Daoism Introduction

Religions of the World and Ecology Series

Daoism and Ecology Volume

N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan, eds.


N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan

As for the Dao, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things;
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive its subtlety.
Those constantly with desires, by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek.
These two together emerge;
They have different names yet they’re called the same;
That which is even more profound than the profound—
The gateway of all subtleties.
—Daode jing/Dedao jing (Mawangdui B), chap. 1 (amended Henricks)

The Named and the Nameless
Daoism and ecology are often invoked as natural partners in contemporary discussions of environmental issues in the West. When looking to the religious and intellectual resources provided by various “world religions,” it has therefore been a commonplace assumption that the Chinese tradition conventionally known as “Daoism/Taoism” reveals an obvious and particularly compelling affinity with global ecological concerns.1 For most Western commentators until recently, Daoism primarily referred to the “mystical wisdom” found in several ancient “classical” texts (especially the Daode jing and Zhuangzi) and was seen to be fundamentally in tune with heightened contemporary fears about the increasingly fractured relations between humanity and the natural world. Popular testimony would even whimsically suggest that Pooh Bear and Piglet affirmed the profound ecological sensibility of the ancient Chinese Daoists.2

Unfortunately there has been very little serious discussion of this beguiling equation of Daoism and ecology. Too much has been simply, and sometimes fantastically, taken for granted about what is finally quite elusive and problematic—both concerning the wonderfully “mysterious” tradition known as Daoism and, in this case, the “natural” confluence of Daoism and contemporary ecological concerns. Among the shelves of Western Books and articles written in the past twenty-five years about the religious, ethical, and philosophical implications of a worldwide “environmental crisis,” there have been many passing allusions to a kind of Daoist ecological wisdom (often associated with Native American and other tribal-aboriginal perspectives, as well as with Pooh-like themes and the free-floating and universalized “Suzuki-Zen” of an earlier generation).3 However, there is still no single work that is grounded in a scholarly understanding of the real complexities of the Daoist tradition and is also devoted to a critical exploration of the tradition’s potential for informing current ecological issues.

Even in works generally well informed about various religions and ecological issues, a certain kind of romantic infatuation with a “classically pure” and timelessly essential Daoism (embedded within one or two ancient texts and connected with a few key themes) has tended to shape the overall discussion of how this tradition can be “applied” to the problems of the contemporary world. The question remains whether there is anything to be learned beyond various vague appeals to Laozi’s enigmatic little treatise “The Way and Its Ecological Power,” to Zhuangzi’s playfully insightful parables about “useless” trees and gourds, or to popular visions of a Yoda-like Chinese sage wandering amidst a mist-laden cosmic landscape of craggy mountains, swaying bamboo, and lofty waterfalls. Despite these ongoing reveries, Daoism is increasingly being recognized as an exceedingly rich religious tradition with an immense textual and historical lore that defies any attempt to reduce its meaning to a few ancient texts or Forrest Gump platitudes. It is clear that many popular assumptions about Daoism say less about the real significance of the tradition for ecological concerns than they say about the desire and dominion of Western regimes of both scholarly and popular understanding which, in the words of the Daode jing, tend to “see only that which they yearn for and seek.”4The difficult truth is that there is much that has not been named or known either about Daoism itself or about its possible contribution to recent environmental problems.

Since popular stereotypes are not easily dispelled, it is worth underscoring some of the more pervasive Western distortions about Daoism at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Thus it has been said—both seriously and flippantly—that Daoism is as Daoism does.5Daoism in the West at times seems to be a sitcom religion about “nothing” at all, a situation compounded by its resolute reliance on “non-action” or wuwei. As we know in this age of global MTV and the World Wide Web, such pop fabulations are often more mesmerizing and influential than the revisionary constructions by scholarly specialists, sinologists, and historians of religion in Paris, Kyoto, Beijing, or Boston. Daoism is, however, about nothing and something; and it takes the silly and the serious to tell the fullness of the Daoist story in China and in its contemporary manifestations throughout the world. At the very least, a heightened awareness of these difficulties will help to establish some imaginative footing for slowly walking a path back to the actual historical and cultural complexities of the tradition. Returning to these as yet unnamed aspects of Daoism at the same time provides the crucial pretext and context for naming some of the tradition’s implications for ecological thought and practice.

While both popular misconceptions and scholarly “perplexities” abound concerning Daoism,6similar difficulties can be found in contemporary Western discussions of ecology, especially those harboring various apocalyptic emotions. The salvational urge for a definitive bio-spiritual reformation of life on earth to some extent represents a discursive artifact of an Enlightenment and liberal Protestant “postmillennialist” missionary agenda hidden within the authoritative structures of knowledge in the West.7 In this sense, things are decidedly deep and ominously foreboding during these days of millennial passage. There is, consequently, much overly portentous talk about the special spiritual gravitas of both Daoism and ecology—that is, the mystical ecoprofundities of the Daode jing along with deep ecology, a deeper socioecology and ecofeminism, and an even deeper bio-religiosity of Gaia-Earth.8 Needless to say, the real life-and-death issues of environmental concern are not well served by too quickly conflating a romantic fantasy about Daoism with a certain kind of evangelical passion for ecological damnation and salvation.

Finally, we need to remember that throughout the long Chinese (and now Western) history of the tradition, individual Daoists have often resisted overly hasty and sentimentalized presumptions about the Ways taken and not taken. Buddhists and Buddhologists, for example, have been considerably more “engaged” with contemporary ecological issues than Daoist practitioners and scholars in either Asia or the West.9This situation no doubt reflects the more developed nature of Buddhist scholarship and the presence of a substantial tradition of acculturated self-reflection on the part of Western Buddhists, but it also hints at a wuwei-inspired caution among Daoists in the past and present regarding interventionist forms of crisis management and overly assertive forms of social engagement. While today some living Daoist masters are recommending the need for concerted social action to combat the accelerated destruction of China’s sacred mountains (see Zhang Jiyu’s “Declaration of the Chinese Daoist Association on Global Ecology” in this volume), a few contemporary Daoists still seem to prefer a more muddled and less meddlesome methodology (e.g., in this volume, the comments of the American Daoist Liu Ming in “Change Starts Small”).10This kind of instinctive wariness, though sometimes simply contrarian and polemical, has both a historical and an ethical rationale in Daoist tradition. Ever since the time of the Zhuangzi, some Daoists have avoided “huffing and puffing” after an overly instrumental form of virtue—not an unimportant consideration during morally ambiguous periods such as our own, when “charity” has often become a corporate commodity.

The Ecological Landscape in China
Regardless of a wuwei-ish prudence among some Daoists and the evangelical simplifications in certain aspects of the Western rhetoric of immediacy and profundity, there are real and pressing ecological problems affecting the world today.11Moreover, the complex synergistic issues of life on this fragile biosphere, issues which are always relational and ecological in nature, certainly have important scientific, moral, and religious implications for every nation on earth. The truth is that China, the ancestral homeland of Daoism, constitutes a dramatically disturbing case of ecological neglect.12 Indeed, a balanced appraisal of the ecological condition in China today is difficult and often discouraging. While the destruction of the natural environment, especially involving deforestation and desertification, has a long and sad history, it cannot be denied that there has been an accelerated deterioration of the ecological situation in China during the last half of the twentieth century, particularly following the rapid economic expansion since the early 1980s.

