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Reviews 189 Terry F. Kleeman. A God's Own Tale: TheBook ofTransformations of Wenchang, the Divine Lord ofZitong. Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture. Albany: State University ofNew York Press, 1994. xvi, 335 pp. Hardcover, isbn 0-7914-2001-9. Paperback $19.95, isbn 0-7914-2002-7. This is an outstanding pioneering work in several respects. From fhe standpoint ofhistory ofreligions, it presents an interesting example ofmulti-cult interactions and eventual absorptions ofseveral cult objects into one major cult figure. From the standpoint ofhistory and literature, it shows the intimate links between secular and sacred history, and between secular and sacred literature. The Introduction includes a discussion of the "Early History of the Cult" of the god Wenchang, Divine Lord ofZitong (two titles ofthe same deity) (pp. 127 ); next it discusses the Book ofTransformations, an autobiography created by spirit-writing, inspired by the god himself, in 1181 (pp. 28-66); and then it follows a short report on the "Cult in Late Imperial China" (pp. 68-83). The bulk ofthe book is the translation ofthe seventy-three chapters (pp. 85292 ); each chapter consists ofeight poetic stanzas, followed by interpretations that also were provided by the deity through spirit-writing, followed by the author's commentary. The god's interpretations make the otherwise mysterious stanzas intelligible , but the author's commentaries place them in a meaningful context: fhey are very interesting in the sense that the events of the god's life are placed within their historical framework and are interpreted with historical and religious background information. This is a rich source ofknowledge, widening our understanding not only ofthree principal teachings in China (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism) but also of China's popular religious tradition, and their mutual interactions. The cult of the god later known as Wenchang started in the fourth century ce. in a small town in Sichuan called Zitong (Zi for catalpa trees, tongfor the local Tong river). It was over seven hundred years later that the god "wrote" his autobiography . During this interval the cult went through several transformations. The first phase, starting in Zitong, was the local cult worship of a thunder god, believed to reside in nearby Sevenfold Mountain and who was also (but this is not clearly explained) seen as a giant snake, a viper, living in the mountain caves. In the second phase, the god becomes human; he is named Chang Ezi and appears to a future local king. His taking on a human form and the attribution of© 1997 by University me zhang familynamewouldbecome quite significantin thelater development of the cult. A third phase can be seen in the honors and titles given the god by Tang emperors during their flight to Sichuan. Two emperors received revelations from the god. During the Song period, the god was officially honored for repress- 190 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 ing a local rebellion. The cult grew because the god was believed to know how to communicate widi people and to respond to their questions. "These two trends . . . culminate in the late twelfth century in a series ofrevelations from the god" (p. 7). This is the fourth stage, when the god reveals his own life story through spiritwriting . This, ofcourse, made the cult even more popular among literati and commoners alike. Subsequendy, spirit-writing became the cult's primary means ofrevelation (p. 16). The author then discusses spirit-writing (fuluan) in some detail (pp. 8-27). The origin of the practice is not known; the Maoshan revelations are sometimes considered to be products oífuluan, but the evidence is inconclusive. The earliest reliable references date from the tenth century, and by the twelfth centuryfuluan activity was already quite widespread. The medium who produced the Book of Transformations, Liu Ansheng, received several revelations between 1168 and 1181, but the Book ofTransformationsbecame the most influential of these, perhaps because its target audience included not only common people but scholar-officials and would-be scholar-officials. Its purpose was twofold: "to portray the god of Zitong as a celestial Daoist deity within the unitary pantheon ofthe Chinese religious world, and to disseminate his message of salvation through moral renewal to a troubled...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 189-192
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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