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Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History | brill

New Password. Password Changed Successfully Your password has been changed. Returning user. These same patterns apply to discussions of jiao rituals, for which no details are provided p. The entries on divination pp. The entry on physiognomy is good and fair p. I suppose the retrospective approach of this dictionary is politically necessary, but cannot help regretting the total lack in it of evidence from fieldwork. Whether they intend it or not, the Chinese scholars here are further embalming and isolating the objects of their study, which amounts to scholarship in the service of state ideology.

The other new dictionary is the Zhongguo minjian mimi zongjiao cidian Dictionary of Chinese secret popular religions , by Pu Wenqi, published in This page dictionary of popular religious sects opens with eight pages. There is no introduction, but there is a one page "explanation of publication" by the publisher, which notes that this is the only dictionary of Chinese secret popular religions in the world. It contains about entries concerning deities, sects, teachings, rituals and regulations, religious self-cultivation, technical terms, organization, scriptures, personnel, activities, etc.

The "explanation" notes that these religions have a history of 1 years, with their own characteristics, and an influence on Chinese history and popular customs that should not be neglected. It continues by saying that this is an important area of study for Chinese history, popular customs and the society of ordinary people. A dictionary like this has long been lacking.

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It is a very thorough and wide- ranging study based on the work of many specialists. It is noteworthy that there is nothing in this little preface about superstition, illegality or uprisings — it is a far cry from old discussions of "peasant wars.

In the Postface to the book p. There are two indices in the front of the book, one alphabetical by pinyin romanization, the other based on the categories noted above, plus sects, deities and miscellaneous.

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The entries in this dictionary that I have read are all objective and relatively detailed, with the only reference to "superstition" occurring in the discussion of spirit-writing, which says nothing about the Daoist background of this practice or its use by some Confucian scholars from the Song period on. There is also no mention of books produced by spirit-writing, which have been widespread throughout the Chinese-speaking world since the 19th century. No references are provided for the entries in this dictionary. There are good discussions here of specific sects and sect patriarchs, but there are two general problems with this book, the first of which is its use of "secret" in its title, a term not treated as such in the Dictionary.

As I have discussed since , though some sects tried to disguise themselves to avoid persecution, secrecy was not a defining characteristic; they practiced openly whenever possible, and were different in origin and structure from sworn- brotherhood associations like the Tiandi-hui for which secret rituals and signs did become important. A much better Chinese term for the sects is minjian zongjiao jiaopai.

In his. Brill , B. After that "White Lotus" was no longer used by sectarians to refer to themselves, but occurred only as a derogatory label in official sources. This name was employed only by outside observers and investigators, regardless of what the groups involved called themselves. My studies of baojuan support ter Haar's view; in them the term "White Lotus" is used as a symbol of Maitreya's future reign, but never as the name of a group by its own members.

Nevertheless, there is much useful information in Pu Wenqi's dictionary, which should be of help to studies of Chinese sectarianism. Beyond these two dictionaries I have three general studies of our topic; the earliest of which is Zhongguo minzhong yishi The mentality of the Chinese people by Hou Jie and Fan Lizhu, first published in by the Shanxi jiaoyu chubanshe, and revised in This is a pioneering study among mainland scholars on the ideas, values and beliefs of the ordinary people of China as expressed in proverbs, folksongs, wall couplets, myths and vernacular literature, as well as in operas and paintings.

These themes are discussed in their social context against the background of a predominantly agricultural economy. The last chapter of this book is a survey of popular rituals and beliefs, emphasizing the great variety of deity images in homes and temples, all worshipped for practical reasons to seek their support for prosperity, health, family protection and long life. The approach of the authors is objective and descriptive.

They note how the patriarchal structure of ancestor worship influences the veneration of the deified patriarchs of shops, trades, sworn-brotherhood associations and religious sects. The role of de facto freedom of local beliefs in generating new cults is also mentioned. The author, of Mongolian nationality, is a professor in the Chinese Department of Liaoning University and Chair of its People's Customs Research Center, who has published books on folk literature and customs. This page book is based on written sources and fieldwork among minority peoples in the northeast.

