Dao Fu – Daoist Talismans

August 3, 2008

Rough notes prepared for the Polish Summer Camp 2008, “Adventure with Chinese Culture”, based on research work by Prof Wang Yu-Cheng and others.

How the Fu made its appearance and how it became so mysterious and magical:

“Fu” made its appearance very early in Chinese history. In one of the ancient writings, “Record of Yellow Emperor’s Military Exploits”, a story was told that the Yellow Emperor or Huang Di was fighting with his arch rival, the cruel and merciless Chi You, whom the Yellow Emperor fought hard but was not able to defeat.

One night the Yellow Emperor dreamt that the maternal deity Si Mu (King Mother of the West) gave him a Fu, which has the Tai Yi on the top and the Tian Yi below. Both Tai Yi and Tian Yi are ancient stars written with three circles above a larger one.

When the Yellow Emperor woke up the next morning, he realized that the Fu is a sign from Heaven, so he set up an alter and asked for the Heaven’s blessing. During the ritual, a huge mysterious black fish jumped out of the water and on its back was the Same Fu in the dream.

The Yellow Emperor took the Fu as a given sign and then went into battles with an unshaken conviction that they will eventually became victorious and they did.

What is so amazing was in one of the archaeological digs in 1972 in Shaaxi province, the archaeologists discovered the same Fu drawn on a porcelain vase with words that these two stars mentioned will destroy any evil for the kind hearted.

There are also written records of Fu being used during the Warring States and they were related to the religious activities of the time. In the Mawangtu Western Han tomb, there were records of Fu being used to cure sickness as well.

Although the Fu appeared very early in history, its was neither popular nor and wide spread until the ruling class used it to legitimize their power. When the Fu first made its appearance, it was like any other religious objects for veneration such a sacred tree or a sacred animal. After the two Han periods, the situation changed greatly.

Towards the end of the Western Han, Wang Mang, a minister of the time, plotted to overthrow his Emperor Liu. He used the Fu, which was “discovered” by one of his subjects, as an excuse for Heaven’s Mandate for him to rule. The Fu used was a stone one with a square base and a semi-spherical top with the words, “Fu by Heaver to inform” written on one side and the words, “Wang shall rule” on another. With this as his Heaven’s Mandate, Wang took control and proclaimed himself as the new Son of Heaven.

Why used the Fu as a sign from above to act? Because the Chinese always had the attitude of “Heaven and Man are one”, therefore Man can communicated with Heaven and Heaven will guide him with a sign like the Fu to act.

Wang Mang’s action took the Fu to a new dimension and after his time, the Fu became an object of transmission of Heaven’s Will and it took on a magical power and appearance as an object of great significance and mystery.

…to be continued. 


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