.
tablet (n) an ivory or jade ceremonial object that indicated rank or status by the Tang dynasty. Tablets are usually flat and bladelike in form, with a flat, rounded, or sometimes pointed tip. Their surfaces were either plain or incised with characters; the latter indicated rank.
Taiji (n) the yin-yang symbol or diagram that depicts a great, eternally turning circle (the Tao) in which the complementary energies of yin and yang turn about each other. Within this cycle of alternating energy all things can be produced. The familiar Taiji symbol did not come into existence until the Song dynasty (see Taiji diagram).
talismans (n, pl) abstract, written patterns infused with magical protective powers. In religious Taoism, talismans are written by Taoist priests. They often resemble a particularly strange and eccentric version of Chinese calligraphy.
Tang dynasty (618906) at its height, Tang China was the largest and most powerful empire in the world. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, a professional civil-service bureaucracy rose to prominence. Tang power and influence was felt throughout Asia and even the Middle East. The blend of new and foreign ideas contributed to a rich mixture of tradition and cultural fruition. Many ideas from the West made their way into China along the Silk Roads during this period. Buddhism was the strongest foreign influence. When China began to suffer from foreign invasion toward the end of the Tang, Buddhism suffered imperial persecution. Taoism, however, flourished during this period and gained much imperial support. The Tang emperors, in fact, believed themselves to be the descendants of Laozi.
Tao (n) literally, a way or path. Conceived as an empty void, the Tao is also the powerful force capable of creating the universe. From the Tao was generated qi, the constantly moving energy found in all things, as well as the two complementary forces of yin and yang. To realize the Tao, one must live simply and virtuously, in harmony with nature. When understood or discovered, the Tao provides strength and can lead to immortality. The Tao became the central focus and principle of religious Taoism.
Taoist Canon (n) the collected scriptures of Taoism, systematically catalogued by imperial decree for the first time in the fifth century A.D. The present Taoist Canon dates to the 15th century.
Three Officials a triad of Taoist deities in charge of heaven, earth, and the waters under the earth. The Three Officials record people's good and bad deeds and determine their life span and destiny.
Three Purities (Three Clarities) the highest deities in Taoism, they reside over the three greatest heavenly realms. Their names are the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure, and the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power.
tiger and dragon (n, pl) traditional symbols of yin (tiger) and yang (dragon). The Taiji symbol, introduced during the Song dynasty, eventually surpassed the image of the tiger and dragon as the most commonly recognized visual emblem of yin and yang.
trigrams (Eight Trigrams) (n, pl) symbols of the cycle of yin and yang energy present in all things. Each of the Eight Trigrams consists of three horizontal lines that represent either yin or yang energy. Yang energy is depicted as a continuous line, and yin energy by a broken line. Each of the trigrams embodies a particular configuration of yin and yang, ranging from completely yang, with three unbroken lines, to completely yin, with three broken lines. The Eight Trigrams can appear in different orders, arranged in a circle (see trigram diagram). Not specific to Taoism, the Eight Trigrams were absorbed into Taoism as it became an organized religion.
triptych (n) a work of art composed of three panels or parts, usually a center section and one wing on each side. The three sections often share one common subject or theme.
Way of the Celestial Masters the first formal Taoist religious organization, founded in the late Han dynasty by Taoist master Zhang Daoling, who claimed to have received teachings from the deified Laozi. Members of the Celestial Masters sect addressed the spiritual needs of the community. Communal rites were performed regularly, especially during seasonal changes. The Celestial Masters sect was also responsible for healing, which required the recording of misdeeds on a paper addressed to one of the Three Officials (heaven, earth, or water). The movement remains active in China to this day.
White Cloud Monastery (Baiyun Guan) one of the most famous Taoist monasteries in China. The temple, located in Beijing, was first built in the Tang dynasty and assumed its present name when it was rebuilt in 1394 during the Ming dynasty.
yin and yang (n, pl) two opposing types of energy or contrasting forces. Yin is described as yielding, passive, negative, dark, and female. Yang is dynamic, assertive, positive, light, and male. The two energies are opposite and yet mutually dependent. Yin may become yang and vice versa, just as day becomes night, cold becomes hot, and the reverse. The behavior of yin and yang describes the structure of any event or thing. It may be said that their dynamic relationship describes the operation of the Tao in its cycles of creation, and that their alternating movement underlies the structure of everything in the universe. The concept of yin and yang is conveyed by the tiger and dragon and by the Taiji symbol (see also Taiji diagram).
Yuan dynasty (12601368) a period of foreign occupation by the nomadic tribes of Mongolia. Europe's diplomatic and religious interest in China grew during the Yuan dynasty, and missionaries arrived for the first time. Marco Polo of Venice worked for 17 years in the service of Khubilai Khan, grandson of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. Faced with discrimination by foreign rulers, the educated Chinese recalled their past and turned their energies to art and culture, including theater (which was influenced by Taoism), painting, and poetry. The Taoist Eight Immortals became popular, and the great Taoist temple with its extraordinary painted murals, the Palace of Eternal Joy (Yongle Gong), was built.
Zhang Daoling (also known as Celestial Master Zhang) Taoist leader, from the second century A.D., who converted the philosophical ideas of Taoism into a popular religion. He is said to have written approximately 24 works of Taoist scripture, cured the sick through incantation, and taught people to confess their wrong deeds. The image of Zhang Daoling riding a tiger became popular for expelling insects, curing diseases, and protecting the family from calamity.
Zhenwu (Perfected Warrior) the Taoist god who, over many centuries, evolved from an ancient symbol of the north (the entwined tortoise and snake) into a superhuman warrior god, adopted in the Ming dynasty as the protector of the imperial household
Zhou dynasty (c. 1050256 B.C.) the longest dynasty in Chinese history; also the great age of early Chinese philosophy: Confucius and Laozi both date from this period. The Zhou kings, having conquered the Shang, established a principle of governance called the Mandate of Heaven, meaning that power was bestowed by Heaven and governance was determined by moral quality.
zither (n) a stringed instrument having usually 30 to 40 strings over a shallow horizontal soundboard and played with a pick and fingers