Alchemy in China

  • Fabrizio Pregadio
Reference work entry

In China, as elsewhere, alchemy is a science based on cosmological doctrines, aiming to afford (a) an understanding of the principles governing the formation and functioning of the cosmos, and (b) the transcendence of those very principles. These two facets are complementary and ultimately equivalent: the alchemist rises through the hierarchy of the constituents of being by “exhausting” (jin or liao, two words also denoting “thorough knowledge”) the nature and properties of each previous stage. He thus overcomes the limits of individuality, and ascends to higher states of being; he becomes, in Chinese terms, a zhenren or Authentic Man.

While historical and literary sources (including poetry) provide many important details, the bulk of the Chinese alchemical sources is found in the Daozang(Daoist Canon), the largest collection of Daoist texts. One fifth of its approximately 1,500 texts are closely related to the various alchemical traditions that developed until the fifteenth century,...

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  • Fabrizio Pregadio

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