Huangdi Yinfujing

A Daoist fulu talisman

The Huangdi Yinfujing (Chinese: 黃帝陰符經; pinyin: Huángdì Yǐnfújīng; Wade-Giles: Huang-ti Yin-fu Ching; literally "Yellow Emperor's Hidden Talisman Classic"), or Yinfujing, is a Taoist scripture, associated with Chinese astrology and Neidan-style Internal alchemy. The classic is traditionally ascribed to the legendary Chinese sovereign, Huangdi "Yellow Emperor," said to have ruled from 2497 B.C.E. to 2398 B.C.E., but modern scholars agree that it was more likely a forgery promulgated by the Tang scholar Li Quan (李筌) who transcribed the text and published it with his commentary Yinfujing Jie (陰符經解), during the eighth century C.E. In spite of its relatively late origins, Huangdi Yinfujing became one of the most important classics of Taoism, second only in significance to the Tao Te Jing. Huangdi Yinfujing discusses cosmological correspondences, the Tao of Heaven, Yin and Yang, the Wu Xing, and biospiritual techniques.


Huangdi Yinfujing is also the name of a Chinese Feng shui text on military strategy.

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There are two received versions of the Daoist Huangdi Yinfujing, a shorter text of 332 Chinese characters in one section and a longer one of 445 in three sections. Both versions of this classic explain cosmological correspondences, the Tao of Heaven, Yin and Yang, the Wu Xing, and biospiritual techniques. The text sets out to reconcile worldly affairs with the decrees of Heaven,[1] and attempts to expose the invisible causes behind daily occurrences. heaven's mysteries and reveal divinity's workings[2]

Huangdi Yinfujing became one of the most important classics of Taoism, second only in significance to the Tao Te Jing. Zhang Boduan (987-1082), in Wuzhen pian (An Essay on Realizing Perfection), said:

"The treasured Yinfu jing consists of more than three hundred words, whereas the inspired Daodejing has five thousand characters. All those who attained immortality in the past and attain it in the present have comprehended the true meaning of these scriptures."[3]


The Huangdi Yinfujing's date of composition is uncertain. Some scholars believed it existed prior to the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.E.), while others believe it is a forgery from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.). The traditional Chinese belief, as well as the eponymous title, ascribed this classic to the legendary Chinese sovereign Huangdi "Yellow Emperor," said by the Chinese historian Sima Qian to have ruled from 2497 B.C.E. to 2398 B.C.E.. According to literary legend, in 441 C.E. the Taoist reformer Kou Qianzhi hid the Huangdi Yinfujing in a cave near Mount Song, where it was discovered by the Tang scholar Li Quan (李筌, fl. ca. 743 C.E.). Li copied out the text but could not make sense of it until, wandering in the West, he met an old woman at the foot of Mount Li who made the meaning clear to him.[4] He then transcribed the text and published it with his commentary, Yinfujing Jie (陰符經解). There is consensus among contemporary scholars that Li probably forged the text, which is confirmed by the absence of references to it in pre-Tang sources. Despite this comparatively late date, the Huangdi Yinfujing is considered a Chinese classic, and collections like the Daozang and Siku Quanshu include various editions and commentaries.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Huangdi Yinfujing was canonized by the Quanzhen "Complete Perfection" school of Neidan internal alchemy. Liu Chuxuan (劉處玄, 1147-1203), founder of the Suishan (隨山, "Mount Sui") lineage, wrote a commentary (Huangdi Yingujing Zhu, 陰符經註[5]), and Qiu Chuji (丘處機, 1148-1227), founder of the Longmen (龍門, "Dragon Gate") lineage, wrote another. Xia Yuanding (夏元鼎, fl. 1201) wrote a textual exegesis (Huangdi Yingujing Jiangyi 黃帝陰符經講義[6]). The analytical commentary (Yinfujing Kaoyi, 陰符經考異) dubiously attributed to the leading Neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi, was the first to suggest that Li forged the text.

Qing Dynasty scholars used philological methods to analyze classical texts. Liu Yiming (劉一明, 1734-1821), the 11th Longmen Taoist patriarch, wrote an erudite commentary (Yinfujing zhu,陰符經註[7]). Acker published an annotated translation of Liu in 2006. Li Xiyue (李西月, 1806-1856), leader in the "Western School" (西派) of Neidan, also wrote a commentary.

Military text Huangdi Yinfujing

A military text, also entitled Huangdi Yinfujing (黃帝陰符經), containing 602 characters in 86 rhymed lines, is a type of strategy manual based on the Qimen Dunjia (奇門遁甲, "Strange Gates Escaping Techniques") method of Fengshui. According to a military text entitled Liutao (六韜, Six Strategies), attributed to Jiang Shang (姜尚, eleventh century B.C.E.), Yinfu 陰符 (secret tally), refers to the tallies of various specified lengths used between the emperor and his generals for confidential communication. For example, the tally used to report a conquest in war had a length of one Chinese foot, that to report a victory in battle had a length of nine Chinese inches, that for reporting the occupation of an enemy city was eight Chinese inches long, and so on.[8]


The Huangdi yinfujing classic has been translated into English, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Japanese.

