Zhang Daoling

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Zhang Daoling

Zhāng Dàolíng ( Chinese  張道陵  /  张道陵 , Pinyin Zhāng Dàolíng ; * around 34 in Feng County, today Jiangsu Province ; † around 156); also known as the sky master Zhang ( 張 天師  /  张 天师 , Zhāng Tiānshī ), is considered the founder of the sky master Daoism . Little is known about his biography, the dates of his life are considered uncertain, and the legends about him come from later times and works.

Zhang came from a family of small landowners in Feng County in what is now Jiangsu Province . In this region, the legends of the immortality islands of Penglai and the teachings of the Fangshi , the immortality seekers, were very much alive, and Zhang is said to have been familiar with Daodejing at the age of seven . In the capital of the later Han in Luoyang he is said to be a ConfucianHave received training and knowledge in geography, astronomy and oracle. In 59 he received the post of district chairman, but decided against a civil service career and retired to a mountain to study longevity. He gathered disciples around him and later went to Sichuan Province , where he lived in secret and devoted himself to self-cultivation. In the year 142 Laozi is said to have appeared to him , who proclaimed the lawful law of the three heavens (Zhengyi) to him, whereupon Zhang was called to act as heaven master (Tianshi) against the chaos on earth, to establish the rule of the three pure heavens and the six throwing another, depraved heavens and their followers into hell . Zhang reformed the popular spirit religion that prevailed in Sichuan, reorganized the sacrificial customs, created a new ideology and possibly wrote works of magical content himself . He cured the sick, set up administrative districts and proselytized among the people. The Zhang Daoling movement was called Wudoumi Dao (Five Bushels Rice Movement) because the converts had to pay five bushels of rice as a tax. In 156 he is said to have given his son Zhang Heng his insignia, a jade seal, two swords and holy scriptures, and to have ascended to the region of the immortals. The Movement of the Sky Masters was continued by his son Zhang Heng and grandson Zhang Lu .

Zhang Daoling's legend has been embellished by Daoists over the centuries. In the early chronicles his influence does not appear to be so great, possibly he was just an immortality seeker who came from a lower class, healed the sick with water treated with magical symbols, wrote Daoist magical writings, proselytized and took rice as a reward. His influence only extended to Sichuan. The movement of the Sky Masters only becomes more tangible with Zhang Lu , Zhang Daoling's grandson, and Zhang Daoling's legend may come from the fact that Zhang Lu needed an ancestral line for his legitimation.

Through Ge Hong (or Baopu Zi 283-343), a later Daoist and alchemist , who wrote the biographies of the immortals , Zhang Daoling rose to become a saint and immortal master , who is still venerated in Daoism today and whose legend is later developed further has been.


  • Volker Olles: Traces of the Sky Master. On the role of Zhang Daoling in the early Taoist religion. LIT, Münster 1998, ISBN 3-8258-3771-8 ( Religious Studies 2; also: Bonn, Univ., Master's thesis).

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