Roaming into the Beyond: Representations of Xian Immortality in Early Medieval Chinese Verse

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In Roaming into the Beyond Zornica Kirkova provides the first detailed study in a Western language of Daoism-inspired themes in early medieval Chinese poetry. She examines representations of Daoist xian immortality in a broad range of versified literature from the Han until the end of the Six Dynasties, focusing on the transformations of themes, concepts, and imagery within a wide literary and religious context. Adopting a more integrated approach, the author explores both the complex interaction between poetry and Daoist religion and the interrelations between various verse forms and poetic themes. This book not only enhances our understanding of the complexities of early medieval literature but also reevaluates the place of Daoist religious thought in the intellectual life of the period.
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Biographical Note

Zornica Kirkova, Ph.D. (2007), Charles University in Prague, is currently a librarian at the East Asian Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Her research focuses on classical and early medieval Chinese literature, Daoism, and Daoist literature.

Review Quotes

'When Herrlee Creel some eighty years ago posed the question “What is Daoism?” the proffered answers (including his own) have at best enjoyed only piecemeal and contentious acceptance. Zornica Kirkova’s study effectively uncovers one core component at the very heart of Daoism, present from its very beginnings: “immortality.” She does a fascinating job of illuminating the ways in which it was actively imagined, pursued, and represented both by Daoists themselves and other literati figures who saw themselves as inhabiting the Daoist world. Kirkova accomplishes this by way of her meticulous and painstaking efforts to document the ways in which the concept of “immortality” changed and developed as seen from the perspective of early medieval Chinese verse. Her book goes a long way in responding to Creel’s question.(...)
Roaming into the Beyond is stunning in both its scope and its detail. It simultaneously engages two heretofore somewhat separate topics, Chinese poetry, which we typically associate with the literati class, and Daoism, which we tend to associate either with hermits or ecclesiastics.(...) Without doubt, Roaming into the Beyond will long hold its unique place in both literary studies and Daoist studies. There is really nothing that compares to it in its seamless ability to bring the two fields together in such spectacular fashion. Kirkova’s work is truly groundbreaking.'
Thomas Michael, China Review International, 22/1 (2015)

Table of contents

Acknowledgments vii
Abbreviations and Conventions x

Introduction 1

1 Religious and Literary Background 14
The Ideal of Xian-ship 14
A Historical Survey of Immortality Cults 15
Methods of Achieving Immortality 20
Prose Accounts of Immortality 24
Poetry on Immortality 28
Literary Criticism on Youxian Verse 38

2 The Dramatis Personae 43
Xi Wangmu 43
The Yellow Emperor 52
Laozi 57
Wangzi Qiao, Master Redpine, and Other Immortals 64
Transformations of the Pantheon 68

3 A Phenomenology of Immortals 77
Images of Immortals from the Han to the Eastern Jin 77
Transformation and Transcendence 77
The Visual Image of Immortals 90
The Far-Off Journey 95
Levitation and Fantastic Steeds 98
Spontaneity and Swiftness 104
Immortals’ Feasts 108
The Hidden Immortal 116
Celestial Splendor and Courtly Refinement: The Southern Dynasties 132
Images of Eternity 148

4 The World of the Immortals 160
Topography 162
Cosmic Mountains and Paradise Gardens 171
The Lands of the Shangqing Revelations 179
Paradise on Earth 187
The Court Dulcification of Otherworldly Nature 198

5 The Way to Immortality 203
Journeys to Other Worlds 203
The “Yuanyou” Poem of the Chuci 203
The Distant Journey in the Han Fu 209
The Journey Theme in the Yuefu Tradition 213
The Distant Journey as a State of Mind 220
Sun Chuo’s Visionary Ascent of the Tiantai Mountains 227
The Elixir Way 241
Alchemical Formulas and Sacred Scriptures 257

6 Immortality in the Context of the Human World 262
The Juxtaposition of the Two Realms in the Chuci Tradition 262
Melancholy and Yearning for Immortality during the Third and Fourth Centuries 268
Social Engagement, Hedonism, or Immortality Seeking? 286
Honoring the Immortals 298
Feasting Songs 305
Tableaus of Higher Realms 311
The Earth Below Is Out of Sight 320
Poetry on Immortality and Personal Religious Pursuits 329
Youxian Poetry and Daoist Ritual Hymns 333

Conclusion 350

Appendix
Extant Classical and Early Medieval Verse Treating the Theme of Immortality 357

Bibliography 371

Index 401

Readership

All interested in the literature and cultural history of classical and medieval China, Six Dynasties poetry, as well as scholars of Chinese religions, especially Daoism, and Daoist literature.

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