In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Daoist Canon

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Indexes and Concordances
  • Digital Transcriptions

Chinese Studies Daoist Canon
Fabrizio Pregadio
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0164


The term daozang 道藏, commonly rendered as “Daoist Canon,” originally referred to collections of texts kept in Daoist establishments. Later, the same term was also used to designate a series of major compendia of Daoist texts, usually compiled by imperial decree and distributed to temples throughout China. While these compendia may be deemed to reflect the Daoist orthodoxy at the different periods of their compilation, this is not implied in the term daozang itself, which does not literally mean “canon,” but only “repository of the Way.” The Daoist Canon of the Ming dynasty—published in 1445 and known as the Zhengtong Daozang 正統道藏, or Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Reign Period—is the last of these collections and the only one extant. A supplement entitled Xu Daozang jing 續道藏經, or Sequel to the Scriptures of the Daoist Canon, was added in 1607, and since then has been an integral part of the collection. Together, the two parts of the Canon contain almost 1,500 works. As described in more detail in different sections of this bibliography, the roots of the Daoist Canon lie in a now-lost catalogue compiled in the late 5th century, which classified scriptures into three broad categories corresponding to the main Daoist traditions of that time. Additional categories were added about one and a half centuries later, to take account of textual corpora that had been disregarded in the former classification. After the first Canon was compiled in the mid-8th century, works related to newly created schools and lineages were progressively added to the earlier collections, while older works were omitted owing to loss or to editorial decisions. The result of this evolution is the present-day Daozang, which contains sources related to all major Daoist branches and lineages until the mid-15th century. While the Daozang as we know it is still formally organized according to the classification of scriptures devised one millennium before its publication, it does not use distinctions that originate outside of Daoism, such as those between “philosophical” and “religious” texts, or between daojia 道家 (a term often understood as “philosophical Daoism”) and daojiao 道教 (so-called “religious Daoism”). The Zhonghua Daozang 中華道藏 or Daoist Canon of China, published by the Huaxia Chubanshe in 2003, is the first new edition of the Canon since the Zhengtong Daozang. Besides the entire Canon, it includes additional texts, such as transcriptions of about sixty Dunhuang manuscripts. Instead of following the traditional plan of the Canon, texts are arranged into broad headings such as lineages, literary genres (ritual compendia, hagiography, descriptions of practices, encyclopedias, etc.), and commentaries on major texts. While texts are punctuated and the new arrangement may be clearer to a modern user, the large majority of scholars, both in China and elsewhere, continue to refer to the Zhengtong Daozang in their studies.

General Overviews

In English, the main overviews of the Daozang—discussing its origins, evolution, and contents—are found in the survey in Bokenkamp 1986, in Boltz 1987 (cited under Main Textual Corpora), and in Boltz 2008. The remarkable book Zhu 1992 is the main publication of its kind in Chinese. Ozaki 1983 is a shorter but equally valuable survey in Japanese.

  • Bokenkamp, Stephen R. “Taoist Literature. Part 1: Through the T’ang Dynasty.” In The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. 2d rev. ed. Edited by William H. Nienhauser Jr., 138–152. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

    An excellent overview of the Daoist Canon and its texts. The overview continues in Part 2, “Five Dynasties to the Ming,” by Judith M. Boltz (pp. 152–174). Each part is subdivided into sections that mirror those in Boltz 1987.

  • Boltz, Judith M. “Taoism: Taoist Literature.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 4. 2d ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 2202–2212. New York and London: Macmillan, 2005.

    Probably the best summary of the history and contents of the Daoist Canon in a Western language.

  • Boltz, Judith M. “Daozang and Subsidiary Compilations.” In The Encyclopedia of Taoism. Vol. 1. Edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, 28–33. London: Routledge, 2008.

    Presents the main data on the Daozang and other major collections of Daoist texts.

  • Ozaki Masaharu 尾崎正治. “Dōkyō kyōten” (道教経典). In Dōkyō (道教). Vol. 1. Edited by Fukui Kōjun 福井文雅, et al., 73–120. Tokyo: Hirakawa Shuppansha, 1983.

    A remarkably clear and useful survey of the history and contents of the Daoist Canon. Describes the formation of the Canon, the different compilations of Daoist texts through the Ming dynasty, and the main textual corpora found in the Zhengtong Daozang.

  • Zhu Yueli 朱越利. Daojing zonglun (道经总论). Shenyang, China: Liaoning Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1992.

    An extensive overview of Daoist literature. Part 3 (pp. 123–171) is concerned with the Daoist Canon. The book also includes sections on catalogues, textual corpora, and Daoist sources outside the Canon.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.