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WANG WEI (699-761)

DU FU (721-770)

Involvement with Daoism and the Hanlin Academy

Stephen Owen :: The Daoist church gradually grew in China through the third to the seventh century, early Tang, and it brought together a lot of esoteric teachings, about heaven, the gods and esoteric mastery of how you could deal with the spirit world — alchemy, breath control, dietary control, sexual regimen — all matters of quasi-magical things by which human beings could work together with this Daoist vision of the cosmos.

The Daoist church honored, of course, among its ancestors, Laozi, the ancient philosopher, whose surname was supposed to be Li.

Now, when the Tang dynasty took over, it just so happened, the founder of the Tang dynasty had the surname Li. This was a very common surname for people of dubious background who came from central Asia. It's the same Li of Li Bai (or Li Bo) the poet. And the Tang emperor decided that in fact Laozi must be his ancestor.

And so you had already an established Daoist church, which now the government sought not only to control (remember that this is also to control the Daoist church), but to make it part of a state institution.

And Li Bai, quite naturally, probably with genuine interest, got involved with the Daoist church and was ordained actually in the Daoist church, even though he was never part of the real sort of workings of the hierarchy. And he was introduced to the emperor through his connection with Daoism. The emperor put him in a special part of the government called the Hanlin Academy.

Robert Oxnam :: The "academy," here, was the group of scholars who drafted official documents for the empire. But the academy also included court entertainers, like jesters, dancers, and clowns. As a member of the academy, Li Bo created a persona for himself.

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The Hanlin Academy ("hanlin" means "forest of scholars") was a scholarly institution that existed as well under later dynasties. Its scholars formed a carefully chosen elite whose expertise was at the service of the imperial government.