Fang Shih

Doctrines Fang Shih belief has its origins in Tsou Yen's theory of the Five Elements. Tsou Yen (fl.325 BCE) believed that changes within the universe are the result of the interaction of five basic elements: earth, wood, metal, fire and water. These five elements destroy and succeed one another in a cyclic process, which also gave rise to the seasons and different dynasties. Tsou Yen's successors experimented with the five elements with the purpose of attaining immortality.
Although it can be claimed that the practices of the Fang-shih were not wholly related to Taoism, since the Fang-shih's role as technicians of magic was primarily concerned with alchemical practices leading to the actual prolongation of life and becoming immortal, the tradition may be seen as another of the main strands having an influence on early religious Taoism. The rites and myths of shamanism influenced the mystery cults and led to Taoist liturgy and theology. However, the Fang Shih's theories of the balance and inter-dependence between nature, man and the spirit world probably also influenced the development of philosophical Taoism.

History Fang Shih "masters of techniques" appeared around 200 BCE and were masters of the occult operating in the Eastern part of China. They were shamanistic masters of esoteric skills and advocates of religious ideas and practices which included communicating with the immortals. The Fang Shih seem to have been groups of ascetics and wandering healers who sought cultivation of the inner self and immortality of the physical body. They were experts in various forms of divination such as astrology and I Ching, healing procedures, exorcisms, out of body experiences, communication with the world of the gods and the spirits and other aspects of shamanistic practice, clairvoyance, medicine, exorcism and magic. Their goal was the attaining of immortality and they are reputed to have been experts in the search for P'eng-Lai and the other Islands of the Blessed .
The Fang Shih acquired considerable political influence during the reign of the first Emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who united China in 221. They persuaded Shih Huang Ti to organise maritime expeditions in order to search for P'eng-lai. Their influence increased even further during the reign of Wu Ti (140-87 BCE). The most important of these fang-shih was Li Shao-chun, who persuaded Emperor Wu Ti to endeavour to transmute cinnabar into gold by making sacrifices to the God of the Stove. This was a significant event in the general development of Taoism since the practice of sacrificing to the God of the Stove anticipated the incorpoaration of other deities into Taoism and the subsequent establishment of a large Taoist pantheon. Thus, the association between the court and the Fang-Shih contributed significantly to the synthesis of philosophical Taoism and religious practices that would define the nature of Taoism in future centuries.

Symbols The tradition did not identify itself through the use of symbols.

Adherents It is impossible to determine the size of the movement.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 The tradition has no headquarters or main centre.