According to Zhang Kunmin, secretary-general of the Chinese Council for International Cooperation on the Environment and Development, there are five major problems concerning the protection and conservation of the environment in contemporary China. The first of these issues involves the immense Chinese population which, even with stringent birth policies, has a net yearly growth of more than thirteen million people (a number nearly equal to half of the Canadian population). Second, there is the incredible rate of urbanization in China where the population in the cities has increased by 180 million from 1978 to 1995, plus an additional 50 million or so of a kind of “floating” population. This is a growth which is accompanied by an exponential escalation of pollution, waste, sewage, and transportation problems. A third major difficulty is the rapid, and often unbalanced and uncontrolled, economic expansion since the 1980s. There has been, for example, a disproportionate development of heavy and chemical industries, which produce a tremendous amount of pollutants. Moreover, burning coal is the major source of energy in China, a situation which seriously aggravates the overall quality of air. A fourth and related consideration involves the inadequate Chinese investment in organizations and equipment concerned with environmental protection and improvement. Finally, and this is where the traditional religions have a clear role, there has been a general lack of public consciousness regarding ecological problems and a failure to develop comprehensive national policies of environmental control.13

The facts concerning ecological deterioration in contemporary China are grim and have obvious global implications. A study by the Washington-based World Resources Institute has concluded that nine of the ten worst air-polluted cities in the world are found in China.14 Other statistics concerning deforestation, desertification, and water pollution are equally alarming.15 There are, however, some promising signs that go back to 1972 when the Chinese government sent a delegation to the First United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. Then, in 1979, China promulgated the Environmental Protection Law for “trial implementation,” finally adopting it as law in 1989. The upgrading of the Chinese National Environmental Protection Agency to the State Environmental Protection Administration in March 1998 represents an important recent development and an attempt to put more managerial authority into environmental planning.

Nevertheless, it must be said that there is still a low level of governmental action on environmental issues in China.16 More encouraging than these sporadic and halfhearted official efforts is the emergence and growth of an environmental consciousness among the general public in China. In the past few decades, an increasing number of journalists, writers, scholars, religious leaders, workers, and farmers have begun to speak out on the ecological situation. It has been in this grassroots context that modern Daoists have started, in a small way, to contribute to the protection and renewal of natural resources, especially to projects concerning reforestation. Thus, under the leadership of the abbot Yang Chenquan, the Daoist priests of Mt. Wudang temple in Qinghai Province have since 1982 grown 1.73 million trees and have recultivated many acres of grassland. Likewise Fan Gaode, the old abbot of the Huashiyan Daoist temple in Gansu Province, is said to have made the “barren hills” green again.17

These actions by Daoists in China are noteworthy, but at the same time they are quite modest and were influenced directly or indirectly by various Western environmental movements. Furthermore, if Daoism somehow has a special ecological wisdom going back to the very foundations of the tradition, why has there been such a woeful record of environmental concern throughout Chinese history, and why, for that matter, have the actions of contemporary Daoists been so meager and relatively restricted? While these questions are tentatively addressed by several of the papers in this book, they remain problems that touch upon the general history of Chinese civilization and have no easy answers. In terms of China’s immediate problems, it must also be specifically asked how and in what way Daoism, or any of the other traditional religions and philosophies, can make a greater and more systemic contribution to the environmental situation. Part of the answer no doubt involves various Western-influenced, short-term “techno-fix” methods for tempering and recycling aspects of rampant economic development.18 However, it would seem that the long-term regeneration and sustainable care of the overall environment in China will even more depend on a broad national “sino-ecological” commitment that draws upon traditional values creatively reinterpreted and reappropriated by contemporary religious leaders and scholars both in China and in the West.19 In the intensely pluralistic context of the postmodern world, effective environmental efforts in particular countries will require a global consciousness and cooperative methodologies informed by the distinctive cultural insights of individual traditions (such as Daoism within the Chinese context).

The creative application of traditional Daoist values (values that, as this volume shows, cannot be restricted to a few classical texts) to contemporary problems will perhaps only be determined in relation to a hermeneutical strategy that understands the whole environmental problem in its specific and practical interrelationship with each of the “ten thousand things” making up the natural world. Such an awareness may be called a kind of latter-day Daoist perspective if we keep in mind Roger Ames’s distinction between the “local and focal” in ecological questions and David Hall’s observation that the ancient Lao-Zhuang texts “celebrate the insistent particularity of items comprising the totality of things.”20 So also does James Miller, in the spirit of the Highest Clarity texts, call for an imaginative realization of a “Daoist ecotheology” that fosters “respect” for the totality of the cosmic environment.21 What is needed to conjoin an emergent “Eco-Daoism” with the meaningful passions of “Deep Ecology” is a more insistent concern for the reciprocal interrelationship of all the constituent parts of the Dao as a cosmic body or landscape.

Remembering the Zhuangzi’s meditation on the relativity of understanding and behavior, the Dao is always to be found in the large and the small, in the gigantic peng bird and the lowly “piss and shit” of the world, in the snow leopard and the snail darter. The nameless is known only in and through the named, in the recalcitrant details of all the myriad life-forms that are subject to both regeneration and degradation. This perspective applies theoretically and pragmatically both to our own appreciation of the full historical complexity and cultural intertextuality of the Daoist tradition and to a contemporary “Daoist” response to any disruptions in the delicate balance and incredible biodiversity of things. In a way that interestingly (and sometimes esoterically) expands on the Laozi and the Zhuangzi, this concern for the dynamic interaction of all forms of life is also envisioned by the loosely organized Daoist religious tradition, which was ritually concerned with how particular human persons, concrete local communities, and regional natural environments comprise the corporate and constantly transforming Body of the Dao. In this regard, it is noteworthy that practicing Daoist masters in China have recently emphasized the “symbiotic mutuality” of “Heaven, Earth, and humankind” and have issued an ecological statement stressing Daoism’s “unique sense of value,” which judges human affluence in terms of the preservation of the many different species of life (see in this volume the articles “Stealing among the Three Powers” and “A Declaration of the Chinese Daoist Association,” both involving Zhang Jiyu; Zhang is a sixty-fifth generation descendant of Zhang Daoling, the founder of the Celestial Masters tradition, and a vice president of the Chinese Daoist Association).22

Particular Parts of the Way
The particular contribution this book makes to an embryonic Daoist perspective on contemporary ecological problems is its concern for the fullness of the Daoist tradition—that is, the incredible corpus of “revealed” texts, the complex ritual and meditational practices, composite sociological forms, practical eclectic ethics, and soaring cosmic vision associated with the eighteen-hundred-year history of the living Daoist religion. It is this exceptionally luxuriant but little understood tradition comprising thousands of scriptures and dozens of sectarian movements that is still sorely neglected in popular Western discussions about Daoism. Rather than what was often called only a vulgar degeneration of the “pure” philosophy enunciated in the classic texts, the Daoist religion “names” an amorphous amalgamation of cultural phenomena that equals the sociological and intellectual complexity of medieval and reformation Christianity in Europe. Fortunately, given advances in recent Daoist scholarship—including the increasing availability of accurate translations of significant Daoist religious scriptures, various new interpretive perspectives coming from the comparative history of religions and other disciplines, and a revived scholarship by native scholars and practicing Daoists in China and the West—a significant revision of our understanding of Daoism is now possible.23 In like manner, the study of the organized Daoist religion in the past and present is also leading to new insights concerning the meaning and use of the Daode jing and Zhuangzi (see especially the papers in section four of this volume).

