One important innovation in twentieth-century sinology was the borrowing of the term “shamanism” to apply to early Chinese religion. While many scholars have employed this cross-cultural framework, others have rejected this use of the term “shamanism” for Chinese wu 巫 as excessively broad and ideologically biased. These debates too often are framed in broadly nationalistic terms as questions about whether “China” could have had something so exotic in a particular era. In fact, it is very often the case that a particular practice or belief is confined to a certain region at a particular time, or even to a specific substratum of a culture therein. This becomes clear when the “shamanism” problem of ancient Chu is reexamined in light of concomitant issues of personal identity, as represented by various terms for “souls,” or material culture, as represented by “soma” and other plants employed in religious ritual. I argue for the efficacy of cross-cultural analogies in understanding even phenomena which are singular to China. The limited but real utility of these analogies lies in their potential to help us construe the multiplicity within early Chinese religion that is obscured by a Sinocentric perspective.


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pp. 147-173
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