China and Inner Asia
University of California, Los Angeles, United States
The literati gaze on the Daoist landscapes engaged an inner alchemical vision in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Resettled in the south after the Jurchen conquest, literati were in close vicinity to the grotto-heavens, a system of the mythical sacred Daoist landscape that concentrates mostly in the mountains of Jiangnan. Intrigued by the mythic aura of the grotto-heavens and the trending theories of Daoist inner alchemy, they stepped into these legendary places and embarked on a quest for life cultivation. Among works produced against this backdrop, Chen Xunzhi’s (fl. 12th century) “Pacing the Void Cantos,” written on Dadi Grotto-heaven, makes a representative case. To the casual eye, Chen’s work would seem little more than a collection of landscape poems that seek to name the peaks: contemporary visitors routinely describe natural scenery and designate names to mountains in an attempt to demonstrate their experiences in the grotto-heavens. However, a unique image emerges in Chen’s poems when we interpret them from a ritual perspective. Remodeling the tradition of landscape meditation, Chen integrates terminologies of inner alchemy into his poems, thereby creating a palimpsest that manifests a progressive anthropomorphic vision of the landscape. The increasing affinity between the somatic imagination and the Daoist mountains made the landscape a Daoist body and the travel within it an inner alchemical practice with life-cultivation effects. This idea of the inner alchemy landscape profoundly impacted literati arts during the time and lasted into the subsequent Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).