In 142 CE, the divine Lord Lao descended to Mount Cranecall (Sichuan province) to establish a new covenant with humanity through a man named Zhang Ling, the first Celestial Master. Facing an impending apocalypse caused by centuries of sin, Zhang and his descendants forged a communal faith centering on a universal priesthood, strict codes of conduct, and healing through the confession of sins; this faith was based upon a new, bureaucratic relationship with incorruptible supernatural administrators. By the fourth century, Celestial Master Daoism had spread to all parts of China, and has since played a key role in China’s religious and intellectual history.
Celestial Masters is the first book in any Western language devoted solely to the founding of the world religion Daoism. It traces the movement from the mid-second century CE through the sixth century, examining all surviving primary documents in both secular and canonical sources to provide a comprehensive account of the development of this poorly understood religion. It also provides a detailed analysis of ritual life within the movement, covering the roles of common believer or Daoist citizen, novice, and priest or libationer.
Celestial Masters deserves close attention and critical engagement by anyone interested in Chinese history, and not just Daoist studies. [Kleeman’s] historical narrative is very readable and clearly structured, organized around strong, but explicit and argued interpretative choices. …[this] beautiful book will be an indispensable reference work for many decades to come.
The work represents an enormous contribution to Chinese-area studies as well as the broader religious field. Kleeman’s erudite analysis, copious translations, and detailed notes ensure that Celestial Masters will serve as a useful resource for both scholars of religion as well as students of Chinese literature, history, and culture.
There is much to praise about this book, and it contains a wealth of new material and resources for scholars now made easily accessible for the first time. …[A]n essential volume in any collection of materials on Daoist history, belief, and practice.
This detailed account of the origins and early development of the Celestial Master organization represents a major step forward in our knowledge of Daoism. Overthrowing countless earlier theories and suppositions with solid textual research, Kleeman’s study will stand as a model of how we might exploit the materials left to us to form solid hypotheses on human culture-building in those long-ago places that we will never be able to visit.
The most comprehensive examination of early religious Daoism… Kleeman’s outstanding book will be foundational for future studies of Daoist liturgy and organization, especially those parts of the religion that attracted people in and around China.
- 446 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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