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Home History & Culture China Taoism Ge Hong Biography

Ge Hong Biography - Taoism and Baopuzi


Ge Hong Statue
The Statue of Ge Hong

LWhen we visited to Baopu Taoist Temple on the side of West Lake, Hangzhou, a named is always mentioned by the guides or the Taoists inside, and it was Ge Hong. Who was Ge Hong? What was his doings? How did he influence China? All of these will be narrated as follows:

Personal Profile –

Ge Hong (葛洪, 284-364) was a scholar of Taoism, alchemist and medico-master in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420). His courtesy name was Zhichuan, and Taoist name Bao Pu Zi, which was said to be the origin of name of Baopu Taoist Temple in Hangzhou. Ge Hong was born in Jurong, Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province and the grandnephew of Ge Xuan(葛玄), a necromancer during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). Ge Hong in history was widely known as Little Immortal. He used to retreat in Luofu Mountain(罗浮山, one of ten top Taoist mountains in China located in Guangdong province)

Ge Hong was a famous doctor in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, and an early forefather of Chinese prophylactic medicine. He had two books respectively named Zhou Hou Fang(肘后方) and Bao Pu Zi(抱朴子). Zhou Hou Fang is a medicine book recording many symptoms like smallpox and tsutsugamushidisease. Bao Pu Zi recorded lots of knowledge of alchemy. In different eras, there are themed pictures painted such as Ge Zhi Chuan Yi Ju Tu Zhou (葛稚川移居图轴, literally the painting of Ge Hong removed his residence) , which was created by Wang Meng, a famous painter in Yuan Dynasty, and collected in Palace Museum of Beijing; and Ge Hong Tu Huo Tu(葛洪吐火图, literally the painting of Ge Hong spitting the fire), created by Guo Yu of Ming Dynasty, and collected in Shanghai Museum.

Life Experience -

baopuzi book
The Book of Bao Pu Zi Published
by Zhonghua Book Company
or Zhonghua Shuju Press

Ge Hong was a famous Taoist and a legendary deity in mythological system of Taoism. When we talked of the great souls of Taoism, he was unavoidable. Ge Hong was born in a aristocratic family of Jiangnan region, but lost his father at the age of 13. Then, he led a very poor life, and had to cut firewood to exchange the basic needs of life. During her extra time of working, she worked hard at copying a book for study. The villagers called him as the Scholar of Baopu, and then he took Baopuzi to be his alternative name, and it could be literally translated as the Scholar of Keeping the Purity and Simplicity. He was an introvert and did not know how to communicate with others. Then he just stayed at home to read and study, and became knowledgeable considerably.

His grandfather was a high-rank official , exactly acted as Yu Shi Zhong Zheng(御史中丞,mostly like today’s high official in the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CPC) and Li Bu Shang Shu (吏部尚书, roughly like today’s minister of Human Resources Ministry or CPC’s Central Organization Department) in the government of Wu State during the Three Kingdoms Period, and then was assigned as the Marquis of Shou County, which is a county in Anhui province. His father was Ge Ti (葛悌), succeeded the ranks in the government. After Wu Kingdom was merged by Jin, he was moved to be the governor of Zhaoling. Ge Hong was the third son of Ge Ti.

Ge Hong’s granduncle named Ge Xuan (葛玄) once learnt the Tao from Zuo Ci(左慈, he was a great alchemist and a quite mysterious foreteller living in the period of Three Kingdoms. He was born in today’s Lujiang county, Hefei city, Anhui province, and lived in Tianzhu Mountain at his childhood, and learnt the way of alchemy. Famous as a member of think tank of Cao Cao, there was an interesting story about his superpower from Taoism. He once dined with Cao Cao. Cao Cao wanted to taste Songjiang Perch, and Zuo Ci used his superpower to fish the perch in a water-filled copper disc. But on an outdoor banquet, he used the magic power to steal the food of Cao Cao’s followers to treat the guests. Cao Cao was quite angry and chased him. He hid himself through power, and saw a group of sheep on the hillside, and then became a sheep in the group.), and then Ge Xuan was known as the Immortal Ge, and he taught the secrets of alchemy to his student Zheng Yin(郑隐, who coalesced the Taoism and Confucianism, and brought a new theory to mysticism).

