Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Unruly Gods

Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China

Meir Shahar
Robert P. Weller
Copyright Date: 1996
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Unruly Gods
    Book Description:

    The first study in English to offer a systematic introduction to the Chinese pantheon of divinities. It challenges received wisdom about Chinese popular religion, which, until now, presented all Chinese deities as mere functionaries and bureaucrats. The essays in this volume eloquently document the existence of other metaphors that allowed Chinese gods to challenge the traditional power structures and traditional mores of Chinese society. The authors draw on a variety of disciplines and methodologies to throw light on various aspects of the Chinese supernatural. The gallery of gods and goddesses surveyed demonstrates that these deities did not reflect China's socio-political order but rather expressed and negotiated tensions within it. In addition to reflecting the existing order, Chinese gods shaped it, transformed it, and compensated for it, and, as such, their work offers fresh perspectives on the relations between divinity and society in China.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6542-9
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
    Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller
  4. 1 Introduction: Gods and Society in China
    (pp. 1-36)
    Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller

    The religious landscape of China is complex. Scholars usually distinguish among at least four Chinese religious traditions: the popular religion, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. The popular religion is sometimes referred to as the “diffused” religion or the “lay” religion of China, while the latter three are commonly designated the “institutional” or “clerical” Chinese religions. The idea of Chinese popular religion includes religious beliefs and practices that were shared by the overwhelming majority of the Chinese laity in late imperial times, commoners and elite alike. It has continued unchecked in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities, and has surged again...

  5. 2 Personal Relations and Bureaucratic Hierarchy in Chinese Religion: Evidence from the Song Dynasty
    (pp. 37-69)
    Robert Hymes

    The Chinese have seen their gods in many ways. That they did not—contrary to a view that had been well established in the field—see them always or only as bureaucrats is becoming more and more clear, and was becoming clear through the work of Emily Martin Ahern, Robert Weller, and Steven Sangren, among others, even before the studies in the present volume were undertaken. But it seems to me that we have not yet found adequate ways of conceiving how bureaucratic notions of divinity in China interact with other notions, and just what those other notions may be....

  6. 3 Enlightened Alchemist or Immoral Immortal? The Growth of Lü Dongbin’s Cult in Late Imperial China
    (pp. 70-104)
    Paul R. Katz

    While the late imperial Chinese pantheon featured numerous cults to nonbureaucratic deities, few were both as popular yet as complex as the cult of Lü Dongbin. Worship of this immortal, reputed to have lived during the Tang dynasty, took on a wide variety of forms after his cult arose during the Song. People who worshiped Lü saw him as an itinerant religious specialist, a patriarch of Quanzhen (Perfect Realization) Daoism, a healer and wonder-worker, a patron god of various tradespeople ranging from ink makers to prostitutes, a powerful spirit of planchette cults, and a member of that powerful yet rambunctious...

  7. 4 The Lady Linshui: How a Woman Became a Goddess
    (pp. 105-149)
    Brigitte Baptandier

    The cult of Lady Linshui, named Chen Jinggu and revered under the titleShunyi furen,¹ is one of the three biggest cults in Fujian.² She is revered there as the protecting goddess of the people, especially of women and children, and also as the mistress of the local Lüshan ritual tradition, also called Sannai. This cult extends throughout northern Fujian, and one finds it equally prevalent in southern Zhejiang. It is very active in Taiwan, where it emigrated during the eighteenth century, in Southeast Asia, and in other foreign countries.³

    The cult goes back to the Tang dynasty. The Lady...

  8. 5 Myths, Gods, and Family Relations
    (pp. 150-183)
    P. Steven Sangren

    This chapter proposes a preliminary approach to a genre of Chinese mythologies and stories concerned with tensions intrinsic to the Chinese family system. It constitutes part of a more extensive ongoing study and analysis in which I intend to link readings of such stories informed by psychoanalytic and structuralist methods to an immanent critique of interpretive techniques from the viewpoint of anthropology. My objectives are thus more anthropological than sinologi-cal. The present paper can allude only briefly to some of the wider philosophical and analytical issues raised by such an endeavor, but even this preliminary analysis should draw attention to...

  9. 6 Vernacular Fiction and the Transmission of Gods’ Cults in Late Imperial China
    (pp. 184-211)
    Meir Shahar

    “A Chinese religion exists”: this view expressed by Maurice Freedman (1974:20) is shared by most students of religion in China regardless of their specific disciplines. It is generally accepted that, not-withstanding regional differences, a body of religious beliefs and practices—variously referred to as Chinese religion or Chinese popular religion—is shared by the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people throughout the vast Chinese state. However, the question of how these religious beliefs and practices were transmitted still awaits an answer. Chinese religion had neither an organization nor a body of sacred scriptures. It is therefore difficult to explain how...

  10. 7 Transmission in Popular Religion: The Jiajiang Festival Troupe of Southern Taiwan
    (pp. 212-249)
    Donald S. Sutton

    While the transmission of the main surviving schools of Daoism can be traced to canonical sources through lineages of masters and pupils (Schipper 1985b), it is far harder to understand, even in principle, how the seemingly protean forms of popular religion have evolved. Broad unities have often been remarked on (Freedman 1979, Wolf 1974, Weller 1987, Sangren 1987, Watson 1985 and 1988, Feuchtwang 1992), but there is no agreement on how far they go or on what brings them about. Does myth, iconography, or ritual provide essential continuity? Local gods in China have neither the mythic structure supplied by scriptural...

  11. 8 Matricidal Magistrates and Gambling Gods: Weak States and Strong Spirits in China
    (pp. 250-268)
    Robert P. Weller

    Chinese gods tempt us to think of them as staid and sober imperial bureaucrats. Most of them dress in official-looking robes, live in guarded yamens, spend their time reading formal petitions, and respond by giving stern orders to their underlings while glancing over their shoulders at their superiors. Like all proper bureaucrats, they flaunt their ranks and titles, and proudly display encomia from higher officials in front of their offices.¹ No one has argued that the idea of bureaucracy exhausts the interpretive possibilities of Chinese gods, or even of the imperial system as a metaphor. Nevertheless, the image of gods...

  12. Glossary
    (pp. 269-278)
  13. Index
    (pp. 279-288)
  14. Contributors
    (pp. 289-290)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-291)