Thursday, March 27, 2008

More on Qingtong

Details of Qingtong's realm in Fangzhou described in the Chen Kao (489 CE) coincide with a series of notices about the country of Fusang in other works. The Liangshu, the annals of the Liang Dynasty compiled in the 7th century, tell of a priest or shaman named Huishen who comes to China in 499 CE as an envoy from Fusang. The same source mentions that in 458 CE, missionaries from Ki-pen brought the Buddhist religion to Fusang. The Liang Si Gong Zhi written in 695 tells of envoys from Fusang who bring official gifts in 520 CE.

Given the timing and the fact that one of Qingtong's titles is "Fusang Great Emperor" (Fusang Daidi, 扶桑大帝) , one can say that Qingtong's domain was intended by the Daoists to refer to the contemporary political entity known as Fusang that had sent two missions to China. And again there is the coincidence also of the introduction of Buddhism to Fusang described in the Liangshu and the mention in the Chen Kao of Buddhism in western Lesser Fangzhu.

Huishen's directions to Fusang are rather confused and have led to a great many theories connecting the legendary land to the Americas across the Pacific Ocean. However, as we have noted earlier the older descriptions of Fusang's location are quite different than those given by Huishen. The Fusang priest states that Fusang is tens of thousands of li to the east of Japan. However, at the same time he mentions the Lieu-kieu (Ryukyu) islands as existing to the north of Fusang.

Also, Huishen in attempting to relate the positions of the Kingdom of Dogs and Kingdom of Women, both linked in his story with Fusang, states that these countries had been visited by a ship from a Fujian port that was blown off course. Therefore it seems that even in Huishen's account, we get an idea of the more traditional location of Fusang. The Kingdom of Dogs (Kou kuo) is described in the contemporary (5th century CE) Hou Han Shu as an island located to the southeast of Zhejiang (Kuai-chi county) matching the geographical location for Fangzhu in the Chen Kao. Possibly the journey to the east of Japan mentioned by Huishen is related to some indirect route to Fusang using the Kuroshio Current.

Buddhism appears to have been introduced to Cambodia, known to the Chinese at the time as Chenla, around about 500 CE. Possibly this what is referred to in the Liangshu and the Chen Kao about the existence of the Buddhist religion in the southern regions.

In the Liang Si Gong Zhi, Prince Yukie interrogates the Fusang envoy of 520 CE about his distant kingdom. In the following passages derived from the Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys' translation, the gifts from Fusang are described.

The envoy from Fusang wept, and responded with respectful ardour. The offering which he presented consisted principally of three hundred pounds of yellow silk, spun by the silkworm of the fusang tree, and of an extraordinary strength. The emperor had an incense-burner of massive gold, of a weight of fifty kin. This could be lifted and held suspended by six of these threads without breaking them. There was also among the presents offered to the emperor a sort of semi-transparent precious stone, cut in the form of a mirror, and of the circumference of more than a foot. In observing the sun by reflection by means of this stone, the palace which the sun contains appeared very distinctly.

The silk from the Fusang Tree is probably barkcloth and that would agree with Huishen's account in which the people make writing paper from Fusang Tree bark. The envoy goes on to describe the Kingdom of Women, where he says the female inhabitants marry serpents rather than dogs as in other accounts.