What is found in the pages that follow offers no simple or straightforward conclusions regarding a Daoist approach (or approaches) to current environmental issues. This book, nonetheless, does constitute the only collection of articles discussing the ecological implications of both the earliest “classical” texts and the fascinating yet often bewildering Daoist religious scriptures. This is a work that not only challenges many popular assumptions about the earliest Daoist texts (especially the difficulties of too quickly reading a Western-style ecological consciousness into the early “philosophical” writings associated with Laozi and Zhuangzi; see, for example, the positions argued by Russell Kirkland and Lisa Raphals in this volume), but also embraces a contextualized approach to the complex cultural significance of Daoist religious thought and social practice in the Chinese past and in the more pluralistic present. To some degree, therefore, this book marks a new stage within the evolution of Daoist studies because it shows that Daoist scholars (both in the West and in Asia) have reached a stage of confluent hermeneutical sophistication that for the first time allows for a project of contemporary global discourse. Buddhologists could have done this fifty years ago, but it would not have been possible in Daoist studies even five to ten years ago.

The new perspectives coming from recent scholarship on the “real” religious Daoism of the Chinese people do not necessarily invalidate everything we thought we knew about the sage sayings in the Laozi and Zhuangzi (the ancient texts have, after all, always inspired and influenced the organized religious tradition—as, for example, Kristofer Schipper’s “Study of the Precepts of the Early Daoist Ecclesia” and Zhang’s “Declaration” demonstrate). They do, however, strongly suggest that we will have to expand our horizons concerning Daoism’s “philosophical,” “religious,” “theological,” and “ethical” understandings of the dynamic interconnectedness of human and cosmic life. In the most basic sense, Daoism—whether associated with the early texts or the later organized religion—does have something important to say regarding many ecological questions. What it suggests, however, is almost always more contradictory and provocative than we could ever have imagined when constrained by the neatly polarized categories of an early “mystical” philosophy (daojia) and a corruptly superstitious and ritualistic later religion (daojiao). In the best sense of the postmodernist critique of Western scholarship, essentializing definitions of Daoism must be replaced by the messy particularity of various “Daoisms” interacting with all aspects of Chinese tradition.

The Daoist religious tradition consists of numerous schools and syncretistic sectarian movements that cannot be easily categorized or summarized.24 Nevertheless, it may be helpful to indicate that, as distinct from the discursive “protohistory” of the tradition associated with ancient texts like the Laozi and Zhuangzi, the history of Daoism as a self-consciously organized religion goes back to movements at the breakup of the Han dynasty (second and third centuries CE, especially the Tianshi, or Celestial Masters, tradition affiliated with the revelations to Zhang Daoling (traditional dates, 34–156 CE). Two other important revelatory textual traditions followed the Celestial Masters movement in the fourth and fifth centuries. One of these was known as the Shangqing, or Highest Clarity, tradition, which stressed visionary experience and practice; the other came to be called the Lingbao, or Numinous Treasure, tradition and emphasized ritual practices. Both of these amorphous traditions not only drew upon indigenous aspects of Chinese religious tradition but also incorporated significant aspects of Buddhism. All subsequent movements were influenced by these early forms of revealed Daoism. From the fifth to the tenth century, the various Daoist sectarian religious groups were loosely organized, and their scriptures were systematized in an open-ended “canon” that came to be known as the Daozang, or Treasury of the Dao. New reformist types of Daoist religion emerged from the tenth through the fourteenth century—among which were the schools of “internal alchemy” (neidan), new liturgical traditions, and several syncretistic schools that accented a morality combining Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian values. Of the Daoist movements developing after the eleventh century, two traditions continue to the present day. The first of these is the Southern, or Zhengyi (Orthodox Unity), form of Daoism, which was traditionally centered at Mt. Longhu in south China and claims to continue the ritualistic and priestly traditions of the ancient Celestial Masters.25 The second tradition is the Northern, or Quanzhen (Complete Perfection), Daoism, which is today nominally based at the White Cloud Abbey in Beijing. It continues the meditation tradition of “inner alchemy” and shows strong affinities with Chan Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism.26 Finally, it must be noted that in recent years various forms of transplanted and acculturated Daoism have sprung up in North America and Europe.27

Lastly, we want to emphasize that, for all of the advances in Daoist scholarship, there are still many aspects of the tradition that have not yet been adequately studied. Related to these historical and textual gaps in our understanding are also the larger methodological issues having to do with the definition of the tradition, the nature and significance of the ancient “classical” texts, the complex dynamics of Han and Six Dynasties religious history as it relates to the origins of the organized religious tradition, the important interaction with Buddhism and the imperial state, and so on. It was never our intention to resolve all of these scholarly difficulties in this book. Suffice it to say, therefore, that we have deliberately operated with a broadly inclusive understanding of “Daoism,” one that honors the sociological and religious distinctiveness of the organized Daoist sectarian movements, but one that also allows for the inspirational role played by the ancient “classical” texts and for the diffuse interaction of Daoist movements (however defined) with all sorts of eclectic ideas and practices associated with the traditional yin-yang/wu-xing cosmology (e.g., as seen in this volume in sections three and four, such things as geomancy [fengshui], traditional medical practices, qigong, and martial arts—none of which are specifically “Daoist”). Given the current state of our knowledge, it has seemed best to proceed with an assemblage that incorporates a broad range of historical and cultural phenomena that in some fashion were “named” in Chinese sources as having “Daoist” affinities. Such a strategy largely begs the definitional problem of “Daoism,” but at the same time it does honestly reflect the real confusion surrounding many of these issues. In this way, also, we purposely insisted on an approach that would encompass some interesting Western literary redactions of certain Daoist themes—most prominently, in this case, the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Ecological Landscape of Religious Daoism
The Daoist religion that emerged during the third through fifth centuries is profoundly ecological in its theoretical disposition, but in practice does not conform easily to Western notions of what this should entail.28 This is because some of the most prominent forms of Daoist religious cosmology recommend the transformation of the individual as a celestial being who is fully translucent to the cosmic environment in which he or she is situated. While some Daoist schools emphasize the collective and institutionalized ritual regeneration of the society and the cosmos, many forms of the Daoist religion, especially those influenced by the Highest Clarity scriptures, are typically and ideally concerned with “perfected persons” (zhenren). Such “immortals” or “transcendent beings” (xian) are able to penetrate beyond the gross physicality of ordinary existence to achieve an attentive harmony with the subtle and mysterious (“alchemical”) transformations of the Dao (the everchanging flow of cosmic processes) at its root, primordial level.29 A dynamic ecological system that transparently links the “lower-outer-physical,” or earthly, and the “higher-inner-spiritual,” or cosmic, levels of human life is therefore the presupposition behind much of Daoist religious thought and practice. From this kind of cosmological perspective, the interpenetrating “bodies” of individuals, society, the natural world, and the infernal and celestial spheres truly constitute a cosmic landscape pulsating with life.

