The Huanglao Dao tradition was the forerunner to the most important Daoist movement during the Han dynasty that inevitably toppled the government whilst suggest a sustainable and equitable social model for the masses. 

Taiping Dao

The Taipingdao 太平道 "Way of the Great Peace" is one of the oldest schools of religious Daoism. Its origins lie in popular religious movements during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220). Only during the 160s and 170s, the figure of a leader appeared in the person of Zhang Jiao 張角. Zhang became the head of the Yellow Turban movement (Huangjin qiyi 黄巾起義), a peasant rebellion in Eastern China that tried to overthrow the Han dynasty, or at least to change the unbearable social and economical conditions of the peasantry. Zhang Jiao propagated Daoist belief in ghosts and deities, wrote talismans and incantations and healed the sick. The word Taiping for his movement first appears in Zhang Lu's 張魯 biography in the Sanguozhi 三國志. The term taiping is derived from the name of a Daoist writing from that period, the Taipingjing 太平經, but was also used for the rebellious movement of his adherents. The combination of religion and social change was an integral point of his teachings, just like in the movement of the Way of Five-pecks-of-grain 五斗米道 that emerged around the same time in Sichuan.

The adherents of Zhang Jiao's religious school believed in the effect of Yin and Yang and the Five Processes onto life, and the use of talismans and incantations to repel bad spirits and diseases. Sick persons were thought to be possessed of ghosts because of former misdoings. Repentance (si guo 思過) was an important means of relief. Talismans were written, burned and given as a potion to drink (fushui 符水 "talisman water"). The sinner had to express his repentance in the shape of kowtow before Heaven and Earth in a lucid place that opened to all four directions. All spirits would then appreciate his humiliation and ask Heaven to forgive the sinner. The talisman was written in red ink, with characters only known to the Celestial spirits. Inside the body, after being consumed, it was said to help the sick to become conscious of his sins.

In the political sphere, the peasant armies of the Yellow Turbans revered the colour yellow as that of the future dynasty. Their highest deity was the Zhonghuang taiyi 中黄太乙 "Greatest one of the central yellow". The Yellow Turbans expected a coming ruler that would represent the spiritual force of the central and most important and auspicious element of the yellow earth. Zhang Jiao, as the great, wise and good teacher (da xianliang shi 大賢良師), propagated that the epoch of Blue Heaven (cangtian 蒼天) was over and would be replaced by that of Yellow Heaven (huangtian 黄天) in the year with the cyclical signs jiazi 甲子 (being the first year in the the 60-years cycle), namely 184 CE. The element fire, represented by the Han dynasty, was to be replaced by the element earth.

Historians call the movement Yellow Turbans Peasant Rebellion (Huangjing Minbian) because its peasant members identified themselves by wearing yellow turbans around their heads. It was the first major peasant revolt in Chinese history.The leader of Yellow Turbans Peasant Rebellion (Huangjin Minbian) was Zhang Jiao, chief patriarch of the Daoist sect of the Way of Celestial Peace (Taiping Dao).

Zhang Jiao had been an unsuccessful candidate in keju (public examinations) for officialdom. While gathering herbal medicine in the mountainous wilderness, he allegedly met an old sage named South China Ancient Sage (Nanhua Laoxian) from whom he received the 3-volume Celestial Peace Methods (Taiping Yaoshe). A talented propagandist and messianic faith-healer, Zhang Jiao proclaimed himself pope of a new religion based on a synthesis of Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), primeval mythical sovereign, and a deified Laozi. 

Huangdi is the ritual appellation adopted by the first monarch in Chinese history, a man named Gongsun, allegedly born on the celestial star Xuanyuan. Legend has it that Huangdi established the first kingdom in history at Youxiong, around Zhengzhou, modern-day Henan province. During his reign, language, costume, architecture, money, measure, medicine and music were professedly invented. All Chinese consider themselves descendants of Huangdi. Huang (yellow) is the color of ripe wheat. The concept of yellow commands a mythical meaning in Chinese culture, signifying regality, prosperity and civilization, all symbolized by the color of golden harvest.

The armies of the Yellow Turbans were able to occupy the whole of northern China and the Yangtse River plain within a short time. The rebel army was divided into divisions (dafang 大方) and brigades (xiaofang 小方). His divisions were commanded by trustful generals, like Ma Yuanyi 馬元義 who conquered the Yangtse Basin and marched towards the capital Luoyang. Ma could by captured by the Han government through treason by a subordinated called Tang Zhou 唐周. Zhang Jiao himself was the Celestial General (Tiangong jiangjun 天公將軍), his brother Zhang Bao 張寳 was the Terrestrial General (Digong jiangjun 地公將軍), and Zhang Liang 張梁 the Human General (Rengong jiangjun 人公將軍). The rebels burnt down the official buildings of the government and thus attracted a huge following by their fighting against the suppressive government. After ten months of heavy fighting, the armies of the Han dynasty were able to crush the main forces of the Yellow Turbans. TYet it was not until 188 that their last stronghold could be taken. It seems that some of the followers had fled to Sichuan to join Zhang Lu's state of the Five-Pecks-of-Grain. he Yellow Turbans Rebellion was finally suppressed by renegade army commanders of the falling Han dynasty who became independent warlords that kept China fragmented for three more centuries, since 220, before Yang Jian reunited the country by founding the Sui dynasty in 581. 