In the postface the author says he is indebted to about people! The five chapters of this book, each with many sub-sections, are devoted to the special characteristics of Chinese popular beliefs, the worship of natural objects and powers such as heaven, earth, the sun, moon, rain, wind, mountains, stones, animals and plants, the worship of "illusory objects" such as protective deities, ancestors, ghosts and demons, the worship of immortals, saints and spirit-mediums, and the worship of other objects and images believed to have efficacious power. The book opens with a resounding preface by Tao Yang, a member of the.

This preface deserves to be summarized in full:.

The Three Teachings - Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism l HISTORY OF CHINA

It is a grand collection of the myriad spirits and deities of all the peoples of our nation; its careful explanations and abundant materials have been a revelation to me. The popular beliefs of our nation are an extremely complex and difficult [topic of study], because of our long history, vast area, fifty-six nationalities and 1,,, population. The temporal extent of popular beliefs is vast, from primitive times until the present, and they are extremely wide in scope, varied and difficult to fathom. One can only admire how the author has provided such a rational and organized survey.

Popular beliefs in [Chinese] history have always had a very manifest position in society, and a positive jijt function. The people worship creator deities who bring peace to humanity and improve heaven and earth, heroic ancestors who protected the people and shed their blood in struggles against invasions, and who created and developed the special contributions of artisans and craftsmen; [they also worship] sages, worthies and heroes who loved their country; such worship became the mainstream of folk beliefs throughout history.


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These vital contributions of folk beliefs have the power to unite the people, to incite their courage and nourish their moral values. This book appears at a time of rapid change and the import of foreign culture, during which the Chinese people continue some of their ancient customs and beliefs because of their inertia and practical goals. This is an important issue that concerns everyone. Both the good and bad aspects of popular belief continue to exist. Along with the changes of times and the progress of humanity there are still some backward and superstitious forms of activity.

Some of them are changing, some are disappearing and some have been destroyed However, popular beliefs that have long been transmitted throughout history still have a social foundation. To issue orders to prohibit them is not a wise policy; just like other attempts to wipe out religion, it will not succeed. Popular beliefs were produced by the bad conditions of primitive society. In those times people were overcome by powerful natural forces they could not resist.

The best they could do was to imagine that the objects of their belief could support their lives The superstitious and backward beliefs that still exist today continue to exist because of natural and human disasters that people are not able to deal with Only when ideal economic, social, educational and scientific conditions develop,. This new book is a guide for our study of popular beliefs. Only when we understand and recognize them can we hasten the change of [popular] customs, so as to benefit the establishing of our modern civilization. Following the table of contents is an introduction by the author, which says that the focus of the book is on a form of belief that is the background of worship in Chinese monasteries, temples and [Daoist] guan, "beliefs that are outside collective worship in mosques and churches, which are the beliefs of the majority of ordinary people, based on the family, lineage and village, transmitted down through the centuries The beliefs of the fifty-six different peoples of China have indeed had an extremely important part in the history of Chinese culture Professor Wu then proceeds to define his topic by what it is not, by the shi da meiyou "the ten big [characteristics] it does not have," all of which accept an originally Western concept of religion as normative.

In sum, these supposed "lacks" are listed as follows:.

Chinese salvationist religions

Popular beliefs do not have congregations and the definite organization and structure of religion. Do not have a supreme object of worship. Do not have founders and masters with supreme authority. Do not form sects zongpai.

Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History (China Studies, 3)

Do not have complete philosophical theory. Do not have specialized clergy in control. Do not have rules and regulations. Do not have specific ritual clothing and implements. Do not have definite places of worship like temples and churches.


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  • Do not have a religious consciousness that followers are aware of. Though Chinese popular religion does not need to be justified according to such an outside standard, in fact all of these points are incorrect, due not only to the author's perspective, but to his lack of attention to the social organization and ritual traditions of local religion. Of course, his focus on objects of worship and belief itself already violates the social and ritual context and functions of local religion. In the world of popular religion there are at least functional analogues to all the characteristics he lists, or outright parallels, such as sects and temples.

    The analogue to "philosophical theory" is the implicit view of the world as orderly, composed of interacting modes of qi.

    It continues to preserve its relationship with Daoism and Buddhism, but has no possibility of religious development. He says that Chinese popular beliefs are an ancient remnant that will always have a traditional form. Though it is a remnant, it is a very important remnant, which has had a deep and lasting influence on the culture of the Chinese people.

    Through investigating it we can see how it has supported the daily life of the Chinese common people through beliefs [in objects that] transcend human power.