In this kingdom there are no books, and they know nothing of the art of writing. They believe firmly in the efficacy of certain forms of prayers or maledictions. The women who act uprightly prolong their lives, and those who swerve from the right are immediately cut off. The worship of spirits imposes laws that none dare to violate. To the south of Ho-cheu (the Island of Fire) , situated to the south of this country, is the mountain Yen-kuen (Burning Mountain), the inhabitants of which eat locusts, crabs, and hairy serpents, to preserve themselves from the heat. In this land of Ho-cheu, the ho-mu (trees of fire) grow ; their bark furnishes a solid tissue. Upon the summit of the mountain Yen-kuen there live fire rats (ho-shu), the hair of which serves also for the fabrication of an incombustible stuff, which is cleansed by fire instead of by water. To the north of this Kingdom of Women is the Black Valley (He-ko), and north of the Black Valley are mountains so high that they reach to the heavens...The attendants of tbe court were much amused at these stories. They all laughed and clapped their hands, and said that better stories had never been told. A minister of the emperor, named Wang-yun, interrupted Yu-kie with this bantering objection: 'If we believe the official accounts which have been collected regarding the Kingdom of Women, situated to the west of the country of Tsan-yai and to the south of the Kingdom of Dogs (Keu-kwoh), it is merely inhabited by barbarians of the race of the Kiang-jong, who have a woman as their sovereign; but there has never been any question of serpents filling the office of husbands. How do you account for that?' Yu-kie responded with pleasantry with a new explosion of extravagancies, in the midst of which there appeared here and there a true idea, burlesqued for diversion.

These passages indicate that as in almost all ancient and medieval accounts, reliable facts are interspersed into a great deal of legend and hyperbole meant to amuse the listener or reader. The knowledgeable were expected to know how to discern the reliable information from entertainment. Of interest above for the themes of this blog is the mention of the "Island of Fire," and the "Burning Mountain."

Religion in Fangzhu

In the last post, the meditation known as 'ingesting the rays of the Sun and Moon' was mentioned. The name of Fangzhu itself might relate to the reverence of the solar and lunar luminaries.

In Daoism, the fangzhu mirrors were believed to capture the essence of the Sun and the Moon in a manner similar to Cinnabar Gold (danjin), which was used to make dishes and cups.

Further, take one pound of this elixir and place it over a fire. Fan it, and it will transmute itself into a flowing scarlet gold, called Elixir-Gold. If you smear daggers and swords with this Gold, they will keep the other weapons ten thousand miles away. If you cast plates and bowls with the Elixir-Gold and take food and drinks from them, you will live a long life. Just as you can collect a liquid from the [the essences of] the sun and the moon, and obtain their liquor. If you drink it, you will be free from death.

-- Ge Hong (3rd-4th century CE) , Baopu zi, 4.83, (Fabrizio Pregadio, 2006: 117)

In the article on alchemy in this blog, we discuss the story in the Shiji in which the fangshi wizard Lin Shaojun advises the Qin Emperor to use drinking and eating vessels of cinnabar transmuted into gold to prolong life.

Li Shaojun then advised the emperor, "If you sacrifice to the fireplace you can call the spirits to you, and if the spirits come you can transform cinnabar into gold. Using this gold, you may make drinking and eating vessels, which will prolong the years of your life. With prolonged life you may visit the immortals who live on the island of Penglai in the middle of the sea. If you visit them and perform the Feng and Shan sacrifices, you will never die."

The name "Fangzhu" referring to the square mirror basins that absorb the energies of the Sun and Moon, may thus relate to the importance of the Sun and Moon in local spiritual techniques including those practiced by Qingtong.

Qingtong is also specially charged with the duty of distributing to the realized seed people a powerful charm known as the "Bell of Flowing Gold and Fire" (liu-chin huo-ling) . This amulet is apparently modeled on the small globular ornamental bells that appear in the region as early as the Late Ban Chiang and Dongson periods.

Bronze bracelet with small pellet bells from Late Period Ban Chiang.

The Dongson variety of these bells, often worn on the ankles or on the fringes of clothing, is decorated with the signature Dongsonian motif of rows of circles joined by tangents. The well-known "tiger bells" that continue to be made today originate from these more ancient grelots and are still used as charms against danger and demons.

Considered one of the most powerful amulets in Shangqing tradition, this bell is considered to consist of the "elemental essence of the Nine Stars [of the Dipper]," and it allows the adept to magically transport away from danger to a place of safety. Qingtong himself is said to be garbed in a blue-green damask with a small bell as his pendant.