The first English versions were published during the Victorian era. Frederic H. Balfour initially translated the Yinfujing within his Taoist Texts (1884:49-62). James Legge translated the text and Li Xiyue's commentary as an appendix to The Texts of Taoism (1891:255-264).

More recent English translations and studies reflect insights from modern Sinology, as surveyed by Reiter (1984). Christopher Rand's (1979) article on Li Quan translates and interprets the Huangdi Yinfujing as a treatise on Chinese military strategy. Thomas Cleary published a popular translation with Liu Yiming's commentary (1991:220-22).


The title Huangdi Yinfujing combines three Chinese words. The first Huangdi (黃帝, "Yellow Emperor") and last jing (經, "classic; scripture; book") are common in titles of other Chinese classic texts such as the Huangdi Neijing ("Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic") and Huangdi Sijing ("Yellow Emperor's Four Classics"). The second word yinfu "hidden/secret talisman/correspondence" is an uncommon compound of yin (陰of yin and yang; "shady place; passive; negative; secret; hidden") and fu (符; "tally (with two halves); talisman; symbol; charm; amulet"). Fu means a seal, divided into two parts: One half represents the visible phenomena of the world which all can see; but the other half of the seal, bearing the 道理 (daoli, "principle, truth; reason") of Heaven or the Unseen World, is needed for an understanding of the causes behind existing order of things.[9] Fulu (符籙, "Daoist secret talismanic writing; Daoist magic formulas") refers to charms written in peculiar characters, often on yellow paper (for instance, see Jiang Shi).

English translations of Yinfujing illustrate semantic problems with the title:

  • Clue to the Unseen (Balfour 1881)
  • Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen (Legge 1891)
  • Scripture for Joining with Obscurity (Rand 1979)
  • Scripture of the Hidden Contracts (Reiter 1984)
  • Classic on Yin Convergence (Cleary 1991)
  • Scripture on "Unconscious Unification" (Zhang and Li 2001)
  • Secret Military Warrant Manual (Ho 2003)
  • Scripture on the Hidden Talisman (Komjathy 2004)
  • Scripture on the Hidden Fitness (Tsun 2006)
  • Scripture of Hidden Contracts (Acker 2006)

Note the omission of Huangdi above, which all the translators render as "Yellow Emperor," excepting Komjathy's "Yellow Thearch"."

For Heaven now to give life and now to take it away is the method of the Tâo. Heaven and Earth are the despoilers of all things; all things are the despoilers of Man; and Man is the despoiler of all things. When the three despoilers act as they ought to do, as the three Powers, they are at rest. Hence it is said, "During the time of nourishment, all the members are properly regulated; when the springs of motion come into play, all transformations quietly take place.”[10]

See also


  1. Alexander Wylie, Notes on Chinese Literature: With Introductory Remarks on the Progressive Advancement of the Art (American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1867), 216.
  2. Yam Kah Kean and Chee Boon Heng (trans.), " Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo (Mutual Stealing among the Three Powers')" in Scripture of Unconscious Unification (2001), 113-124.
  3. Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo (2001), 113.
  4. James Legge, Yin Fû King, or "Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen," The Texts of Taoism. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  5. Stanford University, 陰符經註. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  6. Stanford University, 黃帝陰符經講義. Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  7. 陰符經註 Retrieved January 13, 2009.
  8. Ho Peng Yoke, Chinese Mathematical Astrology: Reaching Out to the Stars (Routledge, 2003), 85.
  9. Frederic H. Balfour, Taoist Texts, Ethical, Political and Speculative, China Review 10: 49.
  10. James Legge, Yin Fû King, or 'Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen.' Retrieved January 13, 2009.


  • Acker, Peter. Liu Chuxuan (1147-1203) and his Commentary on the Daoist Scripture Huangdi yinfu jing. Harrassowitz. 2006.
  • Balfour, Frederic H. 1881. "The 'Yin-fu' Classic; or, Clue to the Unseen," China Review, 10:44-54. In Taoist Texts, Ethical, Political and Speculative, 1884:49-62.
  • Cleary, Thomas. Vitality, Energy, Spirit: A Taoist Sourcebook. Shambhala. 1991. ISBN 9780877735199.
  • Ho Peng Yoke. Chinese Mathematical Astrology: Reaching Out to the Stars. Routledge. 2003. ISBN 9780415297592.
  • Komjathy, Louis. Daoist Texts in Translation. 2004.
  • Legge, James. Yin Fû King, or "Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen." In The Texts of Taoism. Clarendon Press, 1891.
  • Rand, Cristopher C. 1979. "Li Ch'üan and Chinese Military Thought." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39: 107-137.
  • Reiter, Florian. 1984. "The 'Scripture of the Hidden Contracts' (Yin-fu ching): A Short Survey on Facts and Findings," Nachtrichten der Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasien 136: 75-83.
  • Wylie, Alexander. 1867. Notes on Chinese Literature: With Introductory Remarks on the Progressive Advancement of the Art. American Presbyterian Mission Press. 1867.
  • Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo. "'Mutual Stealing among the Three Powers' in the Scripture of Unconscious Unification." Translated by Yam Kah Kean and Chee Boon Heng. In Daoism and Ecology: Ways Within a Cosmic Landscape. Edited by N.J. Girardot, James Miller, and Xiaogan Liu. Cambridge, MA: Center for the Study of World Religions, 2001. ISBN 9780945454298.


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