Cosmic Ecology
The Daoist universe is one and nameless, but infinitely diverse and particular. Its unity is implied by the fact that all dimensions of existence, from the budding of a flower to the orbit of the stars, may be denominated in terms of qi, the fundamental energy-matter of the universe whose dynamic pattern is a cosmic heartbeat of expansion (yang) and contraction (yin). Its diversity is a function of the complex interaction of the myriad cosmic processes, both light and fluid and heavy and dense. The universe is a single, vital organism, not created according to some fixed principle, but spontaneously regenerating itself from the primal empty-potency lodged within all organic forms of life.

It is not quite correct, therefore, to speak theoretically of an “eco-logy,” as though there were an intellectual principle (logos) for comprehending one’s cosmic environment (oikos). The Daode jing warns that if we speak of the Dao, such speaking must be inconstant, unusual, or extraordinary. This has led, on the one hand, to an intense skepticism about the ability of human rationality to grasp properly its situation within the universe, and, on the other hand, to the flowering of a religious tradition dependent upon revelations from supreme celestial beings, those most attentive to the subtle workings of the primordial Dao. In the former case, human institutions (including this scholarly compendium) must bear the rhetorical brunt of criticism: the transformations of the universe are especially beyond the grasp of those who rely upon their long years of learning. In the latter case, it is only by being initiated into the sacred texts and proper lineages of transmission that one is able to comprehend and thereby transcend the ordinary dimensions of human existence. Knowing in the Daoist sense is always alchemical and ecological in nature since it depends on the revelatory experience and practice that comes in and through the transformation of the human body in corporate relation with all other particular bodies.

The Ecology of the Body
The hermeneutical principle on which much Daoist religious practice rests is that of the mutual interpenetration of all dimensions of being (all of which represent various gravid, liquid, and ethereal manifestations of qi), with the body as the most important field for the interaction of cosmic forces. Properly visualized within the body, gods (i.e., personified or psychologized nodal centers of spiritualized energy) dwell in their palaces, the constellations of the heavens are made manifest, and a pure and refined qi comes to flow. From this mysterious energy the alchemical embryo or immortal body is generated, and the adept is eventually reborn as a celestial immortal. This “biospiritual” practice is dependent upon traditional Chinese medical theory, which views the body as a complex system of interacting energy circuits. Illness, broadly speaking, is symptomatic of some defect of circulation, perhaps a blockage, a seepage, excess, or desiccation. “Religion” therefore is not the denial or the overcoming of physical existence, but its gradual refinement to an infinitesimal point of astral translucence. The idea of “salvation” that is suggested in the Daoist religion is fundamentally medicinal—that is, concerned with the “healing” regeneration and rejuvenation of the organic matrix of life.

The Ecology of Time
Time is a function of the calendar: days and years are not numbered but named according to the interaction of two zodiacal cycles of twelve and ten. The Jiuzhen zhongjing (Central Scripture of the Nine Perfections), an important text of the Highest Clarity revelations, for example, details the correlation of cycles of colors, bodily organs, and divinities with days of the year and times of day. When all the cycles mesh, the possibility for radical transformation reaches its zenith. On a much larger scale, the Buddhistinfluenced Zuigen pin (The Roots of Sin) speaks in terms of millions of cycles of kalpa revolutions, and outlines the degeneration of human culture from a simple organic community to complex civilizations based on law codes where corruption and vice are prevalent. Each kalpa cycle ends with the total destruction of the cosmos and then begins again. In either case Daoism encourages us to take a radical perspective on our temporal situation. Time is not something that passes and is then irretrievably lost. There is no kairosmoment that requires a decision of apocalyptic consequence. Human civilization and all life is inscribed within cycles far greater than can be comprehended.

Local Ecology
Because of the vast comprehensiveness of the Daoist cosmic ecology, and not in spite of it, the arena for all human action is the immediate environment. Only by paying attention to the minute details of one’s local context is one able to penetrate to the deep roots of the Dao. Popular Chinese culture is full of ways for human beings to micro-manage their particular environment, from fengshui (the strategy of arranging one’s immediate area to take full advantage of its natural environment) to taijiquan (t’aichich’üan; the embodiment of cosmic patterns to properly attune the self in the world). Daoism has particularly emphasized the importance of small beginnings and local perspectives not as ends in themselves, but as a strategy. The advice of the Daode jing is to be low, soft, weak, and nonassertive. The Zhuangzi praises the spontaneous skillfulness of craftspeople that cannot be easily taught in words, but is achieved only by the repeated practice of an individual in a highly particular context. Religious practices begin with the purification of mind and body and take for granted the respect for all living beings in one’s immediate environment. Religious communities enshrine such attitudes in precepts that are the precondition for more proscriptive methods (see in this volume Kristofer Schipper’s discussion of the “one hundred and eighty precepts” associated with the Celestial Masters tradition). Caring about the extinction of the snow leopard or panda is like the concern among contemporary Daoist masters today for the pollution and gross commercialization of pilgrimage mountains in China; the whole is effected only by means of a profound respect for all the particular manifestations of life.

Reversion and Spontaneity
The ecoreligious goal of Daoist meditational and ritual practice is to mirror unobtrusively the dynamic spontaneity of one’s environment, to become imperceptible and transparent as though one were not at all. This goal is made all the more remote by the complex web of social and intellectual structures layered throughout history that form the cultural flux in which human life is trapped. The path toward pure spontaneity thus consists always in a “healing” reversion or undoing. This reversion can occur mentally through “sitting in oblivion” (zuowang), physically through the generation of an immortal embryo, collectively through communal ritual, and even cosmogonically through alchemical practices founded on the principle that degenerative natural processes can be reversed and restored to their original pristine state (hundun).


