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Images of the Immortal

Images of the Immortal: The Cult of Lu Dongbin at the Palace of Eternal Joy

Paul R. Katz
Copyright Date: 1999
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  • Book Info
    Images of the Immortal
    Book Description:

    The Palace of Eternal Joy (Yongle gong) is a mammoth cult site dedicated to one of late imperial China’s most popular deities, Lu Dongbin. In one of the first book-length studies of a Chinese sacred site, Paul Katz focuses on the Palace’s role in the development of Lu's legend. This highly innovative approach takes into account the various "histories" of the Palace presented in different texts and surpasses previous scholarship by stressing the ways in which the site both reflected and produced cultural diversity. Katz breaks new ground by analyzing the texts in terms of the textuality--the processes by which they were produced, transmitted, and understood. The study begins with a detailed description of the Palace of Eternal Joy and a brief account of its history. The reader is then introduced to the cult of Lu Dongbin. Special consideration is given to various hagiographical traditions, particularly those that influenced the growth of his cult at Yongle. Throughout late imperial China, a growing number of worshipers (among them scholar-officials, Taoist priests, artisans, and dramatists) created an ever-burgeoning variety of images of Lu, ranging from a patron god of ink-makers and prostitutes to a member of that powerful yet rambunctious group of spirits known as the Eight Immortals. In this context, the author explores the Perfect Realization Taoist movement's adoption of Lu's cult during the Jin and Yuan dynasties and highlight the social and religious factors that led to Lu's immense popularity in north China during the late imperial era. Katz next looks at the four type of inscriptions found at the Palace (commemorative, official, hagiographical, and poetic) and identifies the Palace patrons who worshiped there and contributed to its growth. In the description and analysis of the Palace murals that follow, he divides these works into two types: those painted to provide a setting for, and even an object of, Taoist rituals performed at the Palace; and those used to instruct Perfect Realization Taoists and perhaps pilgrims. The final section traces the reception of the Palace texts among the people of Yongle and its environs. Here Katz examines the ways in which patrons tried to impose their representations of the Palace’s history and the cult of Lu Dongbin on other members of the community and assesses the extent to which these efforts succeeded. Images of the Immortal is richly informed by a wide reading in social, cultural, and literary theory as well as a thorough awareness of previous work in comparative and Chinese religion. Scholars of Taoism, Chinese popular religion, and art history will find it especially rewarding for its thought-provoking reinterpretation of an important religious figure and his cult.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6290-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Notes on Citation and Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Periods of Chinese History
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    There are many ways for pilgrims and tourists to travel to the Palace of Eternal Joy (Yongle gong), one of the oldest and most important cult sites of the immortal Lü Dongbin. In the spring of 1991, my wife Liu Shufen and I began our journey by taking a train to the town of Sanmenxia in Henan province.¹ From there, we hired a car, which first had to be ferried across the Yellow River. This was no easy task. Recent downpours had caused the waters to run high, and because the ferry was unable to dock, we were required to...

  8. 1 The Site—the Palace of Eternal Joy
    (pp. 24-51)

    The town of Yongle was situated in southern Shanxi, an area often referred to as the cradle of (Han) Chinese civilization. Legend has it that the sage-king Yao visited this area, and the sage-king Shun is said to have established his empire’s capital here. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area around Yongle had been inhabited as early as the Shang-Zhou period, while historical sources describe this area as an important agricultural center owing to its fertile soil (Mizuno [1956] 1993:235–236; Wang Shiren 1959:32). During the Spring and Autumn period, Yongle was part of the Jin kingdom. It later belonged...

  9. 2 The Cult—the Immortal Lü Dongbin
    (pp. 52-93)

    While the late imperial Chinese pantheon featured numerous cults to nonbureaucratic deities (Shahar and Weller 1996), Lü Dongbin’s was among the most popular and complex.¹ From at least the Northern Song dynasty, many different images of this immortal circulated among different individuals and social groups.² The diversity of Lü Dongbin’s cult and the wide range of sources describing him have at times been a source of confusion. Some scholars have identified a “historical” Lü Dongbin who lived throughout China between the eighth and tenth centuries (Baldrian-Hussein 1986:133–134; Qing et al. 1988–1994, 1:295–297). For example, Li Yumin uses...

  10. 3 Text 1—Temple Inscriptions
    (pp. 94-130)

    Scholars studying Chinese sacred sites have generally relied on two key sources: local gazetteers and temple inscriptions. However, while the “Treatise on Buddhist Monasteries and Taoist Belvederes”(Siguan zhi)and the “Treatise on Ancient Relics”(Guji zhi)sections of local gazetteers provide important data on the main events marking the history of sacred sites, they rarely describe in detail the factors underlying their growth. Moreover, because the editors of later gazetteers often copied entries directly from earlier ones, the data presented were rarely up to date.

    In the case of the Palace of Eternal Joy, the three editions of the...

  11. 4 Text 2—the Murals
    (pp. 131-176)

    The murals that adorn the walls of temples like the Palace of Eternal Joy resemble the stone carvings and stained glass windows of European cathedrals in the sense of constituting part of a religious public sphere that serves both to inspire intense devotion on the part of the faithful and to stimulate them to donate money toward the maintenance of sacred sites.¹ As early as the Six Dynasties period, muralists like the famed Gu Kaizhi (ca. 345–406) realized that their works could be spiritual magnets attracting both worshipers and their money. One story states that Gu promised to make...

  12. 5 Reception and Reinterpretation
    (pp. 177-194)

    The previous two chapters have shown that inscriptions and murals were among the most important types of texts circulating at sacred sites like the Palace of Eternal Joy. Moreover, their creation seems to have been a conscious effort at establishing cultural hegemony on the part of the palace’s patrons. The evidence presented above reveals that local elites (including those who patronized sacred sites) endeavored to maintain dominance over local society in a number of ways, including control over the production of culture. Yongle’s elites took full advantage of the opportunity provided by writing the history of the Palace of Eternal...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-202)

    This study has explored the ways in which the people of late imperial China created sacred sites and responded to the creative efforts of others. However, attempting to bring this study to its conclusion is a complicated and in some ways even contradictory task. This is because, while I have emphasized the importance of diversity, I also recognize that most academic works usually conclude with an attempt to achieve a unified interpretation of the data by formulating a coherent explanation that can “make sense” of the subject being studied. Such efforts are largely illusory, however, for texts are open to...

  14. Appendix A Stele Inscriptions at the Palace of Eternal Joy
    (pp. 203-210)
  15. Appendix B Hagiographic Murals in the Hall of Purified Yang
    (pp. 211-224)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 225-246)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 247-256)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-298)
  19. Index
    (pp. 299-310)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-311)