At the age of 16, Ge Hong learnt from Zheng Yin. In the meantime, Ge Hong began studying the classics of Confucianism like the Analects of Confucius, the Book of Songs, the Book of Changes and the Classic of Filial Piety. He particularly preferred the methods and theories of being an immortal. He was highly emphasized by Zheng Yin, and taught the secret books like San Huang Nei Wen(三皇内文, the Interior Course of Three Emperors), and Zheng Zhong Wu Xing Ji (枕中五行记, the Theory of the Five Elements Hidden in Pillow)

In 302, Zheng Yin pre-felt the turmoil came, and moved ahead of time to Huoshan Mountain, and only Ge Hong stayed in Danyang, a part of today’s Zhenjiang. In 304, Ge Hong joined the troop of Gu Mi, who was the governor of Wuxing, today’s Huzhou, Zhejiang province, and became a leader. He did a good contribution to fight against Shi Bing’s peasant insurrectionary army, and then crowned as General Fubo. In the next year, the insurrection was calmed down, and Ge Hong was reluctant to show his devotion, and wanted to resign and go to Luoyang to search for the books of alchemy. However, he met the Insurrection of Eight Kings in Western Jin Dynasty, and then he stayed here for several years. Later, he met her friend Ji Han, who acted as the Governor of Guangzhou, and he was invited to southern China, and became the assistant of Ji Han. Ge Hong thought it was a good time of avoiding the turmoil of Jiangnan region, but just for a while, Ji Han was murdered by Guo Li, who was said to be the enemy of Guo Li. Ge Hong had to stay in Guangzhou for many years, and absolutely despaired about this earthly world. He began to study the Taoism in his rest of the time. He learnt from Bao Liang, and continued to learn about the Taoism, and was preferred by Bao Liang. Ge Hong married Bao Liang’s daughter named Bao Gu. In 314, he returned to hometown, and led a reclusive life in the deep mountains to write Baopuzi(抱朴子)

After Eastern Jin Dynasty was founded, and Ge Hong was appointed to be Guanneihou, thanks to his contributions in the past. In 327, Ge Hong heard that Jiazhi (an ancient geographic name inclusive of today’s southwestern China and Vietnam) produced the cinnabar, and he requested to be the governor of Goulou, today’s Beiliu County, Guangxi Zhuang Ethnic Group Autonomous Region. The Emperor allowed his request, and then he moved southwardly. On the way, he met Deng Yue, the governor of Canton. Deng told Ge Hong that Luofu Mountain in Canton was reputed as the immortal’s center. And An Qisheng(安期生, a famous legendary wizard in Qin dynasty) ate Irkutsk Anemone Rhizome, and then ascended to the heaven and became immortal. Also, Deng Yue agreed to supply him with the materials to refine the dan. Ge Hong decided to stop the way, and stayed in Luofu Mountain. He built Southern Temple in front of Zhuming Cave, and over here, created the books and taught the students. Since the increase of students, the temple extended to east section, north section and west section. He passed away here at the age of 81.

The Books He Wrote-

(1) Baopuzi written by Ge Hong was approximately completed in the period of century 4. It is comprised of interior and exterior chapters. It is reputed as the classic of Taoism. The exterior chapter focuses on the self-introduction of Ge Hong, and the topics of society. The interior chapter mainly talks about the thoughts of Taoism and the explanations of Dan Dao cultivation. Baopuzi is a mixture of xuan xue or metaphysical theory, Taoist theology, arts of necromancy, golden elixir, Confucianism and immortality studies. Someone summarizes the book into a sentence of interiorizing the immortal thought and healthcare, and exteriorizing the Confucianism. The content listed as below:


the painting of ge hong relocation
The Painting of Ge Hong's Relocation

內篇 Neipian Inner Chapters:

1. 暢玄 Changxuan Defining the Mysterious
2. 論仙 Lunxian About Immortals
3. 對俗 Duisu Answering Questions about Popular Conceptions
4. 金丹 Jindan Gold and Cinnabar (The Pill of Immortality)
5. 至理 Zhili The Ultimate Order
6. 微旨 Weizhi The Meaning of the Subtle
7. 塞難 Sainan Countering Objections
8. 釋滯 Shizhi Resolving Hesitations
9. 道意 Daoyi The Meaning of the Way
10. 明本 Mingben Enlightening the Origin (of difference between Confucians and Daoists)
11. 仙藥 Xianyao The Medicine of Immortality
12. 辨問 Bianwen Discerning Questions (why Confucians are not able to become immortal)
13. 極言 Jiyan Words about the Extreme (immortality)
14. 勤求 Qinqiu Diligent Search (for a teacher for immortality)
15. 雜應 Zaying Miscellaneous Answers
16. 黃白 Huangbai Gold and Silver (as medicine for immortality)
17. 登涉 Dengshe Climbing (Mountains) and Crossing (Rivers)
18. 地真 Dizhen The Terrestrial Truth
19. 遐覽 Xialan Broad Overview (over Daoist literature)
20. 袪惑 Quhuo Allaying Doubts

外篇 Waipian Outer Chapters:

