Friday, October 12, 2012

The Original Stele of the "Neijing tu", a Taoist Chart of the Human Body

Entrance to the Baiyun guan
Fig. 1. Entrance to the Baiyun guan
(Click to enlarge this and the other pictures)

The Baiyun guan (Abbey of the White Clouds, fig. 1) in Beijing is one of the most important Taoist monasteries in China. A Taoist temple already existed here in the mid-8th century, but the present site originally dates from around 1200. From the 17th century, the abbey has been the seat of Quanzhen (Complete Reality), the main Taoist lineage in northern China.

Neijing tu (Chart of the Inner Warp)
Fig. 2. The Neijing tu stele
While Quanzhen allows for different forms of individual practice — especially meditation — and also includes forms of Taoist communal ritual, its methods incorporate a brand of Neidan (Internal Alchemy) that emphasizes the cultivation of one’s inner nature.

The Neidan view of the human body has often been represented in charts and other illustrations. The Neijing tu, or Chart of the Inner Warp, is the most famous of these charts. It depicts the body as a landscape and shows its main loci according to Neidan, but also draws on the earlier Taoist traditions based on meditation on the inner gods. [See a small or a large reproduction of the Neijing tu].

The Baiyun guan preserves the original stele of the Neijing tu (fig. 2). The stele, dating from 1886, is encased in the outer walls of one of the buildings of the abbey. It measures about 120cm in height and 50cm in width.

Neijing tu (Chart of the Inner Warp) - Lower Cinnabar Field (dantian)
Fig. 3. Lower Cinnabar Field
The chart highlights the three Cinnabar Fields (dantian), which distinguish the Neidan view of the body. Each of them is inhabited by a pair of human figures. At the bottom of the picture (fig. 3) is shown a couple formed by a boy and a girl. Working on a treadmill, they invert the course of the essence (jing) to avoid that it flows downwards and becomes lost. A fiery furnace to their right heats the lower Cinnabar Field, located in the region of the abdomen and here placed near four Yin-Yang symbols. Next to it, on the left, is the "iron buffalo ploughing the earth and planting the golden coin".

Neijing tu (Chart of the Inner Warp) - Middle Cinnabar Field (dantian)
Fig. 4. Middle Cinnabar Field
At the center of the picture (fig. 4) is the middle Cinnabar Field, located in the region of the heart and shaped as a spiral. Above it is the Herd Boy; he holds the constellation of the Northern Dipper, a symbol of the Center of the cosmos. According to a famous Chinese story, the Herd Boy can meet only once a year the Weaving Girl, pictured below him near the kidneys. The Herd Boy and the Weaving Girls are symbols of the alchemical conjunction of Yin and Yang.

Neijing tu (Chart of the Inner Warp) - Upper Cinnabar Field (dantian)
Fig. 5. Upper Cinnabar Field
At the top (fig. 5), the picture shows the upper Cinnabar Field, located among the mountains above the head. To the left of the mountains starts the Control vessel (dumai), which runs along the back of the body. Below the Control Vessel begins the Function Vessel (renmai), which runs along the front of the body. (Both vessels are represented by five parallel lines.) During the first stage of the Neidan practice, the essence is circulated along the circuit formed by the two vessels by means of breathing. Next to the Function Vessel sits an old man, who is Laozi. Next to Control Vessel stands a monk with raised arms, who is Bodhidharma. The two dots represent the Sun and Moon.

The three main sections of the Neijing tu represent the three main stages of the Neidan practice. The Internal Elixir is generated in the lower Cinnabar Field, is nourished in the middle Cinnabar Field, and is achieved in the upper Cinnabar Field.

Pictures taken at the Baiyun guan in Beijing on September 22, 2012.


  1. Great to see pictures of the original. I've worked from copies for years.

  2. Anonymous and other persons interested by my also be interested by pictures of this Neijing Tu that I took some years ago, I can send a copy by mail (I only ask to be cited as the photographer). Prof. Catherine Despeux has written and published a book (in French) about the Neijing Tu.
    My name is Dr Pierre de La Robertie (Université Rennes 2, France)

    1. Dr. La Robertie, May I ask you to please send me a copy. My name and address:
      Mark Shimada
      Ohradni 18 (street and number)
      Prague 4 Michle (city)
      Czech Republic
      140 00 (zip code)

      Very grateful.

    2. Yes. I would be interested too. If you can provide your email I can send you my address. Thank you,

    3. Dear Keith and Mark,
      I am very glad to hear that you are interested by my pictures. My email is : pierre.delarobertie@univ-rennes2.fr
      Best regards

  3. Ho Siong KhoonMonday, May 06, 2013

    Dr Robertie, my name is SK Ho. I am a simple Taoist with Western Education but with little CORE knowledge of Taoism.
    Thanks for the opportunity to be able to receive pictures of NEIJING TU and I will be delighted to receive them from you.
    I also communicate through Skype HoSKhoon; Facebook SK Ho and email siong@greenphile.com.sg
    With the given opportunity, I will be plse to share the little CORE knowledge of Neijing Tu.
    Thanking you

  4. Dr. La Robertie, can I ask you to have a copy of your photo. I would be so happy. Thanks gerat job!
    ludiromeo@hotmail.it I will share with my student in facebook group: Tai Chi Ferrara (Taijiquan)


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