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Taiping qingling shu

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The Tàipíng qīnglǐng shū 太平清領書 (Book of Great Peace, with Green Headings) was a sacred book written by an unknown author and consisted of 170 chapters. According to Xiang Kai's biography in the History of the Later Han 後漢書 it was offered to Emperor Shun of Han 漢順帝, during his reign from 126-144 AD. The Emperor was adviced to put the book aside. Later on the Yellow Turban leader Zhang Jue had somehow obtained this book.

The book is commonly identified with the Daoist classic Tàipíng jīng 太平經 (Classic of Great Peace).

Background StoryEdit

I have earlier presented a divine book to the throne with Gong Chong from Langye received from Gan Ji. It did not agree with the Illustrious Understanding.
—quoted from Xiang Kai 襄楷 in History of the Later Han.[1]

The above quote is about the earliest mention of the Book of Great Peace in historical texts. During the reign of Emperor Shun of Han a certain Gong Chong 宫崇 of Langye commandery in Xu province went to the palace and offered to the emperor the Book of Great Peace.[2] A book of mystical learning containing 170 chapters (juan 卷) which he and his master Gan Ji 干吉 (or Yu Ji 于吉) had received at the Quyang Springs in Xiapi commandery.[2][3] The book was rejected. The Emperor was adviced that it was not a classic, but instead was heretical and inappropriate.[2]

Later on Xiang Kai recommended the book again, his memorial can be found in Hou Han shu, page 1137:

The divine book which was earlier presented to the throne by Gong Chong is based without exception on honouring Heaven and Earth and obedience to the Five Elements. It also contains methods to give the country new élan and to enlarge the emperor's offspring. Its text is easy to understand and in agreement with the classical canons. Emperor Shun, however, did not practice these methods and as a concequence there was no abundance of national heirs
—Xiang Kai's memorial in Hou Han shu 1137.[1]

Even after this later recommendation, the book was again rejected.[3] Later on, however, Zhang Jue somehow had this book.[2]

Content and LookEdit

There are various different descriptions on how the book looked. About the books' content the various sources pretty much always agree. Below are some descriptions of the book.

Initially, in the time of Emperor Shun, Gong Chong from Langye has, as a private person, presented a divine book in 170 chapters wich his teacher Gan Ji had obtained at the waters of the Quyang springs. All chapters were on clear white plain silk, with red border-lines, green headings and red title indications. It was called "Book of the Great Peace, with Green Headings". Its words belong to yin and yang school, but inbetween there are many wizards' and shamanesses' expressions.
—Notes by Fan Ye to Xiang Kai's memorials in Hou Han shu 1140/1.[4]
At first, in the time of Emperor Shun, Gong Chong from Langye had, as a private person, presented a divine book to the throne wich his teacher Gan Ji had obtained at the waters of the Quyang springs. It was on plain white silk with red border-lines. It was called "Way of the Great Peace, with Green Headings" (Tàipíng Qīnglǐng Dào 太平青領道). In total more than a hundred chapters.
—Notes by Pei Songzhi to Xiang Kai's memorials in Records of the Three Kingdoms 1110.[4]
Gong Chong from Langye. He had literary talents and wrote books, more than a hundred chapters. As his teacher he took the immortal Gan Ji. At the Quyang springs they had an encounter with a heavenly immortal who presented Gan Ji with the Taiping Jing in 10 parts, on green silk with red characters. Gan Ji practiced the teachings of the book and reached the Way. He gave it to Gong Chong. Later Gong Chong presented the book to the throne. The book for the most part discusses things of yin and yang, bad and good fortune and calamities. It has a Way of Heaven, a Way of Earth and a Way of Man. It says that the ruler of a country can use it for life eternal. That is its tenor.
—Ge Hong, Biographies of Immortals (Shenxian zhuan 神仙傳).[5]


From these texts, translated by Mansvelt Beck, we learn that the book looked as follows:

  • The pages were made of plain silk.
  • The colour of the pages was clear white or green.
  • The colour of the borders on the pages was red.
  • The colour of the headings was green.
  • The title indications were red.

White, green and red were, according to this text, the main colours of the book. The colour of the text itself is not mentioned.

