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Friederike Assandri

Mar 14, 2022

The Daode jing Commentary of Cheng Xuanying

Daoism, Buddhism, and the Laozi in the Tang Dynasty

Oxford University Press 2021

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This book presents for the first time in English a complete translation of the Expository Commentary to the Daode jing, written by the Daoist monk Cheng Xuanying in the 7th century CE. This commentary is a quintessential text of Tang dynasty Daoist philosophy and of Chongxuanxue or Twofold Mystery teachings. Cheng Xuanying proposes a reading of the ancient Daode jing that aligns the text with Daoist practices and beliefs and integrates Buddhist concepts and techniques into the exegesis of the Daode jing.

Building on the philosophical tradition of Xuanxue authors like Wang Bi, Cheng read the Daode jing in light of Daoist religion. Cheng presents Laozi, the presumed author of the Daode jing, as a bodhisattva-like sage and savior, who wrote the Daode jing to compassionately guide human beings to salvation. Salvation is interpreted as a metaphysical form of immortality, reached by overcoming the dichotomy of being and non-being, and thus also life and death. Cheng's philosophical outlook ties together the ancient text of the Daode jing and contemporary developments in Daoist thought which occurred under the influence of an intense interaction with Buddhist ideas. The commentary is a vivid testimony of the integration of Buddhist thought into an exegesis of the ancient classic of the Daode jing, and thereby also into Chinese philosophy.

Friederike Assandri frames this new translation with an extensive introduction, providing crucial context for a new reading of the Daode jing. It includes a biography of Cheng Xuanying, a discussion of the historical and political context of Daoism in early medieval China in the capital Chang'an, and a discussion of Cheng's philosophy in relation to the interaction of Daoism and Buddhism. This commentary is essential reading for students and scholars interested in the history of Chinese philosophy, Daoist thought, and the reception of Buddhism in China.

The Daode jing Commentary of Cheng Xuanying: Daoism, Buddhism, and the Laozi in the Tang Dynasty, translated by Friederike Assandri (OUP, 2021) is a much needed translation of a text that is not only  an important milestone in the history of the interpretation of the Laozi Daodejing, but also a snapshot of ta complex moment in China's intellectual history in the early Tang. Students of Chinese philosophy and intellectual history will really benefit from this text now being available in English, and for the detailed introduction which does a great job of contextualising the text and its author Cheng Xuanying. 

Lance Pursey is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Aberdeen. He works on the history and archaeology of the Liao dynasty, and therefore is drawn to complicated questions of identity in premodern China like a moth is drawn to flame. He can be reached at

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Lance Pursey

Lance Pursey is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Aberdeen where they work on the history and archaeology of the Liao dynasty. They are interested in questions of identity, and the complexities of working with different kinds of sources textually and materially. They can be reached at

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