Picturing Celestial Certificates in Zhengyi Daoism: A Case Study of the Ordination Scroll of Empress Zhang (1493)

Luk Yu-ping
January 2011
Daoism: Religion, History & Society;2011, Vol. 3, p17
Academic Journal
The twenty-seven-meter long scroll known as the Ordination Scroll of Empress Zhang (1493) in the San Diego Museum of Art is an important Daoist artifact from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It contains meticulously-painted images and a long inscription that records and certifies the ordination of Empress Zhang (1470-1541), consort of the Hongzhi emperor (r. 1488-1505), by Zhang Xuanqing (d. 1509), the forty-seventh Heavenly Master. This paper examines the visual features and format of the scroll in order to situate it in relation to other kinds of Daoist and imperial documents and images. It begins by identifying visual sources that may have shaped the design of the Ordination Scroll, namely, Heavenly Court images, imperial edicts and documentary paintings as well as Daoist registers. This paper then compares the scroll to another Ming dynasty work known as the Investiture of a Local God. Although the two scrolls record different Daoist rituals, this paper argues that the two scrolls share notable similarities in their formats. The paper also compares the Ordination Scroll to model ritual documents compiled in Zhou Side's (1359-1451) Shangqing lingbao jidu dacheng jinshu (Golden Writings on the Great Achievement of Deliverance by the Numinous Treasure of Highest Purity). In this compendium, there is a standard certificate with the same kind of textual format as the Ordination Scroll. It is also referred to as "tablet of transcendence," which is the shortened formal title of the scroll. These comparisons suggest that Daoist documents certifying transmissions of scriptures and registers shared conventions in format not only in text but maybe also in images. The Ordination Scroll is a highly elaborate example of such documents that includes both text and images. However, this paper questions whether the Ordination Scroll was the actual certificate of ordination that was transmitted to Empress Zhang in ritual. This is because of the separate depiction of the empress' image, the absence of traces of authorization from priests, and prescribed treatment of ordination documents.


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