Constructing Nature
Daoism proposes a comprehensive and radical restructuring of the way in which we conceive of our relationship to nature and our cosmic environment. This imaginative act does not readily lend itself to the solution of the problems of modern society except inasmuch as it challenges the very foundations of our economic, political, scientific, and intellectual structures. At the same time, however, as Daoism becomes more influential in the West, even as it is misunderstood, it surely exerts a positive influence with respect to understanding what it means to be embedded in a cosmic landscape. In such an understanding, “nature” is not something outside of us to be dealt with after the fashion of a mechanic repairing a car, but is both a mental attitude to be carefully cultivated and the true condition of one’s body, which contains the infinite dimensions of cosmic reality within itself. Ultimately, nature is to be constructed and visualized time and again. The terrain of our most authentic ecological concern, therefore, is first and foremost the landscape of the religious imagination30

Imagining Daoism Today
Having set out a preliminary sketch of a particular biospiritual worldview of traditional religious Daoism, we are still left with questions about the relevance and creative application of such perspectives to contemporary ecological problems in China and the world. Perhaps, however, these questions should be framed in another way. Thus, it might more fruitfully be asked, “Who speaks for Daoism today?” The answer is not as obvious as it may seem, since exactly who or where the Daoists are today is no easy matter, except to say that there are various fragmentary traditions that continue in China and in the Chinese diaspora, as well as a rudimentary and acculturated Western or American-style Daoism and several related “Daoist” practices. Given the disjointed and sometimes dispirited world of modern-day Daoist practitioners, perhaps it is more properly the “cultured elite,” the scholars, who speak authoritatively for Daoism. Certainly, when it comes to a historical and textual understanding of the tradition, the scholarly community has a lot to say that is important and salutary. In fact, what has been called the partial “resurrection of the Daoist body,” after the disastrous vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, owes much to the labor and influence of scholars during the past quarter century.31 Finally, it may be asked whether even popular commentators have something to offer to the contemporary appropriation of a kind of global and ecologically aware Daoism. As we have already indicated, on the one hand there is much that is simply silly and simpering about many contemporary Western popularizations of the Dao. On the other hand, there is a world of difference between the Pooh Bear perspectives offered by Benjamin Hoff and those much more rigorous and unsentimental literary fabulations envisioned by Ursula Le Guin (see in the this volume the chapter by Jonathan Herman and the epilogue). This is a difference that finally has to do with the hard alchemical work of the human imagination (solve et coagula)—that is, the creative deconstructive reinterpretation and ritual transformation that gives new meaning and ongoing life to any human tradition.32

When it comes to who legitimately speaks for Daoism today, we are too often left with a kind of Dao Wars. The popularizers ignore the scholars; the scholars mock the popularizers; and the practicing Daoists, whether in China or the West, remain mostly quiet (as maybe they should). There is still much to be learned about the history of Daoism, but let us be wary of blithely replacing the “purely” philosophical and mystical Daoism of an earlier generation of scholarship with the “real” religious and scriptural Daoism known today only by a few scholarly experts. Neither the trope of the “spiritually ‘pure’”or the “historically ‘real’” completely captures the imaginative “truth” of Daoism in the past and present. Moreover, the ongoing life of the tradition in both China and the West today confronts a public crossroads of ecological concern that requires a reinterpretation of the past in relation to the contemporary situation. This calls for a creative reappropriation in the present of the earlier Daoist tradition that is both deferential and differential.

During this chaotic period of millennial turning, when virtual worlds are replacing the natural world, the time seems ripe for some Daoist perspectives on the ecological problems of our current situation. Assuredly, these perspectives will be neither definitive nor redemptive, but they may contribute to the gradual and periodic ritual renewal of life on this planet. Furthermore, in a post-Tiananmen Chinese world of Coca-Cola communism, the Daoist tradition, in both its past configurations in China and its contemporary global transformations, has something important to say about the ecological role of the religious imagination for a young generation of Chinese studying at Beijing University and working at McDonalds. It is unlikely that such young urban Chinese will be perusing the canonical Daoist scriptures. But the danger is, perhaps, that the Tao of Pooh will be read in Chinese translation before Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Finally, it may be said that all of us—urban Chinese and global citizens of the twenty-first century—need the important repository of Daoist efforts to envision the embeddedness of human life within a cosmic landscape. We require a Daoist perspective on these matters if we are to have the creative resources necessary for imagining and realizing a new, and more “translucent,” world of ecological harmony.

The Way Taken
In this volume we have tried to create a flexible structure that respects the current difficulties in the discussion of Daoism and ecology and yet moves toward a productive engagement of the issues. The sectional groupings are somewhat artificial, but, in keeping with the multifaceted nature of the tradition and our inclusive concerns, they serve to organize a rather diverse assortment of papers. There is, however, some logic to our arrangement. After setting forth the mythic landscape of the traditional Daoist vision of organic life as generated from a bipartite cosmic gourd (Stephen Field’s epic poem in the prologue, “The Calabash Scrolls”—a work that evokes much of the agrarian rootedness of Chinese tradition, especially in the metaphorical sense wherein all the “ten thousand things” are but the offspring of a cosmic wonton or primordial man known fondly by Daoists as Hundun or Pangu),33 we proceed from a consideration of the general problems compromising any discussion of Daoism and ecology (section one) to an analysis of perspectives found in Daoist religious texts (section two) and within the larger Chinese cultural context (section three). The papers in section four build on the earlier papers by delineating some of the key issues found in the “classical” texts. These papers then lead to a set of ecological observations on the applicability of modern-day Daoist thought and practice in China and the West (section five and the epilogue). As a coda to each of the major sections, we have appended some synoptic discussion of the themes and questions raised by the individual papers. These short concluding statements on each of the sectional groupings reflect both our own editorial concerns and also some of the commentary provided by respondents at the Harvard conference. At the very end, we have included an annotated bibliography of works on Daoism and ecology.

The first sectional grouping of papers (“Framing the Issues”) specifically takes up the theoretical and historical complications associated with a Daoist approach to the environment. Jordan Paper’s presentation (“‘Daoism’ and ‘Deep Ecology’: Fantasy and Potentiality”) gives us a provocative overview of these difficulties while at the same time suggesting some corrective strategies. Joanne Birdwhistell’s contribution (“Ecological Questions for Daoist Thought: Contemporary Issues and Ancient Texts”) critically addresses some important ecological themes as problematically related to the earliest texts and pointedly raises further questions from a feminist perspective. Michael LaFargue’s paper (“‘Nature’ as Part of Human Culture in Daoism”) extends Birdwhistell’s discussion with an insightful and “confrontational” hermeneutical appraisal of the meaning of “nature” as seen in the Zhuangzi and Laozi. Closing out this section and expanding the discussion beyond the ancient “proto-Daoist” texts are Terry Kleeman’s suggestive reflections on cosmic “order” as found in the Daoist religion (“Daoism and the Quest for Order”).

Following this section is a series of important papers (“Ecological Readings of Daoist Texts”) devoted to the analysis of Daoist religious scriptures. The discussions in this section by Chi-tim Lai (on the Taiping jing, or Scripture of Great Peace), Robert Campany (on Ge Hong), and Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo (on the Yinfu jing, or Scripture of Unconscious Unification) are all pioneering explications of particular religious texts, but it can be said that Kristofer Schipper’s paper on some early Daoist ecological “precepts” (found in the text known as the Yibaibashi, or The One Hundred and Eighty Precepts) has special historical significance and contemporary resonance. Speaking both as an initiated Daoist priest and a renowned academic scholar, Schipper affirms the proposition that religious Daoism traditionally “did not only think about the natural environment and the place of human beings within it, but took consequential action toward the realization of its ideas.”

