Quanzhen School: Wikis


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The Quanzhen (Traditional Chinese: 全眞; Simplified Chinese: 全真; pinyin: quán zhēn; literally: "Complete Perfection") School, commonly called Complete Reality in English, is a major sect of Taoism that originated in Northern China. It was founded by the Taoist priest Wang Chongyang in the 12th century, during the rise of the Jin Dynasty. When the Mongols invaded the Northern Chinese (Song Dynasty) in 1254, the Quanzhen Taoists were among those who exerted great effort in keeping the peace, thus saving thousands of lives, particularly those of Han Chinese descent. This branch of Taoism is also mentioned frequently in Jinyong's popular wuxia novels, including the Condor Trilogy.


Foundation Principles

The meaning of Quanzhen can be translated literally to "All True" and for this reason, it is often called the "All Trueth Religion" or the "Way of Completeness and Truth." In some texts, it is also referred to as the "Way of Complete Perfection."

With strong Taoist roots, the Quanzhen School specializes in the process of "alchemy within the body" or Neidan (internal alchemy), as opposed to Waidan (external alchemy which experiments with the ingestion of herbs and minerals, etc). The Waidan tradition has been largely replaced by Neidan, as Waidan was a sometimes dangerous and lethal pursuit. Quanzhen focuses on internal cultivation of the person which is consistent with the pervading Taoist belief of Wu Wei, which is essentially "action through inaction."

Like most Taoists, Quanzhen priests were particularly concerned with longevity and immortality through alchemy, harmonising oneself with the Tao, studying the Five Elements, and ideas on balance consistent with Yin & Yang theory.


According to traditional legend, Wang Chongyang (born Wang Zhongfu) met two Taoist immortals in the summer of 1159 C.E. The immortals, Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin taught him Taoist beliefs and trained him in secret rituals. The meeting proved deeply influential, and roughly a year later in 1160 C.E., Wang met one of these men again. In this second encounter, he was provided with a set of five written instructions which led to his decision of living by himself in a grave he created for himself in Zhongnan Mountain for three years.

After seven years of living in the Mountain (three inside the grave and another four in a hut he later called "Complete Perfection Hut"), Wang met two of his seven future disciples, Tang Chuduan and Qiu Chuji(Chang Chun). In 1167 C.E., Wang traveled to Shandong Province and met Ma Yu and Ma's wife Sun Bu'er who became his students. These and others would become part of the seven Quanzhen disciples, who were later known as the Seven Masters of Quanzhen.

After Wang's departure, it was left to his disciples to continue expounding the Quanzhen beliefs. Ma Yu succeeded Wang as head of the school, while Sun Bu'er went on to establish the Purity and Tranquility School, one of the foremost branches of Quanzhen.

Another notable disciple of Wang was Qiu Chuji who founded the famous White Cloud Monastery in Beijing. Qiu Chuji was the founder of the school called Dragon Gate Taoism. Qiu was on good terms with the Mongolian monarch Genghis Khan who put him in charge of religious affairs in Mongolian-controlled China. As a result, the Quanzhen School of Taoism continued to flourish long after Wang's death, right through to the present.

Popular culture

According to Jinyong's wuxia novels, particularly The Legend of the Condor Heroes and The Return of the Condor Heroes, Quanzhen was the Taoist martial arts school founded by Wang Chongyang after losing a duel to Lin Chaoying.


How it was founded

Wang, as portrayed by Jinyong, was a patriot of Song, China and helped the people to fight against the invading Jurchens. Wang failed in this attempt and as a result, he spent several years meditating in an ancient tomb in Zhongnan Mountain.

Later, Lin Chaoying, Wang's lover and rival in terms of martial arts, came to issue a bet, saying that if she won their match, he would have to give up the tomb to her or either become a Taoist priest or a Buddhist monk. Lin won the match (see Wang Chongyang article for explanation) and thereupon, Wang chose to become a Taoist and created a hut near the tomb, which later became the Chongyang Palace Shrine.

Support of the people

Apart from the story of how Wang founded the Quanzhen School, Jinyong did not deviate much from traditional legend or actual facts. Like in the real Quanzhen School, the Orthodox Religion of All True (Quanzhen), as mentioned in the books, has its main principles based primarily on Taoist studies and secondarily on martial arts. In a short period of several decades Quanzhen gained a lot of support from both the world of martial arts (Jiang Hu) and the common people. The disciples of Wang Chongyang, called the Seven Elders, were all revered as immortals and were a staunch ally of the Han Chinese during the occupation of the northern territories by the Jurchens and the Mongolians later on.

In Jinyong's book, The Return of the Condor Heroes, Wang Chongyang's position as the most prominent martial arts figures of the era was eventually succeeded by his martial arts brother, Zhou Botong while his position as leader of the Quanzhen School was succeeded by Ma Yu, in accordance to historical records.

Orthodox kung fu

Jinyong's books described the Quanzhen School as one of the foremost kung fu sects in Jiang Hu. In terms of greatness, it rivalled the Beggars' Sect, which was another patriotic martial arts school who fought against the invading Mongolian horde. But while Beggar Sect members employed clever, unorthodox ingenuity to win their matches, Quanzhen's martial arts was strongly orthodox. Its popular techniques include:

  • The Big Dipper Formation
  • Pre-heaven Skill
  • Quanzhen internal energy cultivation
  • Quanzhen swordsmanship, i.e., the Swordsmanship of Common Demise
  • Quanzhen palm styles, i.e., Treading Frost and Breaking Ice Palms.

References in Chinese literature

The Quanzhen School featured heavily in three of Jinyong's most popular wuxia works, known as the Condor Trilogy. First was The Legend of the Condor Heroes where the main character Guo Jing was trained in internal cultivation of strength by Ma Yu. The antagonist, Yang Kang was also a student of Qiu Chuji who had a bet with the Jiangnan Qi Guai (Seven Freaks of Jiangnan, Guo Jing's masters) that their two disciples should meet sixteen years after and duel.

In the sequel, The Return of the Condor Heroes, Yang Kang's son, Yang Guo was brought to Zhongnan Mountain by Guo Jing to train under the Quanzhen taoists. However, the rebellious Yang Guo was not suited for the orthodox ways of Quanzhen and later went to train under Xiaolongnü instead, who was the grand-disciple of Lin Chaoying. In this book, the animosity between the two schools (that of Wang Chongyang and Gumu Bai Sect of Lin Chaoying) was symbolically fixed with the union of the young couple.

Chapter one of The Heavenly Sword and the Dragon Saber, the last of the trilogy, mentioned Quanzhen School in passing. The book was set hundreds of years after the two novels.

Branch and Sect

The seven disciples of Wang Chongyang continue expounding the Quanzhen beliefs. The seven Masters of Quanzhen established the following 7 branches.

  • Ma Yu (馬鈺): Yuxian lineage (Meeting the Immortals, 遇仙派);
  • Tan Chuduan (譚處端): Nanwu lineage (Southern Void, 南无派);
  • Liu Chuxuan (劉處玄): Suishan lineage (Mount Sui, 随山派);
  • Qiu Chuji (丘處機): Longmen lineage (Dragon Gate Taoism,龙门派);
  • Wang Chuyi (王處一): Yushan lineage (Mount Yu,崳山派);
  • Hao Datong (郝大通): Huashan lineage (Mount Hua, 华山派);
  • Sun Bu'er (孙不二): Qingjing lineage (Purity and Tranquility Sect, 清静派).


External links

  • Quanzhen (Vincent Goossaert), entry from The Encyclopedia of Taoism


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