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  • Mandarins and Heretics: The Construction of "Heresy" in Chinese State Discourse by Junqing Wu
  • Kaiqi Hua
Junqing Wu, Mandarins and Heretics: The Construction of "Heresy" in Chinese State Discourse. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016. x, 180 pp. US $114, €99 (hb). ISBN 9789004331396

Mandarins and Heretics is a history of government perception and labeling of "heresy" in China from late imperial to modern times. The state's discourse of "heresy" led to the application of pragmatic policies to manage unorthodox spiritual movements that were thought to pose a threat to state power. The book discusses how "heretics" were targeted, with the enthusiastic support of scholar-officials, on the basis of three phenomena: black magic, messianic messages, and political subversion. Wu however, focuses primarily on the government perception of heretics rather than on the religious groups themselves. She draws her source material from both private and government sources, such as literati anecdotes (biji 筆記) and government memos.

The book has nine relatively short chapters. After briefly explaining the book's key terms, topics, sources and structure in chapter 1, Wu turns to terminology in chapter 2. Wu claims that the religious polemics of anti-heresy discourse in imperial China is its own genre. The Chinese state authority's changing support of different religious traditions caused an ideological denunciation of non-institutional religious communities. Wu deliberately avoids the Eurocentric "church and state" paradigm by taking into account the fact that "lay religions" existed outside of this concept (p. 13), and abandons the usage of Western terminology like "sect" and "cult." She instead adopts the neutral term "religious movements" to describe new religious groups outside government approval.

In chapter 3, Wu overviews the history of heresy in China. Wu examines rituals related to black magic and messianism, and their different fates under pre-Ming dynasties. Throughout Chinese history, black magic such as "insect-poisoning" and "spirit [End Page 244] enslaving" caused fear in both lay society and official organs. The Fang La 方臘 rebellion of 1121–1122, originally a local revolt, she argues, later became a prototype for "religious rebellions" due to anecdotal writings that associated the rebellion with black magic (pp. 24–25, 60). Subsequent writings by literati included polemics against "heretical" phenomena such as black magic and messianism in the Ming Dynasty. Whereas the Tang dynasty banned the spread of apocalyptic prophecy or "demonic speech," messianism was not automatically tied to heretics in the Tang-Song era (p. 34). Wu shows that official polemics against heresy began in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Chapters 4 to 7 focus on religious life in the Qing dynasty. Here Wu introduces peaceful religious groups and their mistreatment by the government. The Qing dynasty labeled lay religious movements "heresies" in literati writing, legal texts, and official historiography (p. 57). Wu notes that in China boundaries between "authorized" and "non-authorized religions" were mainly based on bureaucratic institutionalization rather than belief and practice, and the label of "heresy" could fall on any religious group (pp. 40–41). However, she does not discuss further the influence of Neo-Confucians on shaping official and private perceptions of vernacular religions. She instead simply notes that scholar-official elites increasingly distanced themselves from popular religious beliefs and practices in the Ming-Qing period (p. 57).

In chapter 5, Wu focuses on black magic as "heresy" in literature in the Qing dynasty. She first examines four popular forms of black magic in the Ming-Qing era: "mirror magic," "paper-cutting magic," "life-force plucking magic," and "female warrior magic." Wu states that the popular image of black magic was largely created by government literati. Wu also investigates "official texts" on heresy including legal documents and state compilations of popular "religious rebellions." She argues that while black magic could be associated with heresies in literati writings, imperial law did not associate black magic with heretical discourse and therefore it was not a major political concern of the Qing state (p. 92).

Rather, Wu claims in chapter 6 that messianic teachings were the leading identifier of "heresy" in the Ming and Qing official discourse (p. 94). She points out that the imperial government used laws against both "demonic speech" and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2050-8999
Print ISSN
0737-769X
Pages
pp. 244-246
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-02
Open Access
No
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