Spirit medium for the deity Houtu, Houshan temple fair 1993. My photo.
In a post on gender in Chinese religious life I suggested a bold, nay revolutionary, idea:
I wonder how long it might take for us to totally reverse our perspectives on “doing religion” in China—privileging oral, largely non-literate practices and relegating elite discourse (including the whole vast repository of early canonical texts) and temple-dwelling clerics to a subsidiary place?!
In contrast to the more literate manifestations of religious practice in China that dominate sinology, spirit mediums also play an important role in local society (note the useful bibliographies of Philip Clart and Barend ter Haar). The gender ratio varies by region, but in many areas female mediums dominate, serving not only as healers but as protagonists in religious life; for women in particular, becoming a medium gives them a social status that is otherwise unavailable. Their tutelary deities may be either male or female.
Me-mot mediums in Guangxi. Photo: Xiao Mei.
This is to draw your attention to a new “mediums” tag in the sidebar. The main posts include
- Lives of female mediums, introducing studies on Guangxi (XIao Mei) and Wenzhou (Mayfair Yang)—as well as our own work around Hebei and north Shanxi, on which I reflect further in the second post of my series on
- Women of Yanggao.
And I’ve introduced studies on activity in
- Shaanbei (Adam Chau; see also roundup)
- Henan (a stimulating book by Emily Ng)
- Wutai county, Shanxi (referring to pantheon paintings on Hannibal Taubes’s site)
- Shanghai (where Daoists learn to collaborate with mediums),
as well as
Under Maoism, whereas public forms of religious life were vulnerable to political campaigns, the more clandestine activities of mediums were tenacious—indeed, the social and psychological crises of the era ensured that they continued to emerge (see e.g. the work of Ng and Chau above). Still, distribution is patchy; in this post I discussed the decline in Gaoluo village.