Qingtong and Later Millenarian Traditions

As already noted, the messianic beliefs in Qingtong show obvious links with the Buddhist savior Prince Moonlight. In some of the Prince Moonlight texts, we find the term "Luminous King" or "Mingwang" used for the this messianic figure.

The title Mingwang would appear frequently in the latter development of messianic sects. Two of the most important of these sects were the White Lotus Tradition and the Hong Society.

In both traditions, the concepts of a chosen elect, of a future paradise and of a bridge, as found in the Qingtong and Prince Moonlight texts, survive. A feature that is added to both the White Lotus Tradition and Hong Society is that of a boat that assists in the journey to the refuge of the elect.

In White Lotus lore this vessel is known as the "Dharma Boat" (fachuan) and the Hong Society version is naturally called the "Hong Boat."

Often we see earlier themes pop up in latter messianic movements. Such is probably the case with the "Immortal Lad," who was originally named Liu Xi Gour (Liu Xi "The Dog") born in 1778. His deceased father was said to be either a Maitreya Buddha or an Immortal making him an Immortal Lad (xiantong). Around the same time, born in 1778, was Li Quan'er (Li the Dog) who was said to have the characters of the Sun and Moon on his palms together with the ideograph for the Ming Dynasty. Hong Society members believed that the messiah would be a prince from the Ming Dynasty lineage. In both these accounts, we can see motifs that may be related to that of the Blue-Green Lad, the Dog People of Fusang and the Fangzhu reverence for Sun and Moon.

The divine boat that rescues the elect is said by Hong Society members to transport passengers to the "City of Willows." The exact location of this city is not given but it involves an important journey over a body of water and it was located near the "Mountain of Fire" guarded by a deity known as the Hong Child. In White Lotus lore, Guanyin is often said to captain the boat of salvation. Sometimes this ship is said to take the elect to Putuoshan island, at other times to Mt. Ling, the Vulture Peak where the Buddha preached the Dharma, or to other locations. Guanyin is also often described as one of the divine passengers on the Hong Boat.

There may be an impulse from the regions south of China in the introduction of the boat motif. Guanyin in her form as Guanyin Nanhai or "Guanyin of the South Seas" is often shown riding across the sea standing on a giant fish's head or on the head of a dragon. Alternatively she is shown standing in a boat. The giant fish and dragon could be forms of the whale boat found in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The whale features throughout the region as a savior of people lost at sea, or as one who brings back people stranded on the Island of Women or some other distant place. Also, some researchers believe the Eternal Venerable Mother (Wusheng Laomu), the White Lotus supreme deity, originates primarily from Guanyin Laomu, who may appear earlier in the literature.

When Chinese migrants, mainly from the South -- Fujian and Canton -- began searching for the "Golden Mountain" and its riches in Southeast Asia and western America, they were accompanied by secret societies. These are often known as triad societies, many of them millenarian, although not all are involved in organized crime. Sun Yat-sen was surprised at the very high percentage of overseas Chinese who were members of these societies. He is believed to have become a member himself, of the Zhigongtang in Honolulu, and enlisted their aid in the fight against the Ching Dynasty.

Probably the reason for the strength of the triads among the Chinese diaspora lies in the fact that so many of the migrants were laborers for whom the attraction of the societies was great. We can not though discount any millenarian motivations among triad members to find the fabled overseas paradise -- once known as the home of Qingtong, the Fusang Great Emperor.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Pregadio, Fabrizio. Great Clarity: Daoism and Alchemy in Medieval China, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Ter Haar, B. J. Ritual and Mythology of the Chinese Triads: Creating an Identity. Sinica Leidensia Series, 43. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2000.

Vining, E. P. An Inglorious Columbus, D. Appleton and Co., 1885.

Yu, Chun-Fang. Kuan Yin The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteshvara, Columbia University Press, 2001.