The papers in section three (“Daoism and Ecology in a Cultural Context”) constitute an especially eclectic grouping inasmuch as they deal generally and comparatively with various cultural themes and folk practices that have some traditional “Daoist” affinity or significance. Thus, Thomas Hahn (“An Introductory Study on Daoist Notions of Wilderness”) interestingly lays out some of the crucial historical and cultural context for understanding the ideas of “nature” and “wilderness” in Chinese tradition and Stephen Field (“In Search of Dragons: The Folk Ecology of Fengshui”) discusses some of the origins of fengshui as one of the “longest lived traditions of environmental planning in the world.” From a broad cultural perspective, E. N. Anderson (“Flowering Apricot: Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism”) gives us a perceptive anthropological meditation on agricultural tradition, aspects of Daoist practice, and Chinese folk religion as related to both the past and present. Finally, Jeffrey Meyer’s paper (“Salvation in the Garden: Daoism and Ecology”) evocatively suggests the relevance of Chinese “gardening” as a creatively “inventive” metaphor for a modern Daoist approach to ecology that stresses a collaborative relationship between the natural and the human.

Building on some of the insights brought forth by the earlier papers, the next section, “Toward a Daoist Environmental Philosophy,” includes a series of speculative reflections on the significance (or lack thereof) of the “classical” texts for a contemporary ecological philosophy. David Hall’s and Roger Ames’s papers (respectively, “From Reference to Deference: Daoism and the Natural World” and “The Local and the Focal in Realizing a Daoist World”) are especially intriguing postmodernist reinterpretations of the Daodejing and Zhuangzi. These papers (by authors who are frequent philosophical collaborators) are powerfully illustrative of how ancient Daoist texts can lend themselves to creative philosophical appropriation. Russell Kirkland (“‘Responsible Non-Action’ in a Natural World: Perspectives from the Neiye, Zhuangzi, and Daode jing”) and Lisa Raphals (“Metic Intelligence or Responsible Non-Action? Further Reflections on the Zhuangzi, Daode jing, and Neiye”) more argumentatively take up the contested discourse surrounding the ancient meaning and contemporary moral relevance of wuwei (“non-action”). Kirkland’s hard position concerning the radical non-interventionist implications of wuwei, though contrary to what some would say is the “scholarly consensus,” is nevertheless an important reminder of the difficult “otherness” of ancient texts. In keeping with LaFargue’s perspective on these matters, Kirkland provides us with a “confrontational hermeneutics” that resists too easy (and gravely anachronistic) appropriations of ancient Daoist texts and ideas. Raphals effectively supplements and extends Kirkland’s argument by discussing various forms of “non-interventionist” or “indirect” action in the early Daoist texts and in ancient Greek tradition. On the other hand, Liu Xiaogan (“Non-Action and the Environment Today: A Conceptual and Applied Study of Laozi’s Philosophy,” a paper interestingly augmented by Zhang Jiyu’s Daoist “declaration” in the following section) not only finds a more activist ethic present in the ancient texts, but also provides us with his own interpretive application of ziran (“spontaneity” or “self-so”) and wuwei to modern ecological problems.

The final section (“Practical Ecological Concerns in Contemporary Daoism”) includes papers that theoretically and practically “apply” various aspects of the Daoist tradition to the contemporary ecological situation. Thus, James Miller articulates the ecological implications of Daoist visionary experience as seen in the Highest Clarity tradition (“Respecting the Environment, or Visualizing Highest Clarity”), and Jonathan Herman cogently argues for the significance of the American novelist Ursula Le Guin’s imaginative redaction of Daoism. From a more pragmatic perspective are Zhang Jiyu’s “Declaration of the Chinese Daoist Association on Global Ecology” and the fascinating roundtable discussion by contemporary Western practitioners of various Daoist and quasi-Daoist arts (“Change Starts Small: Daoist Practice and the Ecology of Individual Lives,” a discussion with Liu Ming, René Navarro, Linda Varone, Vincent Chu, Daniel Seitz, and Weidong Lu).

The volume concludes with an epilogue made up of Ursula K. Le Guin’s haunting remarks on her life as a self-styled American Daoist and literary ecologist. This is followed by Le Guin’s plaintive “Tao Song,” a short poetic refrain that picks up and extends Stephen Field’s initial cosmogonic epic about gourds, organic life, and the Dao. In Le Guin’s trenchant sense of things, we are left with a dark yet hopeful song of organic life—verses which tersely and wisely capture much of the Daoist roughhewn celebration of nature.

Ways within a Cosmic Landscape
To conclude these introductory comments, we return to the thematic metaphor of the “landscape” of life, especially as embodied in traditional landscape paintings, gardening, and the cultivation of miniature gardens (penjing) in China. Typically, a Chinese landscape painting (or the microcosm of a garden within a basin) is expressive of the dynamic interrelatedness of the cosmic (the celestial “frame” or “space” of the painting or container), natural (mountainous forms, vegetation, and water), and human (both individual wayfarers and expressions of social life, such as roads and buildings) spheres of life—particularized manifestations of the biosphere that often transparently merge into an organic whole by virtue of an all-pervasive cloudy mist or vaporish qi. Important in these “small worlds” or multiperspectival tableaus of the unity and particularity of life (the manifest or named Dao) is a kind of double irony. Thus, what is “natural” is always in relation to the constructed, imagined, or artificial presence of humanity. At the same time, the natural artificiality of the “landscape” of life, unlike Greek artistic tradition, primarily refers to the profoundly humbled significance of humans in relation to the greater whole. The craft of Chinese landscape art and miniature gardens achieves its “natural” effect and “humanistic” significance by being conspicuously artificial and nonanthropocentric.34

It is this necessary but subdued role of humanity in cooperative relation with nonhuman nature and the cosmos (the “gardening” theme brought out so effectively by Jeffrey Meyer) that hints at the mythological story of creation associated with the cosmic giant known as Pangu (or Pon Ghu in Field’s poem) born of the primordial egg, wonton, or gourd (see the prologue to this volume). The human world is in fact the dismembered body of Pangu from whose body lice are spawned human beings.35 From the very beginning, therefore, humans have infested the greater landscape of life and are cooperatively responsible for the overall health or disease of cosmic life. The question becomes, then, whether this relationship will evolve parasitically and destructively, or symbiotically and productively. What comes to the fore when reflecting on these images is the ubiquity of organic, agricultural, and medicinal metaphors that valorize an intimate cooperation of the human and natural worlds. In some ways, these ideas (as with the overall traditions of landscape painting and gardening) are more pan-Chinese than specifically Daoist.36 Nevertheless, it can be said that Daoists—more so perhaps than either courtly Confucian bureaucrats or sophisticated Buddhist monks—tended to remember ancient mythic themes and ritual practices as ways to rearticulate, temporarily, imaginatively, and artificially, the original unbroken wholeness of individual bodies, particular social worlds, and the infinite cosmos.

The collaborative or participatory relationship with nature generally promoted by the tradition of landscape painting and gardening in China is not a prescription for passivity. As in the broad Daoist spirit of wei-wu-wei, or effective nonegotistical action, humans should respond actively and creatively to the sinuous and often degenerative turnings of life. Thus, a landscape painting commonly depicts the humbled, yet responsive, wayfarer who is consciously striving to find an ascending path up (and into) the mountain of life. Both the destination and the journey have significance in landscape painting. And as Schipper has reminded us, Daoists may even provide us with precepts, signs, and talismans along the way—passports back to an interconnected cosmos. Here again is suggested a kind of generalized Daoist lesson about negotiating the byways of contemporary ecological concern. In many ways, the brokenness and dis-ease of bodies and spirits, as well as the devious bypaths of the mountainous body of life, must be accepted. But this means that it is incumbent upon all of us who inhabit this increasingly fragmented cosmic landscape to walk (together with other wayfarers) a path that cherishes and cultivates the healing interrelatedness of all the “ten thousand things.” We embrace the unnamed Dao of the cosmos only through the myriad speciated de’s of our own local environment—our own patch and parchment of garden.

