A furnace for the extraction of mercury
Project (2010)

External Alchemy in Song China

The Song dynasty (960–1279) saw a gradual transition from external alchemy to internal alchemy. The former concerns the preparation of elixirs in the cauldron through the refining of natural substances to become immortal. The latter relates to the use of jing 精 (essenece), qi 气 (pneuma), and shen 神 (spirit) in human body to concoct a spiritual elixir to transcend the individual and cosmological states of being.

This project explored how, during this change of discourse, elixir masters differed in their inclinations of doctrines or practices of external or internal alchemy and how these differences might link to a broader social and cultural context during the Song period. For example, the project focused particularly on a Taoist WU Wu吴悮 living in the early period of Southern Song dynasty. WU advocated the practice of external alchemy and not internal alchemy, although he was familiar with theories and practices of internal alchemy. Juan HE suggested Wu’s inclination might have had something to do with the rise and growth of lixue 理学 at the time.