Liu Qingti’s Canine Rebirth and Her Ritual Career as the Heavenly Dog: Recasting Mulian’s Mother in Baojuan (Precious Scrolls) Recitation
- CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 35, Number 1, July 2016
- pp. 28-55
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In the Tang dynasty Dunhuang transformation text (bianwen) about Mulian rescuing his mother from the underworld, Madame Liu Qingti, mother of the filial monk Multan, is allowed to ascend to the Trāyastrimśa Heaven once her sins have been purged. A similar happy ending is found in the most widespread versions of the legend. However, in many baojuan (precious scrolls) from the late imperial period and the modern era, Qingti is depicted as an inveterate sinner who continues to misbehave when reborn as a dog. For example, in the baojuan about Mulian used nowadays in Changshu, southern Jiangsu province, in a ritual to expel evil spirits and ensure a successful pregnancy, Qingti appears as the Heavenly Dog—a malign, infant-eating star spirit capable of causing miscarriage or neonatal death. This paper combines fieldwork on a ritual to expel the Heavenly Dog in Changshu and textual analysis to explore the ways in which Liu Qingti has been recast in baojuan literature. I consider, in particular, the motif of Qingti’s unenlightened soul, and its relation to her ritual career as the Heavenly Dog in baojuan recitation. Special attention is paid to the different ritual contexts of such rituals.