About its content we learn:

  • It relied heavily upon yin 陰 and yang 陽 and the Five Powers (wuxing 五行),[3] with many references to wizardry and shamanism.
  • The content was divided into a total of 170 chapters.
    Taiping Jing Page

    The Taiping Jing

Some sources suggest that the book was either the base of the important Taoist classic Taiping jing, or that the Taiping qingling shu and the Taiping jing are actually one and the same book.[6][7]


Alternative Opinions on the Look of the BookEdit

Historian Rafe de Crespigny shares slightly different information on the look and title of the book. He translates the title as "Way [or Book] of Great Peace with Dark Green Headings" (Tàipíng qīnglǐng dào 太平清/青領書/道) and described its look as follows:[3]

  • The pages were made of silk.
  • The colour of the pages was pale green.
  • The colour of the borders on the pages was vermilion (orangish red).
  • The colour of the headings was dark green.
  • The title indications were vermilion.

Main difference is the page colour, which was white according to Beck.

Barbara Hendriscke translates the title as "Book on General Welfare with the title written in Blue".[8] According to her translations the book looked as follows:[9]

  • The pages were made of strong silk.
  • The colour of the pages was blue.
  • The characters were written in red.

This, however, seems improbable. First of all she is the only one to link the book with the colour blue, second of all she is also the only one to link a colour (red) to the characters, but it's possible that she was referring to the title indications or borders and finally her description is far less detailed.

In any case, the colours green and vermilion (or red) seem the most probable, given the fact these were the colours of magical significance.[3]

Zhang Jue and the Book of Great PeaceEdit

Fan Ye, the author of the Hou Han shu, ended his account on the Book of Great Peace, with Green Headings with the puzzling note that Yellow Turban leader Zhang Jue had some/many of these books with him. Unfortunately the phrase he used is not quite clear;

Hou Zhang Jue po you qi shu yan
後張角頗有其書焉

The word “po” 頗 may mean at the same time 'to a lesser degree, somewhat, rarely' or 'for the most part' and thus is of little value.[10][11] On the other hand though, why would Fan Ye include this sentence if Zhang Jue made little use of the book?

According to Barbara Hendrischke it seems probable to believe Zhang Jue, and perhaps Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang too, made more than little use of the book. Parts of the books' content were very similar to Zhang Jue's aims and some historians suggest that it was therefore used as propaganda, a magic talisman and as a token of the divine authority of his plans. If true, then Zhang Jue's propagation of the book was the first instance of a Daoist text taking over that role. Hendrischke bases this on her theory that the Book of Great Peace was preceded by and based on the Tianguan li baoyuan Taiping jing 天官癧包元太平經 (Scripture on the Keeping of the Original Mandate and Great Peace according to the Calendar Revealed by the Officers fom Heaven ).[12]

NotesEdit

  • 太平清領書 is also seen as being translated into "The Way [or Book] of Great Peace, with Dark Green Headings"[3], "Book on general welfare with the title written in blue"[8] and "Correct Guide to Great Peace".[2]
  • "Correct Guide to Great Peace" may have been an incomplete translation of the abovementioned chinese characters, because no colour is mentioned in the title, whereas the colours blue, green and dark green are mentioned in the beforementioned titles.

Fact vs. FictionEdit

  • Historically, Zhang Jue possessed the Book of Great, Peace with Green Headings, he never possessd "Essential Arts of Peace", which he, in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, obtained from an old mystic.[13]

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Beck, Date of the Taiping Jing, page 158
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 82
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Gan Ji, pages 238-9
  4. 4.0 4.1 Beck, Date of the Taiping Jing, page 158-9
  5. Beck, Date of the Taiping Jing, page 160
  6. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 83
  7. de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, biography of Gong Chong, page 263
  8. 8.0 8.1 Kandel, Taiping Jing, page 23
  9. Kandel, Taiping Jing, pages 33-34
  10. Kandel, Taiping Jing, page 42
  11. Michaud, The Yellow Turbans, page 88
  12. Kandel, Taiping Jing, page 52
  13. Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, chapter 1

SourcesEdit

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