There are two received versions of the Daoist ''Huangdi Yinfujing'', a shorter text of 332 Chinese characters in one section and a longer one of 445 in three sections. Both versions of this classic explain cosmological correspondences, the Dao of Heaven, Yin and Yang, the Wu Xing, and biospiritual techniques. In the description of Alexander Wylie , "This short Treatise, which is not entirely free from the obscurity of T?oist mysticism, professes to reconcile the decrees of Heaven with the current of mundane affairs." In the explanation of the modern Daoists Zhang Jiyu and Li Yuanguo,
The ''Huangdi yinfu jing'' reflects this later stage of Daoist thought and attempts to "expose heaven's mysteries and reveal divinity's workings." It became one of the most important classics of Daoism, second only in significance to the ''Daode jing''. Zhang Boduan , in his ''Wuzhen pian'' , said: "The treasured ''Yinfu jing'' consists of more than three hundred words whereas the inspired ''Daodejing'' has five thousand characters. All those who attained immortality in the past and attain it in the present have comprehended the true meaning of these scriptures."
The ''Huangdi Yinfujing'''s date of composition is uncertain. Some scholars believed it existed prior to the Zhou Dynasty , while others believe it is a forgery from the Tang Dynasty . The traditional Chinese belief, as well as the eponymous title, ascribed this classic to the legendary Chinese sovereign Huangdi "Yellow Emperor". According to literary legend, in 441 CE the Daoist reformer Kou Qianzhi hid the ''Huangdi Yinfujing'' in a cave near Mount Song, where it was discovered by the Tang scholar Li Quan 李筌 . Li transcribed the text and published it with his commentary . There is consensus among contemporary scholars that Li probably forged the text, which is confirmed by the absence of references in pre-Tang sources. Despite this comparatively late date, the ''Huangdi Yinfujing'' is considered a Chinese classic, and collections like the Daozang and Siku Quanshu include various editions and commentaries.
During the Song Dynasty, the ''Huangdi Yinfujing'' was canonized by the Quanzhen "Complete Perfection" school of Neidan internal alchemy. Liu Chuxuan 劉處玄 , founder of the Suishan lineage, wrote a commentary , and Qiu Chuji 丘處機 , founder of the Longmen lineage, wrote another. Xia Yuanding 夏元鼎 wrote a textual exegesis . The analytical commentary dubiously attributed to the leading Neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi first suggested that Li forged the text.
Qing Dynasty scholars used philological methods to analyze classical texts. Liu Yiming 劉一明 , the 11th Longmen Daoist patriarch, wrote an erudite commentary . Acker published an annotated translation of Liu . Li Xiyue 李西月 , leader in the "Western School" of Neidan, also wrote a commentary.
Besides the above Daoist ''Huangdi Yinfujing'' 黃帝陰符經, there is another military text by the same name. It contains 602 characters in 86 rhymed lines, and is a type of strategy manual based on the ''Qimen Dunjia'' method of Fengshui. Ho Peng-Yoke explains the title.
''Yinfu'' 陰符 , according to a military text entitled ''Liutao'' 六韜 and attributed to Jiang Shang 姜尚 in the eleventh century BC, refers to the tallies of various specified lengths used between the emperor and his generals for confidential communication. For example, the tally used to report a conquest in war had a length of one Chinese foot, that to report a victory in battle had a length of nine Chinese inches, that for reporting the occupation of an enemy city was eight Chinese inches long, and so on.
The ''Huangdi yinfujing'' classic has been translated into English, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Japanese.
The first English versions were published during the Victorian era. Frederic H. Balfour initially translated the ''Yinfujing'' within his ''Taoist Texts'' . James Legge translated the text and Li Xiyue's commentary as an appendix to ''The Texts of Taoism'' .
More recent English translations and studies reflect insights from modern Sinology, as surveyed by Reiter . Christopher Rand's article on Li Quan translates and interprets the ''Huangdi Yinfujing'' as a treatise on Chinese military strategy. Thomas Cleary published a popular translation with Liu Yiming's commentary .
The title ''Huangdi Yinfujing'' combines three Chinese words. The first ''Huangdi'' 黃帝 "Yellow Emperor" and last ''jing'' "classic; scripture; book" are common in titles of other Chinese classic texts. For example, the ''Huangdi Neijing'' "Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic" and ''Huangdi Sijing'' "Yellow Emperor's Four Classics". The second word ''yinfu'' "hidden/secret talisman/correspondence" is an uncommon of ''yin'' "shady place; passive; negative; secret; hidden" and ''fu'' " tally ; talisman; symbol; charm; amulet".
''Fu'' means a seal, divided into two parts. On one half of this seal we have the visible phenomena of the world around us; this we can all see, but, the diagram being incomplete, we require the other half of the seal, that bearing the 道理 of Heaven or the Unseen World, before we can understand the why and the wherefore of the existing order of things.
''Fulu'' 符籙 "Daoist secret talismanic writing; Daoist magic formulas" refers to charms written in peculiar characters, often on yellow paper .
English translations of ''Yinfujing'' illustrate semantic problems with the title:
*Clue to the Unseen
*Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen
*Scripture for Joining with Obscurity
*Scripture of the Hidden Contracts
*Classic on Yin Convergence
*Scripture on "Unconscious Unification"
*Secret Military Warrant Manual
*Scripture on the Hidden Talisman
*Scripture on the Hidden Fitness
*Scripture of Hidden Contracts
Note the omission of ''Huangdi'' above, which all the translators render as "Yellow Emperor", excepting Komjathy's "Yellow Thearch"".