Sima Chengzhen 司馬承禎 and his Daoist sacred geography in the Tang Dynasty

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

In the late 720s and early 730s, the Tang emperor Xuanzong玄宗 (r.712-756) ordered the establishment of shrines on the Five Sacred Mountains for the Perfected Lord 五嶽真君祠. This was an immediate response to a memorial on mountain deities, which the Daoist priest Sima Chengzhen 司馬承禎 (647-735) had submitted in 725. It also stood in relation to Sima Chengzhen’s writings on Daoist grotto-heavens and blessed sites more generally. Following Sima’s advice, shrines and temples on other mountains were built throughout the Tang empire, with the sponsorship of local governments and gentry. These sites became part of Daoist sacred geography and they were central to the development of Daoism as a state-sponsored religion during the Tang period.

Drawing on a range of historical and religious sources, including evidence from literary texts and material culture, this talk will explore Sima Chengzhen’s Daoist sacred geography from two perspectives. First, it will provide a biography of Sima Chengzhen situating him in the context of Tang imperial patronage. Second, it will show how Sima’s regulation and systemization of gods and sacred geography reflected his unique vision of the Tang empire. In so doing, it will shed light on broader interactions between Daoism and the imperial state in the Tang period.

About the speaker:
Jingjing Chen is a PhD candidate at the School of Culture, History & Language and a PhD member of the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU. Her research interests include Chinese religion, literature, and history. Her doctoral research focuses on Tang religious and geographical history.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.

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