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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Thursday, 24 November, 2022 - 17:00
Event organiser: 

Dunhuang & Silk Road Seminar given by Dr Friederike Assandri, Universität Leipzig

Among the Dunhuang manuscripts were found several hundred Daoist manuscripts, mostly from the 5th to the 8th centuries. Some of these manuscripts have allowed researchers since the late 1940ies to reconstruct a neglected chapter in the history of Daoism, which otherwise might well have gone unnoticed, namely Daoism in Chang’an after the reunification of the empire, in the late 6 th and 7th centuries. Its characteristic philosophy has been labeled chongxuanxue, the salient feature is a massive integration of Buddhist concepts into Daoism.

I will talk about two texts, which have been reconstructed based on, or with the help of, Dunhuang manuscripts: Cheng Xuanying’s Expository commentary to the Daode jing, and the Benji jing. Both texts originated in Chang’an – eastern end of the silk road and capital of the Tang. The texts belong to different genres, presumably address different audiences, and yet are related by a common thread. Since Daoism in the early Tang became the first ranking teaching at court, its philosophy also represents the highest levels of Tang intellectual life – the interaction of Daoists like Cheng Xuanying, or the authors of the Benji jing with eminent scholars, officials, and Buddhist clergy in the capital Chang’an is well documented.

The Daoism that emerges from these texts is an example of “mingling of religions,” of Chinese Daoisms (sic) and Buddhism. I will show with examples of close readings how these texts, and their manuscripts, offer glimpses of different modes of integration, co-option or adaptation of Buddhist concepts, but also of the integration of presumably competing traditions within Daoism, reflecting the complexity of what might be dismissed as “mixing” in early medieval Chinese religion.

Friederike Assandri holds a PhD in Sinology from the University of Heidelberg; she is currently a visiting professor at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her research focuses on early medieval Daoism and the interaction of Daoist and Buddhist thought in many different settings and formats, from philosophical commentaries to court debates, to votive stele and social practices.  She has published widely on these subjects, her latest book presents a complete translation of the Expository Commentary to the Daode jing by Cheng Xuanying (The Daode jing Commentary of Cheng Xuanying, Daoism, Buddhism, and the Laozi in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford University Press, 2021).