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Earthly spirituality: An historical study of Neo-Daoism and Tao Yuan-Ming's works

Jin-Tang Peng, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Social breakdown and the failure of Han Confucianism in the middle of third century A.D. China turned the Shi literati to Daoism for inspiration to construct an authentic way of life. The subsequent one hundred and fifty years were a cultural process of dissonant cacophony, in which the synthesis of the two ideologies finally had to give way to Buddhism. The process, what is called the Neo-Daoist Movement, is to date still in demand of an interdisciplinary, vigorously historical, study. This writing traces a dialectical cultural and mental development by examining the Shi-literati's life and works, including philosophy and literature, and their often exaggerated behavior in everyday life. It reveals that, in yearning for a life of transcendence, the Shi also wanted to maintain their worldly engagement, and subsequently constructed a paradoxical world view that provided them a spiritual space in a time of social turmoil. By investigating the Shi's cosmology, and their sense of community and self-definition, the present study elucidates the possibilities, as well as the limits, of what they constructed as the authentic life. The possibilities and limits can be seen most clearly in the works of Tao Yuan-mind, a great poet who lived at the ending period of the era. Living the life of a farmer, Tao Yuan-mind roughed through life's hardship by taking a spiritual stance that was congenial to both Confucianism and Daoism. In its own way, Tao's poetry brought out what Neo-Daoism should have come to but never did. Precisely because of this nature, Tao's works were historical while transcending the times. In this detailed study of an individual writer and Neo-Daoism, we complete the spiritual-mapping of the era.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Peng, Jin-Tang, "Earthly spirituality: An historical study of Neo-Daoism and Tao Yuan-Ming's works" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709641.