Daoists may not always be the first to act in times of crisis, nor are they likely to work out elaborate theories of engaged social action, but they have always known that it is imperative to take up a way of life that responds in a timely and imaginative fashion to the dangers of neglect, imbalance, distortion, and degradation that inevitably affect human relations with the natural and cosmic worlds. What is needed is a bodily and spiritual resurrection of what Tuan Yi-fu calls a “topophilia”—that is, an aesthetic respect and a practical love for one’s particular life-scape, a love that has general ecological import because of its rootedness in the specific topography of a lived body and local environment.37 Coming to the end of our journey within the confusing realms of Daoism and ecology is, then, only to be in a position to begin the work of knowing and healing again. In time and because of time, all things—including the natural world itself—require attentive cultivation and responsive care. This, after all, is the “natural” way of things. It is one of the ways—which might be called a “Daoist” or transformative way—to live gracefully, reciprocally, and responsibly within the cosmic landscape of life.



1 Concerning the “easy” and “natural” assumption of a special affinity between Daoist tradition and ecological concerns, see, among other examples, J. Baird Callicott, Earth’s Insights (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1994) 67–75. As Callicott says, “contemporary Western environmental ethicists scouring Eastern traditions of thought for ecologically resonant ideas and environmentally oriented philosophies of living have been drawn chiefly to Taoism” (p 67).
Return to text

2 See Benjamin Hoff’s two best-selling “new age” commentaries on Daoism, The Tao of Pooh (New York: Penguin Books, 1982) and The Te of Piglet (New York: Dutton, 1992). On the whole fascinating topic of Americanized “pop” Daoism or Dao-Lite, see N. J. Girardot, “My Way: Teaching the Tao Te Ching and Taoism at the End of the Millennium,” forthcoming in Teaching the Tao Te Ching, ed. Warren Frisinia (New York: Oxford University Press).
Return to text

3 On the experiential “Suzuki-Zen” see Robert H. Sharf, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” in Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 107–60.
Return to text

4 Concerning the checkered history of Western regimes of knowledge concerning Chinese tradition, see J. J. Clarke, Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter Between Asian and Western Thought (New York: Routledge, 1997) 37–53; and N. J. Girardot, The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge’s Oriental Pilgrimage (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, forthcoming). Especially important is J. J. Clarke, The Tao of the West: Western Transformations of Taoist Thought (London: Routledge, 2000).
Return to text

5 See also the versions of a particularly popular scatological “definition” of Daoism in relation to other religions; for example, “Shit Happens in Various World Religions” at http://www.ee.pdx.edu/~alf/html/shit-religions.html and the “Canonical List of Shit Happens” at http://www.humorspace.com/humor/lists/lshit.htm.
Return to text

6 See Nathan Sivin, “On the Word ‘Taoist’ as a Source of Perplexity,” History of Religions 17 (1978): 303–30.
Return to text

7 On the nineteenth-century cultural history of the “Protestant,” “missionary,” and “postmillennial” agenda inherent in much Orientalist discourse and comparative religions, see Girardot, Victorian Translation of China. Specifically with regard to Daoism, see N. J. Girardot, “‘Finding the Way’: James Legge and the Victorian Invention of Taoism,” Religion 29 (1999): 107–21. An illustration of some of the difficulty and silliness inherent in the conflation of quasi-religious environmental apprehensions with an enlightened reform of “traditional” and “superstitious” Chinese religious practices is seen in the heavily Westernized Chinese community of Taiwan. Thus, an “environmentally friendly” governmental minister in Taipei recently urged people to stop the wasteful practice of burning wads of imitation spirit-money for the dead. Hsieh Chin-ting, head of the Department of Civil Affairs suggested that using a credit card system in temples would be more ecologically and religiously efficacious since the dead could charge as much as they desired in the afterworld without causing the living to pollute the earthly realm. Directly linking these environmental interests with the traditional “three teachings” of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, Minister Hsieh, as a kind of latter-day Confucian bureaucrat, said he was acutely concerned that “the tons of imitation banknotes burned each year [were] a waste of natural resources.” His solution to this problem was his strong recommendation that “Buddhist and Taoist temples take the lead in bringing about the change” to ghostly credit cards. This article appeared as a syndicated “News of the Weird” item and appeared in the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, 2 October 1993, under the heading of “Give Dead Credit; Save a Taiwan Tree.”
Return to text

8 On the “depth” of the contemporary ecological movement, see especially Michael E. Zimmerman, Contesting Earth’s Future, Radical Ecology, and Postmodernity (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1994), and The Green Reader: Essays Towards a Sustainable Society, ed. Andrew Dobson (San Francisco, Calif.: Mercury Books, 1991). The best known of the deep ecologists is the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess; see his “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary,” in The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology, ed. Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1995). For an interesting discussion of the Daoist implications of Naess’s deep ecology, see Vanessa Phillips, “The Tao Te Ching and Its Relation to Deep Ecology,” Lehigh Review 7 (spring-fall 1999): 31–39.
Return to text

9 Among other works, see especially Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Ryuken Williams (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997).
Return to text

10 On the contemporary Daoist concern for the destruction of China’s holy mountains, see Martin Palmer, “Saving China’s Holy Mountains,” People and the Planet 5, no. 1; URL: http://www.oneworld.org/patp/vol5/feature.html.
Return to text

11 Much of the material in this section was contributed by Liu Xiaogan.
Return to text

12 On the situation involving the Three Gorges Dam, see Wu Ming, “A Disaster in the Making,” China Rights Forum, spring 1998, 4–9. A recent discussion of the problem of air pollution in China is found in the Associated Press story on the Beijing “Blue Skies Project” by Elaine Kurtenback, printed in The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), 23 March 1999, D1, D6.
Return to text

13 Zhang Kunmin, “China’s Environmental Strategy and Environmental Literature” (paper presented at the International Conference on Humankind and Nature: Literature on the Environment, Singapore, 27–30 February 1999).
Return to text

14 Richard Louis Edmonds, “The Environment in the People’s Republic of China Fifty Years On,” China Quarterly 159 (1999): 644.
Return to text

