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Demonic Warfare

Demonic Warfare: Daoism, Territorial Networks, and the History of a Ming Novel

Mark R. E. Meulenbeld
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Demonic Warfare
    Book Description:

    Revealing the fundamental continuities between vernacular fiction and exorcist, martial rituals in the vernacular language, Meulenbeld argues that a specific type of Daoist exorcism helped shape vernacular novels in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Focusing on the once famous novelFengshen yanyi("Canonization of the Gods"), the author maps out the general ritual structure and divine protagonists that it borrows from much older systems of Daoist exorcism.

    By exploring how the novel reflects the specific concerns of communities associated withFengshen yanyiand its ideology, Meulenbeld is able to reconstruct the cultural sphere in which Daoist exorcist rituals informed late imperial "novels." He first looks at temple networks and their religious festivals, then shows that it is by means of dramatic practices like ritual, theatre, and temple processions that divine acts were embodied and brought to life.

    Meulenbeld makes a convincing case for the need to debunk the retrospective reading of China through the modern, secular Western categories of "literature," "society," and "politics." He shows that this disregard of religious dynamics has distorted our understanding of China and that "religion" cannot be conveniently isolated from scholarly analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3845-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Novels and the Work of the Gods
    (pp. 1-26)

    This study bridges the gap between a seventeenth-century novel and its cultural environment, a gap caused largely by the academic classification of that novel as literary fiction. Like other novels from the same time period, it is written in the vernacular language. In contrast to the classical Chinese written language, which is the language of the ancient philosophers, the medieval poets, and the imperial bureaucracy, the vernacular can boast no authoritative grandeur. This more colloquial language appears on the literary scene relatively late and claims to represent the spoken word.¹ Crucially the application of the vernacular is not limited exclusively...

  5. 1 INVENTION OF THE NOVEL: From Stage Act and Temple Ritual to Literary Text
    (pp. 27-59)

    Western missionaries who arrive in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are puzzled when they encounter such objects of cultural enjoyment as the novel in contexts that are not commonly associated with anything like literature. While they fervently discuss the general influence and importance of novels for an accurate understanding of Chinese culture, the kind of environment in which they usually meet with the actual influence and importance of Chinese novels is nothing like a scholar’s studio, a library, or even a bookshop. Rather the novel appears deeply embedded in pop u lar superstitions. Similarly when they...

  6. 2 KING WU’S SACRED HISTORY: The Conquest of Inimical Gods
    (pp. 60-97)

    Canonization of the Godsis the culmination of a long tradition of antecedent versions dealing with the same narrative outlines. The book exemplifies Glen Dudbridge’s premise that “among the great vernacular novels of sixteenth century China, at least some represent the final elaboration and realization of story-complexes transmitted from centuries back.”¹ While the existence of such diachronic story complexes is beyond doubt, it is not clear how they are interrelated nor whether the versions we possess are written as elaborations in some sort of progressive sequence. It is for similar reasons that Andrew Plaks downplays the degree to which novels...

  7. 3 DEMONIC WARFARE DURING THE YUAN: Thunder Ritual, Unruly Spirits, and Local Militias
    (pp. 98-131)

    The local cult, with its endless reserve of earthly spirits, is too powerful to ignore by those who seek territorial power. Yet only a few scholars have recognized this form of social organization as important for the formation of larger social and religious structures. Barend Ter Haar suggests that sacrificial festivals in late imperial China serve to reconfirm the link of local communities “to the ritual centre” constituted by temple cults, thereby reconfirming “the cohesion of the territory and its people.”¹ Beyond the link of village or other small-scale territorial groups to local temples, Ter Haar finds that the ritual...

  8. 4 DEMONIC WARFARE DURING THE MING: The Emperor and His Daoist Warriors
    (pp. 132-167)

    The phantoms of local cults that the Yuan government so desperately tries to repress come back to haunt it and eventually to overthrow it. With the violent potential of these demonic powers out in broad daylight, the subsequent ruling house of the Ming (1368–1644) adopts a radically different policy toward the spirits of the local soil and endeavors to subsume them in imperial institutions. To that effect Ming emperors employ specialists of Thunder Ritual at court and ask them to implement their liturgical structure in order to enlist the massive reservoir of roaming spirits that linger autonomously after the...

  9. 5 THE ORDER OF THE MING NOVEL: Hierarchies of Spirits and Gods
    (pp. 168-207)

    What is it that novels do? The answer to this question can be found by applying a historical perspective to the stories that Ming novels tell. Such a perspective necessarily has a double edge: not only do we need to situate the novel’s narratives in a historical context and relate them to it, but we also need to take seriously the fundamental fact that many Ming novels are essentially reworked versions of Chinese history. We must try to grasp the particular manner in which they recount their history. The specific presentation ofCanonizationmay revolve around a hallowed episode of...

  10. CONCLUSION: From Local Ritual to Literature of Canonization
    (pp. 208-212)

    Throughout this book I have endeavored to historicize the continuum that exists between vernacular rituals for the deployment of martial spirits and the late Ming vernacular narrativeCanonization of the Gods.It is a continuum in which the novel clearly represents a Daoist project for subsuming the gods of these local rituals under the unifying authority of a national liturgy. The voluminous ritual compendia of the early Ming—theUnified Origins of the Dao and Its Rituals, Forgotten Gems from the Sea of Rituals,and theGolden Book of Perfect Salvation Belonging to the Numinous Treasure of Highest Purity—attest...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 213-238)
    (pp. 239-246)
    (pp. 247-266)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 267-274)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-279)