Doctrines The Taoist school of Shang-ch'ing or of Supreme Purity is also called the School of Mao Shan, a mountain to the south of Nankin which was its centre. It synthesised the thought of the Heavenly Masters and the esoteric knowledge of the Han, including the ancient physiological practices of China which were relegated to the background and interiorised. It emphasizes visual meditation whose focus is on the spirits of the body and of celestial deities, mainly astral ones, and which carries the adept to the ends of the earth and into the celestial realms where he encounters deities who give him the food of immortality. The adept achieves his salvation by acquiring a cosmic dimension and by spiritualising his body so that he can elevate himself into the heavens. The methods to be used are described in the books of precosmic origin written and revealed by the deities, which can only be transmitted by a master to an adept worthy to receive them who makes a solemn oath to put them into practice and to guard their secrets. These are a covenant with the gods who reveal the names of the deities which are necessary in order to find them and who by disclosing the names and the geography of the celestial realms provide the adept with the possibility of entering them.

History The sacred texts of this school were revealed to Yang Hsi between 364 and 370 by several deities whose master was Lady Wei, who had been dead for thirty years. Yang Hsi transmitted them to the Xu family, from where they were disseminated widely among aristocratic circles in the south of China. About the middle of the 5th century a group of hermits honoured by the emperor practised the teachings of the texts in Mao Shan. After Ku Huan (ca. 420-ca.483), the first historian and biographer of the school, Tao Hong-ching (456-536) a friend and protege of the Emperor Wu of the Liang, assembled and classified his texts and edited the Cheng-gao which recounted the revelations to Yang Hsi. Such was the success of the school that apocryphal texts appeared between the end of the 4th and the end of the 6th centuries, but which bore elements of a spirit of different origin from Ling-Pao and the Celestial Masters.
In the 6th century the Wu-shang pi yao, an important encyclopedia commissioned by Wu of the Chou, made up the most important part of the Shang-ch'ing texts, just like the great imperial encyclopedia, the T'ai-p'ing yu-lan, which was finished in 983. From the 6th to the 10th centuries the school was considered to be the most spiritually and hierarchically elevated school within Taoism. Its patriarchs Wang Yuan-chih (d.635) Pan Shih-cheng (d.694) and Sima Cheng-chen (647-735) were protected by the emperor whom they initiated and who built temples for them. The poet Li Po (701-62) was initiated into its texts. The school had considerable importance over literati and the development of Taoism. Numerous hymns, meditations, and ideas from this school were included in the liturgy, for example in the Yu-t'ang ta-fa (1120). Towards the 13th and 14th centuries it lost its importance. Nevertheless its 45th patriarch Liu Ta-pin (ca.1317-1328) wrote a preface to a monumental monograph about Mao Shan (probably written by Chang I, 1279-1350) which traced the history of the school.

Symbols The symbolic basis of Shang-ch'ing is that of the cosmology of Yin-Yang and the Five Agents which link the human body's intestines to the energies of the cosmos. The adept absorbs the emanations which come from the four cardinal points and the centre and has the deities come to him in order to make his body immortal. The spleen is the centre of the body and corresponds to the centre of the universe. His kidneys are linked to the North from where springs light and the primordial breath, the Supreme Unity which is synonymous with the Tao. The breath, the principle of the air and yang of the body, is its equivalent; the jing essence is its yin aspect and liquid which materialises in the body in saliva, sweat and semen etc. Breath and essence must arise and fall in the body like Yin and Yang between heaven and earth.
The writings unveil the heavenly and labyrinthine "true Form" of the sacred mountains and describes the heavenly and subterranean lands at the end of the world and beyond, where the adept can go through his interior gaze. In the same way, he accompanies the sun and the moon, drinks lustral water which has gathered in their fragrances and ascends towards their paradise. He is assisted by the use of charms and invocations which are the drawing and sound of the secret names of the deities and which give him the power to make them come.
"To keep the One" is an expression which designates several sorts of meditations on the original Unity. One of them consists of getting into the Bushel, the centre of heaven, with the three divinities which are an incarnation of the One and who remain in the three fields of cinnabar situated beneath the abdomen, in the heart and in the head.
It is also necessary to free oneself from the "knots of the embryo" which are prenatal seeds of death by invoking the luminous spirits of one's body and reviving one's embryonic life in the divine and cosmic fashion with the aid of the original Father and the mysterious Mother who are not one's parents of the flesh.

Adherents It is not possible to determine the size of the movement.

Main Centre
 Mao shan.