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Society and the Supernatural in Song China

Edward L. Davis

Publication Year: 2001

Society and the Supernatural in Song China is at once a meticulous examination of spirit possession and exorcism in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and a social history of the full panoply of China's religious practices and practitioners at the moment when she was poised to dominate the world economy. Although the Song dynasty (960-1276) is often identified with the establishment of Confucian orthodoxy, Edward Davis demonstrates the renewed vitality of the dynasty's Taoist, Buddhist, and local religious traditions. He charts the rise of hundreds of new temple-cults and the lineages of clerical exorcists and vernacular priests; the increasingly competitive interaction among all practitioners of therapeutic ritual; and the wide social range of their patrons and clients.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii


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pp. ix


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pp. xi

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-20

This book takes its title seriously. Its overwhelming concern is the relation of Chinese society with the supernatural and with the experience of the supernatural as an aspect of social relations. More specifically, it focuses on the experience of the supernatural in its most palpable and dramatic form—the descent of gods, ghosts, or ancestors, and their habitation within a human body.

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2 Therapeutic Movements in the Song: Texts

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pp. 21-44

The emergence in the twelfth century of a class of exorcists called “Ritual Masters” (fashi) coincides more or less with the appearance of a large corpus of textual material, preserved in the Daoist canon, that was the patrimony of a plethora of new Daoist lineages active in South and particularly Southeast China during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries.

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3 New Therapeutic Movements in the Song: Practitioners

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pp. 45-66

The importance of the new therapeutic rites in the social life of the Song upper and lower strata is confirmed by the secular, anecdotal literature of the twelfth century. In Hong Mai’s Yijian zhi, those addressed in the canonical text as “Ritual Masters” or “Ritual Officers” emerge as an identifiable class of exorcists distinct, on the one hand, ...

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4 The Cult of the Black Killer

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pp. 67-86

By the Northern Song, the Mandate of Heaven had moved squarely within the fold of Daoist interpretation. It became clear, moreover, that even with the consolidation of the South, this mandate was in serious need of shoring up. After 1005, the emperor Zhenzong (r. 998–1022) woke up to the defeat of his armies, the loss of territory, and the humiliating treaty with the Liao.

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5 The Daoist Ritual Masterand Child-Mediums

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pp. 87-114

In a recent essay on vernacular and classical traditions of contemporary Daoist ritual, Kristofer Schipper offers a modern perspective on the notion of the Daoist Ritual Master’s mediating function in the Song, just outlined in Chapter 4. Following J. J. M. de Groot’s observations in nineteenth-century Amoy, Schipper states that Ritual Masters (fashi) were, and for that matter still are, recruited from two ...

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6 Tantric Exorcists and Child-Mediums

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pp. 115-152

Our analysis will now move freely across the boundaries that distinguish China’s religious traditions, for at the very same time, in many of the same areas, there were Buddhist monks who were using child-mediums in exorcisms. Buddhism, in fact, had its own, very specialized tradition of the ritualized possession of children, a tradition we consider below. By the Song, however, we have moved so far ...

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7 Daoist Priests, Confucian Literati, and Child-Mediums

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pp. 153-170

In the previous pages, I have purposely restricted my analysis to the rural and suburban world of lay Daoist Ritual Masters, Tantric exorcists, and spirit-mediums. To this picture of village and vernacular life we must now apply a more classical and highborn veneer, for just as spirit-mediums became fashi, so members of the religious and bureaucratic elite did, and these Daoist priests and upper-class laymen ...

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8 Spirit-Possession and the Grateful Dead: Daoist and Buddhist Mortuary Ritual in the Song

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pp. 171-199

In the Song, Buddhism had a monopoly on death, although Daoist priests increasingly demanded a share in this lucrative market. In the twelfth century, both began to be challenged by the small but articulate group of Neo-Confucians so exhaustively studied by historians. Though methodical and impassioned, these critics were not very convincing. Yu Wenbao (fl. 1250), the Zhejiangese Confucian, tells the following story with a palpable resignation:

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9 The Syncretic Field of Chinese Religion

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pp. 200-225

In my concluding remarks, I would like to talk explicitly about theory. Specifically, I want to discuss the current debate on civil society among historians of modern China and its relevance to historians of pre-twentieth-century China. This debate is relevant to us not because it provides us with a model, but because the collective expertise of historians of religion can and should make an important contribution to the debate.

Appendix: Huanghu jiao and Shuilu zhai

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pp. 227-241


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pp. 243-312


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pp. 313-327


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pp. 329-349


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pp. 351-355

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864361
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824823108

Publication Year: 2001