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The Transition from Waidan to Neidan in Chinese Alchemy

Fabrizio Pregadio (Technical University Berlin)

This paper examines the earliest stages of the transition from waidan (external alchemy) to neidan (internal alchemy), which took place in Jiangnan during the Six Dynasties.

The early Taiqing tradition of waidan, known to us through the extant versions of scriptures quoted by Ge Hong (283-343) in his Baopu zi neipian, emphasizes the performance of rites and ceremonies at each stage of the alchemical process. Both the Baopu zi and other sources show that the Taiqing tradition was based in Jiangnan, the same area where Shangqing Daoism developed only fifty years after Ge Hong completed his work. Shangqing was based on meditational practices, which included the performance of alchemical processes as a form of inner meditation. This feature is also apparent in one of the scriptures held in highest regard by Shangqing, the Huangting jing, which uses clear alchemical symbolism (cinnabar fields, conception and gestation of the "divine embryo', etc.).

While Shangqing was instrumental in the transition from waidan to neidan, the scripture which played the main role in shift is the Zhouyi cantong qi. Although the Cantong qi is often indicated as lost after the Han, evidence is available to show that it circulated in Jiangnan during the Six Dynasties. Textual peculiarities show that its received version is related to both the Taiqing tradition and the Huangting jing.

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