A correspondent writes: “I have come across a reference to a location in Hong Kong called ‘Temple of Jade Vacuity’ on Cheung Chau island. Googling doesn’t explain it,… though one reference refers to ghosts, and I wondered if that was the ‘Vacuity’ element, and there are other references to Vacuity in Daoist religion (philosophy?).” A little rummaging around Google Books turned up the information that one of the Taoist gods is “Celestial Venerable of Jade Vacuity” (Yü-hsü ming-huang t’ien-tsun/Yuxu minghuang tiancun). I’m guessing the hsü (xu) ‘vacuity’ is Mathews’ character 2821 hsü “False; untrue; unreal. Hollow; empty. Vacant; insubstantial; figurative; abstract.” There are a bunch of other hits for “Jade Vacuity,” and it’s clearly a Taoist thing, but damned if I know what. As I told my correspondent, “I’ll post about it—surely one of the Varied Readers will know.” So: what’s with the odd collocation Jade Vacuity?


  1. According to the online Guoyu Cidian, “yu4xu1 玉虛” means a place where gods and immortals (仙) dwell. Baidu has a list of a few other Taoist temples called “Yuxu.” http://baike.baidu.com/view/178547.htm
    According to a blog entry (http://big5.huaxia.com/qh-tw/00249809.html), Yuxu was the sister of the heavenly Jade Emperor. It says that she got sick of him monopolizing all the good real earthly real estate so he gave up a peak on Kunlun Mountain for her. It became known as “Yuxu peak.” That might be where the term as defined in the Guoyu derives from.
    Hope that helps….

  2. FYI, the Jade Emperor was a part of an elaborate fraud perpetrated by a Sung Dynasty Emperor who had negotiated an unfavorable treaty with the Khitans and used a vision of this Jade Emperor to distract from his incompetence. Later a whole background was back-filled.

  3. There should also be search hits for “jade emptiness.” The entry in the Taoism glossary doesn’t give any additional information.
    At least when it’s the home of 元始天尊, 玉虚宫 ‘jade vacuity palace’ is also 玉清宫 ‘jade purity palace’.
    Wikipedia 玉虚宫 takes you to Xuan Wu.

  4. Let’s see, jade is green, and vacuity is something like a colorless idea: does this jade vacuity sleep furiously?

  5. John Emerson says

    If I had a few months I could answer the question. Chinese popular religion and Taoism both have very prolific pantheons, including many geographically-restricted and recently-arrived Gods. There’s a tremendous amount of scholarship on Taoism, though it tends to be historical. This particular God doesn’t leap out as one of the biggies.
    One peculiar thing about Chinese Taoism and popular religion is the personification of principles which to all evidence were originally abstract and philosophical (e.g. yuxu). Though by saying that I believe that I am revealing my bias toward philosophy and placing myself outside the mainstream of the field.

  6. Quite an irrelevant aside, but Waley translated 孙悟空 (Sun Wukong) in “Monkey” as “Awareness of Vacuity”. Different religion, of course.

  7. mollymooly says

    A wide selection of Jade vacuities listed here including:
    “It’s Mona Lisa who’s symmetrical, innit?”
    “What’s asparagus? Do you grow it?”
    and many more.

  8. As I started this hare running, I’ll presume to add another question. Does the character normally translated as “jade” also have another meaning that would make more sense with “vacuity” ?

  9. If “the Jade Emperor was a part of an elaborate fraud perpetrated by a Sung Dynasty Emperor”, why doesn’t it say so on Wikipedia? 😛

  10. I’d immediately defer to someone who knows more, but I have no reason to suppose that 玉 means something mundane other than jade. That is, it has metaphorical meanings in somewhat the same way that golden and silver do in various Western cultures, but they amount of ‘pure’ or ‘beautiful’, or something that isn’t going to make much more sense.
    Taoist cosmology is more complicated than I understand, let alone would propose to explain, and as John Emerson says, it varies from time to time and place to place. But I think the rough idea is that there are realms with varying degrees of form-ness and form-less-ness. And within the form-less realms, there is a hierarchy, one of whose levels is Jade.
    May I point out that corn (maize) is 玉米 ‘jade rice’?

  11. 虛 Xu “emptiness” is actually a very important Taoist term – it’s there all over Daodejing and other early monuments. The Daodejing says that the Tao is xu “empty”, i. e. free of excesses, hyperactivity, needless cares and worries, etc., etc., and maybe free of everything else, too (I hate metaphysics). So I’d find a term like “Jade Emptiness” perfectly suitable for describing a later-period heavenly palace in the Taoist tradition.

  12. Thanks, George, that makes sense.

  13. George and MMcM: my thanks too. I start to understand.

  14. Paul: What I was trying to say in my comment above is that I think this “Yuxu” derives from a proper name, i.e. the name of the Jade Emperor’s sister, and was extended to mean “place where gods and immortals dwell.”
    That said, meanings of “yu” other than “jade” are “pure,” “exquisite,” and “to develop.”

  15. Is there a possible connection with jade discs (bi4)? A hole is also a form of “emptiness.”

  16. David Marjanović says

    May I point out that corn (maize) is 玉米 ‘jade rice’?

    Isn’t that just because the grains are big enough to be shiny?

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