15 According to an official report in 1997, desertification of land throughout China had increased to 27.3 percent. In the 1960s, desertification expanded at the yearly rate of 1,560 km2; by the early 1980s, this had increaed to 2,100 km2. See Diqiu, Ren, Jingzhong [The earth, humankind, and the alarm] (Beijing: China Environmental Science Press, 1997) 153. In the western provinces, the percentage of forested land has been greatly depleted—e.g., 0.35 percent in Qinghai, 0.79 percent in Xinjiang, 1.54 percent in Ningxia, 4.33 percent in Gansu, and 5.84 percent in Tibet. See the article in Lianhe Zaobao, 27 December 1999. From the 1950s to 1970s, deforestation to create new farmland caused the percentage of the forested land in Xishuangbanna to be reduced from 70 percent to 26 percent, and from 35 percent to 26 percent in Hainan. Similarly, because of the movement to reclaim farmland from lakes, the area of the second large Dongting Lake shrank by 60 percent, and the first large Poyang Lake by 50 percent. (Fu Hongchun; “Hongxing Chuqian de Jingjixue,” Lianhe Zaobao, 1999.) The seven major river systems were considered badly polluted or barely acceptable according to the test in 1997, and groundwater and coastal regions are polluted to various degrees. See Zhang Kunmin, “China’s Environmental Strategy and Environmental Literature.”
Return to text

16 Edmonds, “The Environment in the People’s Republic of China,” 641.
Return to text

17Dao Fa Ziran yu Huanjing Baohu, ed. Zhang Jiyu (Beijing: Huaxia Press, 1998) 200–201.
Return to text

18 Most recently during his trip to the United States in April 1999, the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji participated in a forum on the environment and “spoke frankly of ‘the devastation of Mother Nature’ in China as a result of soil erosion, deforestation, and emissions from factories, cars and coal-burning furnaces, the country’s main source of heat”; Joseph Kahn,”Two Accords with China Billed as Icing Become Part of a Simpler Cake,” New York Times, 10 April 1999; http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/asia/041099china-us.html. For additional discussions of the environmental situation in contemporary China, see the bibliography on energy and environment in China and East Asia, compiled by Timothy C. Weiskel, found on “East and Southeast Asia. An Annotated Directory of Internet Resources,” http://newton.uor.edu/departments&programs/asianstudiesdept/china-science.html
Return to text.

19 On the international organization of “sino-ecologists,” see the following URL: http://sevilleta.unm.edu/~yyang/sino-eco/about.html.
Return to text

20 See, in this volume, Roger T. Ames, “The Local and Focal in Realizing a Daoist World,” and David L. Hall, “From Reference to Deference: Daoism and the Natural World.”
Return to text

21 See, in this volume, James Miller, “Respecting the Environment/Visualizing Highest Clarity.”
Return to text

22 Also see Palmer’s discussion of these developments in his “Saving China’s Holy Mountains,” p. 2.
Return to text

23 Important new translations of Daoist religious scriptures are found in: The Taoist Experience: An Anthology, ed. Livia Kohn (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1993); Steven Bokenkamp, Early Daoist Scriptures (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997); and Eva Wong, Teachings of the Tao (Boston: Shambhala, 1997).
Return to text

24 See Isabelle Robinet, Taoism: Growth of a Religion, trans. Phyllis Brooks (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997).
Return to text

25 On Orthodox Unity Daoism practiced in Taiwan today, see especially Kristofer Schipper, The Taoist Body, trans. Karen Duval (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1993).
Return to text

26 For an engaging fictional portrait of the founders of the Complete Perfection school, see Eva Wong’s translation The Seven Taoist Masters (Boston: Shambhala, 1990).
Return to text

27 There is still no reliable discussion of these Westernized forms of Daoism, but see Solala Towler, A Gathering of Cranes: Bringing the Tao to the West (Eugene, Ore.: Abode of the Eternal Tao, 1996). See also the Frost Bell, the interesting newsletter of “Orthodox Daoism in America” published in Santa Cruz, California. Liu Ming (= Charles Belyea) is the leader of this organization. On Liu Ming, see, in this volume, “Change Starts Small: Daoist Practice and the Ecology of Individual Lives.”
Return to text

28 Most of this section (“The Ecological Landscape of Religious Daoism”) was originally published by James Miller as “Daoism and Ecology,” in Earth Ethics 10, no. 1 (fall 1998): 26–27.
Return to text

29 On the phenomenology of Daoist “immortals,” see especially Isabelle Robinet, “The Taoist Immortal: Jesters of Light and Shadow, Heaven and Earth,” in Myth and Symbol in Chinese Tradition, ed. N. J. Girardot and John S. Major, symposium issue of the Journal of Chinese Religions 13–14 (1985–1986): 87–106. Concerning the origins of the Highest Clarity tradition see also Isabelle Robinet, Taoist Meditation, trans. Julian Pas and N. J. Girardot (Albany, N.Y.: State Universtiy of New York Press, 1992).
Return to text

30 From a comparative perspective see, for example, Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
Return to text

31 For a discussion of some of these issues, see N. J. Girardot, “Kristofer Schipper and the Resurrection of the Taoist Body,” in Kristofer Schipper, The Taoist Body, trans. Karen Duval (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1993) ix–xviii.
Return to text

32 For an interesting discussion of how the “bad scholarship” of popular interpretations of Daoism may sometimes result in “good religion,” see Julia M. Hardy, “Influential Western Interpretations of the Tao-te-ching,” in Lao-tzu and the Tao-te-ching, ed. Livia Kohn and Michael LaFargue (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1998) 165–88.
Return to text

33 On these mythic themes, see N. J. Girardot, Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Hun-tun (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1988).
Return to text

34 See, among other works, Mai-mai Sze, The Tao of Painting: A Study of the Ritual Disposition of Chinese Painting (New York: Pantheon Books, 1956); Dusan Pajin, “Environmental Aesthetics and Chinese Gardens,” <http://dekart.f.bg.ac.yu/~dpajin/gardens/> ; Lothar Ledderose, “The Earthly Paradise: Religious Elements in Chinese Landscape Art,” in Theories of the Arts in China, ed. Susan Bush and Christian Murk (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1983) 165–83; and Kiyohiko Munakata, “Mysterious Heavens and Chinese Classical Gardens,” RES 15 (1988): 61–88. On miniature gardens, see the classic work by Rolf Stein, Le Monde en petit: Jardins en miniature et habitations dans la pensée religieuse d’Extrême-Orient (Paris: Flammarion, 1987), translated by Phyllis Brooks as The World in Miniature (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990).
Return to text

35 For some discussion of the Pangu mythology, see Stephen Field, “In a Calabash: A Chinese Myth of Origins,” Talus 9/10 (1997), particularly pp. 52–55. See also Yuan Ke, Dragons and Dynasties: An Introduction to Chinese Mythology, trans. Kim Echlin and Nie Zhixiong (London: Penguin Books, 1993); and Anne Birrell, Chinese Mythology: An Introduction (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).
Return to text

36 See Miranda Shaw, “Buddhist and Taoist Influences on Chinese Landscape Painting,” Journal of the History of Ideas 49 (1988): 183–206; and Shen Shan-hong, “The Influence of Tao in the Development of Chinese Painting” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1978)
Return to text

37 On the theme of “topophilia,” see Tuan Yi-fu, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974). It should be noted that the geographer Tuan is not at all sanguine about organized religions (including Daoism) contributing to a revived topophilia in the contemporary world. For a statement from the “sociobiological” perspective concerning the interconnectedness of all life forms, see Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984).
Return to text

    Copyright © 2001 Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.
Reprinted with permission.      

// //