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Ancestors and Anxiety

Daoism and the Birth of Rebirth in China

Stephen R. Bokenkamp

Publication Year: 2007

This innovative work on Chinese concepts of the afterlife is the result of Stephen Bokenkamp's groundbreaking study of Chinese scripture and the incorporation of Indic concepts into the Chinese worldview. Here, he explores how Chinese authors, including Daoists and non-Buddhists, received and deployed ideas about rebirth from the third to the sixth centuries C.E. In tracing the antecedents of these scriptures, Bokenkamp uncovers a stunning array of non-Buddhist accounts that provide detail on the realms of the dead, their denizens, and human interactions with them. Bokenkamp demonstrates that the motive for the Daoist acceptance of Buddhist notions of rebirth lay not so much in the power of these ideas as in the work they could be made to do.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

During the decade that I have worked on this book, I have been the fortunate recipient of comments, criticisms, and suggestions from a large number of friends and colleagues. Among these, my colleague Robert Ford Campany deserves first mention. ...

Note on Translation

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: The Problem of Rebirth

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pp. 1-32

Cai Yong 蔡邕(133–92) was an eminent official, intellectual, calligrapher, and writer of the Latter Han dynasty.1 Though born into a powerful literati family, he first came to court notice because of his reputation for filial piety. Historians record that the first publicly recognized instance of Cai’s remarkable devotion to his parents came about as follows. ...

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1. Envisioning the Dead

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pp. 33-59

One of the most intimate descriptions of the underworld abode of the dead in all of Chinese letters is to be found among the visionary transcripts of Yang Xi (330–86?), as assembled and annotated by Tao Hongjing. In book 5 of his Declarations of the Perfected (Zheng’gao), Tao has transcribed for us the revelations Yang received, ...

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2. The Unquiet Dead and Their Families, Political and Agnate

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pp. 60-94

One common expression for the Chinese polity, guojia 國家, or “kingdom and families,” well expresses the allegiances of the elite families whose relations with their dead we are tracing. As we saw in the case of Su Shao, the dead had not escaped from the world of the guojia. ...

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3. Questionable Shapes: How the Living Interrogated Their Dead

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pp. 95-129

Benedict Anderson has introduced the concept of “imagined communities” to explore the ways in which religions, kingdoms, and nations invent themselves and imagine connectivity across boundaries of space and time.1 The imagined community we have been exploring is even more nebulous than any human grouping, but the strategies of collectivity prove the same. ...

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4. Doomed for a Certain Term: The Intimate Dead

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pp. 130-157

In this chapter we investigate in detail the progress of one particular underworld lawsuit, similar to the ones Yang Xi found to have embroiled the father and mother of Chi Yin (chapter 3). The concept may seem to be an odd one. Remember, though, that familial ancestral practice attests to the ancient and enduring Chinese view that the fates of the living ...

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5. Rebirth Reborn

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pp. 158-192

One of the most detailed expositions of any Chinese individual’s former lives comes from a Daoist text, part of the Lingbao scriptures composed in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.1 According to the opening of one Lingbao text, originally known as Trials of the Sages, the Duke Transcendent Ge Xuan 葛玄 gathered thirty-two of his disciples ...

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pp. 193-198

This book, while it deals with the Chinese reception and deployment of the Buddhist ideas of rebirth, karma, and samsara, is not finally about Chinese Buddhism. Rather, as I have tried to make clear at each stage, the texts we have examined are not Buddhist. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 199-202


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pp. 203-214


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pp. 215-220

Production Notes

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p. 233-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780520933347
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520249486

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2007