In spite of the failure of the uprising, some basic features of Zhang Jiao's religion influenced Daoist practice, chinese medicine and culture. Like the number 36 of the military division, the nine-section staves (jiujiezhang 九節杖) the priests had used, the yellow robes and caps, the drinking of talisman water and the use of incantations to get rid of diseases. During the Tang 唐 (618-907) and the Song 宋 (960-1279) periods, some "enlightened" Daoist schools (mingjiao 明教) revered Zhang Jiao as an ancient teacher. During the White Lotus rebellion 白蓮教 at the end of the 18th century, the leaders proclaimed the end of the Yellow Epoch in favour of the Blue Epoch, which is quite the reverse of the Yellow Turban movement, but was clearly influenced by it.

Yu Tradition

The Master Yu Tradition flourished during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280). It was a short-lived sect which spread from North to South, primarily within the confines of East Wu, a state in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river. The sect took as its founder Yu Ji, a famous Daoist of the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) who had preached The Book of Supreme Peace. It can thus be inferred that The Master Yu Tradition was either related to or belonged to the Supreme Peace sect.

During the Three Kingdoms era when the Master Yu Tradition saw its spread in East Wu, a Daoist going by the name of Yu Ji came to Wuhui and set up temples where he burned incense, read Daoist scriptures and made Talismanic Water to cure the sick. Owing to his healings, many people in Wuhui became his followers. However, in order to prevent him from "Misleading the people", Shun Ce, king of East Wu, had him killed. This Daoist had obviously been preaching to the public using the name of the previous Yu Ji, who had lived during the Eastern Han dynasty. After his death, his followers denied that he could be killed. Instead, they regarded his apparent death as a case of "Deliverance from the Corpse". They continued to worship him for a long time. After the decline of the Master Yu Tradition, the Li Tradition started to prosper in the southern reaches of the Yangtze river.

Li Tradition

During the Wei and Jin dynasties (AD 220-420), the Li Tradition was active in the South. According to the chapter 'The Meaning of Dao' in the Book of The Master Who Embraces Simplicity, during the reign of Great Emperor Wu, a certain Li A, also named 'the eight hundred-year-old gentleman', lived without food for years in the caves of ancient Sichuan. No one ever knew where he went at last.

Later, a man named Li Kuan came to the Wu state. He spoke the dialect of Sichuan and used Talismanic Water to cure the sick. The locals considered Li Kuan to be Li A himself. So they called him "Eight-hundred-year-old Li" (Li Babai). Locals, including high ranking officials, thronged his home, to the point where many could not get in and had to show their respects outside his home. Some low-ranking officials and ordinary civilians escaping from corvee labour became his disciples. Accordingly, almost one thousand locals became his followers. Li Kuan set up a room for Daoist worship, which he called 'Lu'. Afterwards, when he suffered from seasonal febrile disease, he went into the 'Lu' on the pretext of fasting, and died in the room. His followers declared that their master had ascended to heaven and that he had merely been 'Delivered from his corpse'.

The Li Tradition started in Sichuan and later spread throughout the ancient Wu state in the lower reaches of the Yangtze river during the Three Kingdoms era (AD 220-280). Just like the Zhang Celestial Masters Tradition, it used Talismanic Water and Talismans to cure the sick. Compared with the earlier Five Pecks of Rice Tradition, the Li Tradition was more mature. It had some influence even in the upper classes of society. During the Eastern Jin dynasty (AD 317-420), during the life of Ge Hong, the Li Tradition remained popular in the South. Only after the Jin dynasty did it disappear gradually. It was probably then integrated into the Celestial Masters Tradition.

Bo Tradition 

The Bo Tradition was active in the North as well as in Jiangsu and Zhejiang in the South, during the Wei and Bo dynasties (AD 220-420). Its origins remain mysterious even today. According to historical data, it had links to Bo He, who was listed in The Biographies of the Immortals. Some stories said that he had transmitted The Book of Supreme Peace to Yu Ji, which shows a link between the Bo Tradition and the Supreme Peace Tradition. He also held such scriptures as the Great Heavenly Writs of the Three August Ones, the Perfect Map of the Five Sacred Mountains and the Prescriptions for Divine Elixirs. The Inner Writ of the Three August Ones and the Perfect Map of the Five Sacred Mountains were studied by and passed on within the Bo Tradition. Owing to Bo He's fame during the Wei and Bo dynasties, some Daoists in the North as well as in Jiangsu and Zhejiang in the South started to spread the Bo Tradition within popular customs in the lower classes of society. The Bo Tradition also had links with The Celestial Masters Tradition. During the Eastern Bo dynasty (AD 317-420), it witnessed its development in the upper class of society, which led to its combination with the Celestial Masters Tradition and The Highest Clarity Sect.


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