Demonic WarfareDaoism, Territorial Networks, and the History of a Ming Novel

Demonic WarfareDaoism, Territorial Networks, and the History of a Ming Novel

Mark R. E. Meulenbeld

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824838447

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


Revealing the fundamental continuities that exist between vernacular fiction and exorcist, martial rituals in the vernacular language, this book argues that a specific type of Daoist exorcism helped shape vernacular novels in the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Focusing on the once famous novel Fengshen yanyi (Canonization of the Gods), the book 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 with Canonization of the Gods and its ideology, the book is able to reconstruct the cultural sphere in which Daoist exorcist rituals informed late imperial “novels.” It first looks at temple networks and their religious festivals. Much attention is given to local militias who embodied “demon soldiers” as part of their defensive strategies. The book establishes the importance of understanding the idealized realities of literary texts within a larger context of cultural practice and socio-political history. Of particular importance is the ongoing dialog with religious ideology that informs these different discourses. The book 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.” It shows that this disregard of religious dynamics has distorted our understanding of China and that “religion” cannot be conveniently isolated from scholarly analysis.