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.
Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion, History
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