Hua Hu Ching

Misconception:

The Hua Hu Ching contains the unknown teachings of Lao Tzu at an advanced level beyond the Tao Te Ching.

Truth:

The Hua Hu Ching (written as Huahujing in the Pinyin system) is a forgery created to assert the superiority of Taoism over Buddhism. The book supposedly proved that Lao Tzu traveled to India and converted the rulers there to the Tao, which meant Buddhism was nothing more than an offshoot of Taoism. Thus, the very genesis of the book contained elements of arrogance and dishonesty.

Details:

Wikipedia, due to its open nature, isn’t always right, but in the case of Hua Hu Ching it is quite correct. Here’s its entry as of 12/31/2009:

The Huahujing (Chinese: 化胡經/化胡经; pinyin: Huàhújīng; Wade-Giles: Hua Hu Ching; literally “Classic on Converting the Barbarians”) is a Taoist book. Although traditionally attributed to Laozi, most scholars believe it is a forgery because there are no historical references to the text until the early 4th century CE. According to Louis Komjathy (2004:48), the Taoist Wang Fu (王浮) originally compiled the Huahujingcirca 300 CE, and the extant version probably dates from the 6th century Northern Celestial Masters. The text is honorifically known as the Taishang lingbao Laozi huahu miaojing (太上靈寶老子化胡妙經, “The Supreme Numinous Treasure’s Sublime Classic on Laozi’s Conversion of the Barbarians”). A copy of the Huahujing was discovered in the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, and Liu Yi (1997) believes the original text dates from around the late 4th or early 5th century.

Emperors of China occasionally organized debates between Buddhists and Taoists, and granted political favor to the winners. The Taoists developed the Huahujing to support one of their favorite arguments against the Buddhists, writes Holmes Welch (1957:152), their claim that “Lao Tzu had gone to India after his westward departure from China, and had converted—or become—the Buddha. Buddhism then was only a somewhat distorted offshoot of Taoism.”

In short, the Hua Hu Ching was a hoax, written many centuries after Lao Tzu’s time. Its primary purpose was to be used as false evidence by Taoists against Buddhists.

The following explains the meaning of the Hua Hu Ching title. Let’s break the three characters down one by one:

  • Hua = To change, to transform
  • Hu = Barbarians, outlanders; people foreign to the ancient Chinese
  • Ching = Book, tome, classic; same character as the Ching in Tao Te Ching

Hua is about religious conversion or proselytization, a concept that is contrary to the spirit of Tao teachings. Those who are in tune with the Tao have no missionary zeal to convert anyone else. If people belonging to different traditions are not interested in the Tao, that’s perfectly fine. Tao practitioners are content to co-exist in peace and harmony, without the need to change others.

Hu has negative connotations: barbaric, uncivilized and outlandish. Its usage denotes not only foreign status, but also ignorance, nonsense and awkwardness. In ancient time, China was a center of civilization, so the Chinese people tended to look down on the non-Chinese.

Some of this hubris still persist in the modern Chinese language. For instance, hu luan means chaotic confusion, hu yien luan yu means speaking gibberish, and hu shuo ba dao means telling lies. These can be traced back to the old days, when hu was basically a racist expression.

Books that claim to be the translations of the Hua Hu Ching bear little resemblance to the original text. They are not much more than blank slates for their respective authors to write what they imagine sounds like Lao Tzu’s teachings. Since so few Western readers know the Chinese language, these authors can use the language barrier to their advantage and make up whatever they want, thinking most readers won’t know the difference.

Ultimately, how you see the Hua Hu Ching depends on what you are looking for in the Tao. Some prefer genuine teachings that stand up to scrutiny, while others need more of a nebulous quantity upon which to project their own concepts.

Since I have the original Chinese text and understand its origin, I would prefer to not have anything to do with the book and its deceptive claims. On the other hand, I also understand that none of the points discussed here will have any impact on those who are already determined to support the Hua Hu Ching no matter what. This is an interesting aspect of Western readership (or just ornery human nature) that will shield those who peddle the fabrication for years to come.

Derek Lin

Derek Lin is an award-winning, bestselling author in the Tao genre. He was born in Taiwan and grew up with native fluency in both Chinese and English. His background lets him convey Eastern teachings to Western readers in a way that is clear, simple and authentic.

Latest posts by Derek Lin (see all)

About The Author

Derek Lin is an award-winning, bestselling author in the Tao genre. He was born in Taiwan and grew up with native fluency in both Chinese and English. His background lets him convey Eastern teachings to Western readers in a way that is clear, simple and authentic.