1. 嘉遯 Jiadun In Praise of Eremitism
2. 逸民 Yimin The Rusticating People
3. 勖學 Xuxue Encouraging Study
4. 崇教 Chongjiao Respecting Education
5. 君道 Jundao The Way of the Ruler
6. 臣節 Chenjie The Integrity of the Ministers
7. 良規 Lianggui Good Regulations
8. 時難 Shinan Averting Difficulties at the Right Time
9. 官理 Guanli The Right Order among the Officials
10. 務正 Wuzheng The Correct Use of Instruments
11. 貴賢 Guixian Esteeming Wise People
12. 任能 Renneng Employing the Able
13. 欽士 Qinshi Respecting Well-Minded Subjects
14. 用刑 Yongxing Employing Punishments
15. 審舉 Shenju Examining Promotions
16. 交際 Jiaoji Keeping Company
17. 備闕 Beique Encountering Deficiencies
18. 擢才 Zhuocai Promoting Talents
19. 任命 Renming Employing Orders
20. 名實 Mingshi Name and Reality
21. 清鑒 Qingjian The Pure Mirror
22. 行品 Xingpin Using Official Ranks
23. 弭訟 Misong Ending Disputes
24. 酒誡 Jiujie Adminishions on Alcohol
25. 疾謬 Jimiu Pointing out Faults
26. 譏惑 Jihuo Censuring Muddleheadedness
27. 刺驕 Cijiao
28. 百里 Baili Hundred Miles
29. 接疏 Jieshu
30. 鈞世 Junshi Equalizing Generations
31. 省煩 Shengfan Decreasing Vexations
32. 尚博 Shangbo Valuing Breadth of Learning
33. 漢過 Hanguo The Faults of Han
34. 吳失 Wushi The Failings of Wu
35. 安塉 Anji
36. 安貧 Anpin
37. 仁明 Renming Benevolence and Brilliance
38. 博喻 Boyu
39. 廣譬 Guangpi
40. 辭義 Ciyi Writings and Ideas
41. 循本 Xunben
42. 應嘲 Yingchao
43. 喻蔽 Yupi Clarifying Obscurities
44. 百家 Baijia The Hundred Schools
45. 文行 Wenxing Cultivated Behavior
46. 正郭 Zheng Guo Correcting Guo (Tai)
47. 彈禰 Tan Ni Accusing Ni (Heng)
48. 詰鮑 Jie Bao Bao (Jingyan)
49. 知止,窮達,重言 Zhizhi, Qiongda, Chongyan
50. 自敘 Zixu Autobiography and postface

(2) Except the famous Baopuzi, there were several books inclusive of The Legends of The Immortals(神仙传), Jinkui Yaofang(金匮药方, The Prescription Hidden in the Golden Box), Shenxian Fushi Fang(神仙服食方, The Secret Menu of The Immortal’s Eating), Meng Lin Xuan Jie(梦林玄解, A Spiritual Interpretation to the Dream), and Yuhan Jian Fang(玉函煎方, The Prescription of Decoction Hidden in Jade Box), and the most famous one is Zhou Hou Bei Ji Fang(肘后备急方, a collection of treating the emergency). With 70 chapters, it is a comprehensive collection of diverse medicine masters’ works and proved prescriptions just available regionally. The main intention of Ge Hong was to popularize the medicine and make people in convenience. It is easy, simple and quick to follow, and reputed as the first clinic first-aid handbook. He also found mercurial redox reaction, and the world’s first man that put the brain of crazy dogs onto the wound of the patient to cure the rabies.

The Paintings about Ge Hong -

Ge Hong’s Migration becomes a popular themed painting of Taoism. It illustrates the story that Taoist Ge Hong together with her wife Bao Gu and children moved to Luofu Mountain for cultivation. In accordance with the records of Xuanhe Huapu( Xuanhe Period’s Painting Copybook),a painting collection officially compiled by the government of Northern Song Dynasty. In the period of Five Dynasties (907-979), Huang Quan and Li Yi created the Painting of Ge Hong’s Migration (葛洪移居图) . The existing paintings including Ge Zhi Chuan Yi Ju Tu painted by Wang Meng (王蒙, 1298-1385), Immortal Ge’s Migration Painting created by Ding Yunpeng(1547-1628), Zheng Zhong’s same picture as Ding Yunpeng and so on.

This is a nationally treasured painting entitled Ge Zhi Chuan Yi Ju Tu(葛稚川移居图, literally the painting of Ge Hong moved the residence). It is considered as the most famous one in the series of paintings about Ge Hong’s residences. This painting is 139.5 centimeters long and 58 centimeters wide, and preserved in Beijing Imperial Palace Museum.

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