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The life of the Quanzhen patriarchs : a history of a hagiographic construction, 13th-19th centuries

Abstract : In the times of the Jin (1115-1234) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties emerged the Quanzhen order, which later became one of the two main branches of Taoism. In its beginnings, it aroused great interest from the whole of society, be it among the nobility, among the literati and the notables up to the bosom of the common people. Implicitly or explicitly, the influence of Quanzhen was perceptible in all social practices. Using the documents of the time and intersecting them with the anthologies and hagiographies of Quanzhen origin, we can sketch the preliminary outlines of its history, especially in the context of the social-political upheavals of the periods of Jin and Yuan. Among the essential materials, the study of which remains to this day very succinct, we pay attention to the legends relating the transformations of the Seven Veritables (Qizhen). These legends are both part of the religious and literary domains. According to the abundance of the hagiographies of the immortals as described in the Jinlianzhengzongji or the Qizhenxianzhuan, the stories of the transformations of the seven disciples of Wang Chongyang were essential and later became a strong symbol for the identity of Quanzhen Taoism. For the Quanzhen taoists, the great deeds recounted in the hagiographies of the Seven Veritables became models to follow. Then, from the end of the Ming Dynasty and especially at the end of the Qing and during the Republic China, the legends of the transformations of the Seven Veritables were, on the one hand, spread within the Quanzhen order and on the other hand, rewritten and propagated under the help of moralizers, novelists, followers of unofficial religions, but also by Quanzhen taoists and their lay followers. We have been able to list at least six different versions of the legends of the transformations of the Seven Veritables in the following works: Qizhenzushiliexianzhuan, Qizhentianxianbaozhuan, Qizhenyinguozhuan, Jinlianxianshi, Chongyang qizhenyanyizhuan and Qizhenbaojuan. These six versions of the Quanzhen hagiography have been reproduced, copied and published in more than forty-four editions under different titles. In short, according to the key questions from the three layers forming the Quanzhen identity mentioned above, we venture to understand on how, in the face of the particular religious environment of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Quanzhen Taoists were on the one hand actively taking part in the historical and literary developments by narrating hagiographies to advocate the Quanzhen doctrine; and on the other hand, because there have been profound reorganizations in the narratives of the transformations of the Seven Veritables which were contrary to the Quanzhen doctrine and some of whose passages have given rise to conflict, how the Quanzhen Taoists retaliated, critiqued, and rewritten hagiographies to correct comments deemed contrary to the Quanzhen doctrine. Such actions demonstrate that the Quanzhen taoists had, from the Ming to the Republic China, a keen awareness of their specific religious identity. At the present time some specialists of non-official religions consider that distinguishing Quanzhen too clearly from unofficial religions by opposing orthodox thought and sectarian thought is only an invention and a scientific interpretation that is irrelevant to historical reality. However, our analysis of a total of six versions and at least forty-four editions of the hagiographies of Quanzhen immortals indicates that the Quanzhen Taoists are not indifferent to the frequent interweaving of their doctrine with unofficial religions, but deeply concerned about their Quanzhen authenticity and religious identity.
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Guoshuai Qin. The life of the Quanzhen patriarchs : a history of a hagiographic construction, 13th-19th centuries. Literature. Université Paris sciences et lettres, 2019. Chinese. ⟨NNT : 2019PSLEP004⟩. ⟨tel-02636755⟩

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