Chinese religious culture: a research guide.

Maintained by Barend ter Haar, University of Oxford. This website is maintained for teaching purposes and is only a starting point, rather than a final say on any subfield that is covered. I am presently carrying out a large overhaul (7-2-2013).

General research guides

The primary resource for all work on Chinese history is:

Finding Internet resources

The Internet has a whole range of different kinds of information on different levels of complexity and quality available, from bibliographies and translated texts to photographs. The problem is, as so often, in sifting good and useful sites from  mediocre or even bad ones. The following two resources contain good selections from a scholarly point of view. I will attempt to include really good resources in this survey at the various relevant locations, but one should also at least consult the Internet Guide to Chinese Studies as well, although it is no longer updated.

Doing bibliography: finding books and articles:

There are many ways in which to find books and articles on a particular subject. Annotated bibliographies will provide more background information, but raw bibliographies provide far more titles. Book reviews can be useful for providing a further point of view on the title in question, especially longer reviews in specialist journals.  Finally, plundering the footnotes and bibliographies of books and articles that one finds is an efficient method, but has important drawbacks:  one is restricted by the assumptions (which will differ from one's own) and the diligence (or lack thereof) of the author of this work,  the author(s) may have different language capabilities, the bibliographical work may be out of date, etc. Keep in mind that the field of Chinese religious studies is also well-represented in Europe. Even though French and German publications may be harder to get (and for many to read as well), they are often extremely valuable.

Raw bibliographies:

The material in the following raw bibliographies is  arranged according to topics with fairly small subdivisions. Since no further topical indices are provided, the user should use his or her own fantasy in figuring out where articles and books relevant to his questions may have been placed.


Chinese Japanese

Annotated bibliographical surveys

The great advantage of annotated bibliographies, whether in bookform or articles (often so-called state of the art articles), is that one is provided with background information (such as judgements on strengths and weaknesses), as well as a larger scholarly context within which a book or articles fits.

General Daoism Buddhism

Book reviews

Finding book reviews

Apart from checking through the relevant journals, a number of book reviews can also be found through the following bibliographies:
Journals with good bookreview sections

The following selective list of journals includes only those with frequent and substantial reviews on religious topics. For more information on the specialized journals on Chinese religious culture, see the relevant section below.

Finding information

Here I have included general survey histories and introductions to the different subfields of Chinese religious culture, as well as good research guides (i.e. introductions to the tools needed to study Chinese religious culture, such as dictionaries, indices  etc.) to larger parts of the fields. Bibliographies are treated above, dictionaries and enclopedias are discussed further below. Please keep in mind that the following subdivisions are only used because they represent conventional categories for subdividing the overall field of Chinese religious culture, corresponding most closely to the categories that the user of this resource will have in his or head, but not  to real divisions in the Chinese religious culture as it was actually lived by most people under most circumstances.

General introductions to Chinese religious culture

There are many introductions to Chinese religious culture from different perspectives. Here I will list a number of the more recent and/or influential of them. I discuss Clart, Poceski and Yao/Zhao in one bookreview, "A World in Miniature: Three Recent Introductions to Chinese Religions", Journal of Chinese Religions 38 (2010), pp. 59-65.

Brill handbooks

The following series of handbooks pretty much covers all aspects of Chinese relgious culture, except for the Ming and first part of the Qing. I have reviewed the Song-Liao-Jin-Yuan volumes in: Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies 46 (2016) 259-281.

Finding information on Chinese religious culture

Here I include general dictionaries and encylopedias to mythology (there is no really good basic resource here), symbolism in religious culture (same problem), deities, and so forth. Often, the researcher is best advised simply to consult the secondary literature (especially Thompson and Seaman's three bibliographies) or even the primary sources directly.

Keep in mind that "mythology" in the Chinese case is always - and not correctly to my simple mind - taken to mean pre-Han  (remnants of) mythology (as reflected in older or newer sources, but ultimately presumably going back to the pre-Han period. The classical Western studies are by Henri Maspero and Bernhard Karlgren (see Birrell 1993).
Not to be used:
Doré, Henri. Researches sur les superstitions chinoises (Chang-Hai: Misson Catholique 1911-1913).  This work is a plagiarized version of  Chinese research by a fellow Jesuit priest, with horrible westernized illustrations. Instead use the works in Zhongguo minjian xinyang ziliao huibian, which includes Doré's original source.

Daoist traditions

General introductions

Here I only include substantial introductions to the history, cosmology, ritual and social dimensions of Daoist traditions. This is not a bibliographical survey (for which see Anna Seidel (1990) and the resources in the section  Finding information on Daoist traditions.)
Research guides

Buddhist traditions

Introductions to Buddhist traditions (still looking for good up-to-date introductions on Chinese Buddhist traditions) Research guides on Buddhist traditions

Dictionaries and encyclopedias: finding words and terms

Words and terms can be found in dictionaries and encyclopedias, which certainly in the Chinese case often overlap. The difference between dictionaries and encyclopedias is often only relative, but in essence a dictionary provides meanings and translations, whereas an encyclopedia also or largely  provides information and background. Because they are so similar, they are here included in one and the same section.



Although recently a number of good research aids have appeared, we still do not possess a real dictionary of Daoist terms as we do have several ones for the field of Buddhist traditions and several of its subfields.


(Works on mythology are included above in the section Finding information on Chinese religious culture)

Indices and catalogues: finding texts

Dunhuang texts

London (Stein) Paris (Pelliot) and elsewhere

Buddhist texts

Buddhist texts are here preliminarily defined as texts in Buddhist canonical compilations (canons), of which a number are extant. The main compilations are given below. Sadly, most bibliographical aids focus on the Taishô-canon. Do note that there are many works from Dunhuang which are not included in any canonical compilation or of which only one version is included. Furthermore, Buddhist monasteries in particular (especially in Japan) still preserve rare editions or even completely unknown works, which may have relevant textual variants or prefatorial material.  Also, the later reprints generally do not  include printing colophons (the Zhonghua dazang jing, mentioned below, does).

The texts themselves Concordances and indices (to the canons and to electronic versions of the canons) Bibliographical works (to the different canons)
(still to be added, for the time being consult the very detailed UCLA guide)

Daoist texts

Although the Daoist canonical compilation or Daozang is by no means the only source of Daoist works (whether philosophical or religious), it certainly is the most important. Otherwise see the list of research guides above. The texts themselves
Indices (to the canon and to electronic versions of the canon)
More indices exist to individual works within the Daoist canon, which can be found in the usual research guides, including Wilkinson (1998) and the various references given below. Bibliographical works (to different collective Daoist compilations) Annotated guides (to the use of Daoist compilations)

Precious Scrolls and other religious scriptures

Many Precious Scrolls and other types of non-official religious scriptures have recently been reprinted on the mainland or in Taiwan. The two principal mainland series are: Most reprints, however, stem from Taiwan:

This list is already out of date, since numerous new series have appeared. A longe rlist can be found in Entitle " Heterodox Sects in Premodern China" I discuss the main secondary literature as well as source publications as they have appeared as of 2017.

Relevant catalogues are:

Source books, anthologies, translations




Journals on Chinese religious culture

Compilation criteria

Practical aspects: