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 was tainted by arrogance and dishonesty.

Moreover, the original text contains passages that would never be considered acceptable today. Thus, “translations” available to Western readers are claimed to be derived from oral tradition with completely different content. Since the Chinese text for this particular oral tradition has never been shown, much less authenticated by historians, the claim is questionable at best.

Details:

Wikipedia, due to its open nature, isn’t always right, but in the case of Hua Hu Ching, its entry back in 2009 is quite correct:

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 Although traditionally attributed to Laozi, most scholars believe it is a forgery because there are no historical references to the text until the early 4th century CE.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 Huahujing circa 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 about a thousand years 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, savages; people foreign to the ancient Chinese
  • Ching = Book, tome, classic; same character as the Ching in Tao Te Ching

Hua is about religious conversion, 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. 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, stupidity, nonsense and awkwardness. In ancient time, China was a center of civilization, so the Chinese people tended to look down on the non-Chinese.

A bit of this hubris still persists 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 no resemblance to the original. They seem more like blank slates for the authors to write what they think people want to read. Relatively few Western readers actually know Chinese, and fewer still would suspect the authenticity of such books.

What is the original like? Here’s an excerpt from near the beginning of the actual, historical Hua Hu Ching, from the Dunhuang manuscript. The section starts out listing many non-Chinese (Hindu and Caucasian) kings gathering around Lao Tzu. Then, Lao Tzu said to them:

汝等心毒,好行殺害,唯食血肉,斷眾生命。我今為汝說夜叉經,令汝斷肉,專食麥麨,勿為屠殺。不能斷者,以自死肉。胡人佷戾,不識親疎,唯好貪婬,一無恩義。鬚髮拳鞠,梳洗至難。性既羶腥,體多垢穢。

You can find the above at Wikisource, National Taiwan University Library, among other sources.

In English:

“Your hearts are malicious, you like to kill and maim, you eat only bloody meat, and you end many lives. I will now explain the Yaksha Sutra to you, and command you to stop eating meat, to eat only wheat, and to stop butchering. Those who cannot stop, will consume their own flesh. Barbarians are very violent. You do not know friends from strangers, you like only greed and lust, and you have no compassion or righteousness. You are so hairy that grooming and washing are very difficult. You have a foul stench, and there is much filth on your bodies.”

This is so wrong on so many levels that one hardly knows where to begin. Does any of it sound like Lao Tzu to you? Needless to say, it would be extremely unlikely for anything resembling the above to appear in English-language books about the Hua Hu Ching.

Far from being advanced Tao teachings, the Hua Hu Ching seems more like the very opposite. Now you know the truth… and I think you can probably see why I would prefer to have as little to do with it as possible.

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.

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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.