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The Sinister Way

The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture

Richard von Glahn

Publication Year: 2004

The most striking feature of Wutong, the preeminent God of Wealth in late imperial China, was the deity's diabolical character. Wutong was perceived not as a heroic figure or paragon of noble qualities but rather as an embodiment of humanity's basest vices, greed and lust, a maleficent demon who preyed on the weak and vulnerable. In The Sinister Way, Richard von Glahn examines the emergence and evolution of the Wutong cult within the larger framework of the historical development of Chinese popular or vernacular religion—as opposed to institutional religions such as Buddhism or Daoism. Von Glahn's study, spanning three millennia, gives due recognition to the morally ambivalent and demonic aspects of divine power within the common Chinese religious culture.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-15

This book is an outgrowth of research I conducted during my tenure as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University, in 1988–89, which was supported by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. Subsequently I continued my research in China in 1991–92 with the aid of a grant from the Committee for Scholarly Communication with China, and I also...

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pp. 1-18

This book at heart is a study of stories told and retold; thus it is fitting that it begins with a story. The following anecdote was published in 1194 by the prolific chronicler of the strange and miraculous, Hong Mai, in the eleventh installment of his Tales of the Listener. Hong informed his readers that the story was passed on to him by Zhu Conglong, an otherwise unknown figure who apparently...

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1. Ancestors, Ghosts, and Gods in Ancient China

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pp. 19-44

Although only dimly perceived before the advent of modern archaeology, the Shang kingdom, which ruled over the North China Plain in the late second millennium b.c.e. (ca. 1700–ca. 1045 b.c.e.), is now recognized as the progenitor of many basic features of Chinese religious culture. The eudaemonistic beliefs and practices that became the foundation for later Chinese vernacular religion....

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2. The Han Cult of the Dead and Salvific Religion

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pp. 45-77

During the four centuries of Han rule, Chinese conceptions of death and the afterlife underwent a profound transformation brought about not only by new ideas about the divine, but also by changes in the relationship between the living and their ancestors. Han Chinese expressed deep anxieties about the fate of the...

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3. Shanxiao: Mountain Goblins

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pp. 78-97

Spirits of the dead figured as the primary agents of demonic affliction in the Chinese religious imagination. But other malefic forces were at work as well. Among them was a class of petty demons known as shanxiao, changeling spirits inhabiting the wild mountains and forests. As such, the shanxiao were akin to...

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4. Plague Demons and Epidemic Gods

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pp. 98-129

For noble and commoner alike, the scourge of illness was perhaps the most compelling evidence for the existence of demons. Chinese attributed illness, like misfortune in general, either to adventitious affliction by some malefic entity or to just punishment inflicted on the victim for his or her own moral transgressions. Thus...

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5. The Song Transformation of Chinese Religious Culture

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pp. 130-179

The rise of the Song dynasty (960–1276) was accompanied by epochal changes in all aspects of Chinese society and culture, changes sufficiently great to mark the transition from Tang to Song as the turning point between China’s early imperial and late imperial eras. The growing power of the imperial state eroded the...

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6. Wutong: From Demon to Deity

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pp. 180-221

The origins of the Wutong cult, like those of most popular deities, are obscured by time and myth. Many sources of Southern Song date or later place the beginnings of the cult in the Tang period. It is in the eleventh century, though, that the god first appears in the surviving literary record. From the outset Wutong possessed...

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7. The Enchantment of Wealth

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pp. 222-256

Money has an ancient history in China, but perhaps at no time did money have greater symbolic import than in the late Ming period, when domestic economic growth and the infusion of foreign silver engendered a rapid expansion in its use. The irruption of money in manifold forms into the daily lives of virtually every household in Jiangnan, the most commercialized region in China, resulted...

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pp. 257-266

The shape-changing Wutong, lurid caricature of polymorphous sexuality, seems out of place in the urbane Song world, from which radiated waves of Confucian learning that brought rational reflection and sober faith in human perfection to the farthest reaches of the empire. Or at most the Wutong spirits might appear...


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pp. 267-268


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pp. 269-322


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pp. 323-360


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pp. 361-370


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pp. 371-385

Production Notes

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pp. 386-401

E-ISBN-13: 9780520928770
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520234086

Page Count: 397
Publication Year: 2004