Did Daoist Scriptures come with a Price Tag? Pledge Offerings for Daoist Scriptures in Early Medieval China

Did Daoist Scriptures come with a Price Tag? Pledge Offerings for Daoist Scriptures in Early Medieval China

Friederike Assandri - Visiting Professor of Chinese Studies, University of Leipzig

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Room 202, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

Most Daoist scriptures in Early Medieval China were not freely accessible; they were transmitted from Masters to chosen disciples via elaborate transmission rituals. Scriptures, ritual manuals, and compendia record detailed instructions for the transmission of specific texts, including references to “pledge offerings” (called faxin, mengxin, xinwu, mengwu, mengshi, laixin, guixin or zhangxin) to be given by the disciple to the master as a requirement for the transmission of scriptures or other written materials.

Offerings for the transmission of esoteric scriptures are not unique, we find them in other religious traditions as well. What is unique in Daoism is that we have detailed lists of the items required as pledges for many specific texts, prescribing the precise weight, amount or volume of items like rice, firewood, writing utensils, precious metals, money, and bolts of silk among others. 

Interpretations of the functions of pledge offerings vary in the Daoist texts as well as in the scholarly literature from “symbolic offerings to pledge secrecy” to “substantial income for masters or temples”. With this range of interpretations, important questions remain open, first and foremost the question if the listed required pledge offerings were meant to be handed over “in materia” or if they were only symbolic requirements – did Daoist scriptures come with a price tag?

Friederike Assandri holds a PhD in Sinology from the University of Heidelberg. She currently teaches at the University of Leipzig in Germany. She has studied Sinology, Philosophy and Indology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany and at the University of Nanjing, China. She has lived in Germany, China and Italy and is now based with her family in Berlin, Germany.

Her research focuses on early medieval Chinese religion, in particular various aspects of the encounter of Buddhism and Daoism, and the development of Daoism. Employing a hermeneutic approach, she works on the nexus of intellectual history, social history and religion of the early medieval period.

She has published two monographs and numerous articles in academic Journals and edited volumes.

Her major research projects are:

  • A study of argumentative strategies and the use of logic in debates between Buddhists and Daoists at the courts of the early Tang dynasty (Dispute zwischen Daoisten und Buddhisten im Fo Dao lunheng des Daoxuan (596–667). Gossenberg: Ostasien Verlag. 2015);
  • A study of Daoist Twofold Mystery philosophy (“Beyond the Daode jing: Twofold Mystery Philosophy in Tang Daoism.” Magdalena: Three Pines Press. 2009, a complete translation of the Commentary to the Daode jing by Cheng Xuanying [7th century], work in progress.);
  • A study of afterlife conceptions in epigraphic sources (Tomb epitaphs and votive stele inscriptions) of the Six Dynasties Period (“Examples of Buddho-Daoist Interaction: Afterlife Conceptions in Early Medieval Epigraphic Sources.” In: The e-Journal of East and Central Asian Religions No. 1, Dec. 2013, 1-38., a monograph co-authored with Prof. Wang Ping from Shanghai, work in progress); and
  • Also work in progress, a study of Daoist faxin, mandatory offerings for scriptural transmission (Mystery and Secrecy in the Contacts of Buddhism and Daoism in Early Medieval China. In: Religious Secrecy as Contact: Secrets as Promoters of Religious Dynamics, edited by  A. Akasoy, L. Di Giacinto, G. Halkias, A. Müller-Lee, P. Reichling, K.M. Stünkel. Leiden: BRILL, KHK Series. Forthcoming (invited, handed to the editors); Stealing Words: Intellectual Property in Medieval China. In Journal of Daoist Studies 8, 2016: 49-72.)

In addition she has published numerous articles on various aspects related to questions in the intellectual history of early medieval intellectual history and religion.