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The Sinister Way

The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture

Richard von Glahn
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 397
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  • Book Info
    The Sinister Way
    Book Description:

    The most striking feature of Wutong, the preeminent God of Wealth in late imperial China, was the deity's diabolical character. Wutong was perceived not as a heroic figure or paragon of noble qualities but rather as an embodiment of humanity's basest vices, greed and lust, a maleficent demon who preyed on the weak and vulnerable. InThe Sinister Way,Richard von Glahn examines the emergence and evolution of the Wutong cult within the larger framework of the historical development of Chinese popular or vernacular religion-as opposed to institutional religions such as Buddhism or Daoism. Von Glahn's study, spanning three millennia, gives due recognition to the morally ambivalent and demonic aspects of divine power within the common Chinese religious culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92877-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book at heart is a study of stories told and retold; thus it is fitting that it begins with a story. The following anecdote was published in 1194 by the prolific chronicler of the strange and miraculous, Hong Mai, in the eleventh installment of hisTales of the Listener. Hong informed his readers that the story was passed on to him by Zhu Conglong, an otherwise unknown figure who apparently was a refugee from the Jin kingdom then ruling north China. The story is undated, but the rest of the anecdotes attributed by Hong to Zhu date from the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Ancestors, Ghosts, and Gods in Ancient China
    (pp. 19-44)

    Although only dimly perceived before the advent of modern archaeology, the Shang kingdom, which ruled over the North China Plain in the late second millennium b.c.e. (ca. 1700–ca. 1045 b.c.e.), is now recognized as the progenitor of many basic features of Chinese religious culture. The eudaemonistic beliefs and practices that became the foundation for later Chinese vernacular religion were already present in the court religion of the Shang. The subsequent Zhou dynasty (ca. 1045–256 b.c.e.) incorporated many of these practices into its own ritual culture, but the Zhou also departed from the Shang in formulating the earliest version...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Han Cult of the Dead and Salvific Religion
    (pp. 45-77)

    During the four centuries of Han rule, Chinese conceptions of death and the afterlife underwent a profound transformation brought about not only by new ideas about the divine, but also by changes in the relationship between the living and their ancestors. Han Chinese expressed deep anxieties about the fate of the dead. The spirits of the dead were believed to endure as vital beings in the tomb yet at the same time were subject to divine judgment and punishment. The emerging pantheon of celestial and terrestrial deities was complemented by a vision of a vast underworld bureaucracy conceived in the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Shanxiao: Mountain Goblins
    (pp. 78-97)

    Spirits of the dead figured as the primary agents of demonic affliction in the Chinese religious imagination. But other malefic forces were at work as well. Among them was a class of petty demons known asshanxiao, changeling spirits inhabiting the wild mountains and forests. As such, theshanxiaowere akin to the goblins and fairies of pagan Europe, or the forest-dwellingleshiiin Russian folklore.¹ But theshanxiaoalso betokened a greater divide in human affairs: the contested and shifting frontier between civilization and barbarism. Belief inshanxiaoreflected fundamental human fears of the hidden dangers of the unknown...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Plague Demons and Epidemic Gods
    (pp. 98-129)

    For noble and commoner alike, the scourge of illness was perhaps the most compelling evidence for the existence of demons. Chinese attributed illness, like misfortune in general, either to adventitious affliction by some malefic entity or to just punishment inflicted on the victim for his or her own moral transgressions. Thus the agents of sickness and plague were sometimes perceived as demons, and in other cases as the minions of divine justice. This ambiguity was also characteristic of the Wutong cult. Wutong was feared as an evil spirit that visited sickness and other miseries on luckless innocents, yet Wutong also...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Song Transformation of Chinese Religious Culture
    (pp. 130-179)

    The rise of the Song dynasty (960–1276) was accompanied by epochal changes in all aspects of Chinese society and culture, changes sufficiently great to mark the transition from Tang to Song as the turning point between China’s early imperial and late imperial eras. The growing power of the imperial state eroded the aristocratic order of the early imperial era, giving rise to a more fluid hierarchy within the elite. Economic expansion generated abundant wealth, and possession of wealth endowed greater social distinction. Confucianism recaptured the intellectual allegiance of the ruling class, yet at the same time Buddhism became fully...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Wutong: From Demon to Deity
    (pp. 180-221)

    The origins of the Wutong cult, like those of most popular deities, are obscured by time and myth. Many sources of Southern Song date or later place the beginnings of the cult in the Tang period. It is in the eleventh century, though, that the god first appears in the surviving literary record. From the outset Wutong possessed the diabolical attributes that so strongly colored his later incarnation as a god of wealth. Yet Wutong also figured as a benevolent deity who succored the sick. Although the Wutong cult gained the endorsement of both imperial authorities and the Daoist establishment...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Enchantment of Wealth
    (pp. 222-256)

    Money has an ancient history in China, but perhaps at no time did money have greater symbolic import than in the late Ming period, when domestic economic growth and the infusion of foreign silver engendered a rapid expansion in its use. The irruption of money in manifold forms into the daily lives of virtually every household in Jiangnan, the most commercialized region in China, resulted not only in a new set of exchange relationships, but also in an elaboration of the ways in which money was conceived as a symbol of the profound changes wrought by the money economy. To...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 257-266)

    The shape-changing Wutong, lurid caricature of polymorphous sexuality, seems out of place in the urbane Song world, from which radiated waves of Confucian learning that brought rational reflection and sober faith in human perfection to the farthest reaches of the empire. Or at most the Wutong spirits might appear to be a vestige of an earlier era of benighted custom and rustic ignorance. Yet the Wutong cult was very much a part of its age, giving expression to the lures of wealth, ambition, and desire that epitomized the convulsive changes in social mores taking place during the Song and afterward....

  15. Abbreviations
    (pp. 267-268)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 269-322)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-360)
  18. Glossary
    (pp. 361-370)
  19. Index
    (pp. 371-385)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 386-386)