- Exorcism and Money: The Symbolic World of the Five-Fury Spirits in Late Imperial China
Qitao Guo's study of a group of exorcistic deities known as the Five Furies (Wu-chang ) successfully explores the complex factors underlying the growth of communal religious traditions in late imperial China. The book's topic is a challenging one, as relatively little data exists on the Wuchang, and the history of their cult remains murky to this day. Guo is eminently qualified to conduct research on these deities, however, having written a Ph.D. thesis on Mulian operas in late imperial Huizhou (Anhui), which was also the area of China where the Wuchang cult flourished. His efforts have resulted in a work that clearly shows the Wuchang to be "Janus-faced" deities that could be represented as either ghosts or gods. In exploring the significance of this highly ambiguous cult, Guo focuses on what he defines as processes of "integration" and "gentrification" promoted by local elites, arguing that "By containing the demonic deity within a hierarchical pantheon, local elites managed to maintain their control over popular religious symbols, as well as over the common folk" (p. 9). In order to trace the historical development of the Wuchang, Guo relies on a wide range of sources, including scripts of Mulian operas, liturgical texts and paintings used for the worship of Anhui deities, and ethnographic accounts of Wuchang ritual dramas by scholars like Tanaka Issei and Mao Gengru .
Exorcism and Moneyis divided into two main parts. Part 1, "Integrating Local Exorcism: The Evolution of the Symbolic World of the Five Furies," consists of three chapters. The first traces the origins of the Wuchang to ancient Nuo exorcistic rituals and Taoist liturgical traditions that arose during the Song dynasty, especially those featuring the exorcism of the Five Plague Spirits (Wu Wenshen ) and the worship of martial gods like Wen Qiong (Marshal Wen) and Zhao Gongming (Marshal Zhao) (pp. 29-30, 34-39). Guo makes the important observation that the Wuchang were worshipped as subordinates of Marshal Zhao, a factor that appears to have contributed to the growth of their cult (pp. 37-38).
Chapter 2 focuses on the historical development of the Wuchang cult in light of religious policies implemented by the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang or Ming Taizu (1328-1398, r. 1368-1398). At the beginning of his reign, the emperor incorporated Wuchang into the cult of the state banner ( qidao), an act, Guo argues, that signaled "an imperial sanction [End Page 105]for popularizing the deity" (p. 41). Guo maintains that the actual popularization of the Wuchang did not commence until the mid-Ming and was due to a complex combination of factors, including socioeconomic and cultural conditions that allowed communal religious traditions to flourish as well as policies designed by Taizu to reform communal religious traditions, particularly the nationwide state sponsorship of temples/shrines to the City God (Chenghuang ) and the Earth God (She or Tudi ) and the establishment of Altars to the Vengeful Spirits (Litan ) at the county level.
Chapter 3 contains a lengthy analysis of how Taizu's policies were transformed at the local level in Anhui, thereby contributing the to growth of the Wuchang cult. Guo places particular emphasis on what he terms the " ji er mingzhistrategy," which he glosses as "borrowing [official titles] to name [locally worshipped deities]" (p. 8). In effect, Guo argues, local elites both promoted and controlled communal religious traditions by "camouflaging" tutelary lineage deities with official titles originally intended for state-approved deities (like the City God), while also "subordinating" potentially illicit cults to the above-mentioned tutelary deities (pp. 58-59). He examines how ji er mingzhiprocesses shaped the growth of the Wuchang cult by presenting a case study of an extremely complex cult to a Guangde (Anhui) hero named Zhang...