Franciscus Verellen

Daoist Redemption in Medieval China (2014-2019)

Franciscus Verellen. Imperiled Destinies: The Daoist Quest for Deliverance in Medieval China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center / Harvard University Press, 2019.

Spanning eight centuries, this book examines the evolution of Daoist beliefs about human liability and redemption and outlines the procedures for rescuing an ill-starred destiny.

The medieval record portrays a world engulfed by evil, where human existence was mortgaged from birth and burdened by increasing debts and obligations in this world and the next. From the second through the tenth century CE, Daoism emerged as a liturgical organization that engaged vigorously with Buddhism, transforming Chinese thinking about the causes of suffering, the nature of evil, and the aims of liberation. In the fifth century, elements of classical Daoism combined with Indian yoga to interiorize the quest for deliverance. The integrated liturgical order of the Tang encompassed a growing monastic community, lay society, and rituals on behalf of the state.

Daoist sacraments acted on the unseen world, providing therapeutic relief and ecstatic deliverance from apprehensions of death, disease, and loss. Drawing on prayer texts, liturgical sermons, and experiential narratives, Franciscus Verellen pays close attention to the Daoist vocabulary of redemption, the meaning of sacrifice, and metaphors bridging the visible and invisible realms. An imperiled destiny was freed through ritual debt forgiveness; deliverance came in the forms of healing, purification, release, or emergence from darkness into light.

HUP reviews

Gao Pian: Statesman and Warlord in Late Tang China (2016-2021)

The career of Gao Pian 高駢 (822-887) is a case study of regional autonomy and innovation in late Tang and Five Dynasties China (850-965). The architect of the medieval citadels of Hanoi and Chengdu and large-scale defensive and communication works in several frontier regions of China, Gao Pian is a leading figure in the military, political, and intellectual history of this period. A charismatic general and governor, inclined to the occult arts of strategy, he was a man of wide learning and curiosity, a patron of Daoist ritualists and alchemists, as well as a talented poet. Commander in chief of the Tang's war effort against the Nanzhao kingdom in Yunnan (864-79) and the Huang Chao rebellion (875-84), Gao left his mark as military governor of the Protectorate General of Annan (North Vietnam) and the province of Xichuan (Sichuan), before becoming the quasi-autonomous ruler of the Huainan region (Anhui).