19. Popular Religion & (Folk) Art


Arrault, Alain. "Analytic Essay on the Domestic Statuary of Central Hunan: The Cult to Divinities, Parents, and Masters." Journal of Chinese Religions 36 (2008): 1-53.


Arrault, Alain & Michela Bussotti. "Statuettes religieuses et certificats de consécration en Chine du Sud (XVIIe-XXe siècle)." Arts asiatiques 63 (2008): 36-59.


Arrault, Alain. “Les calendriers chinois: l’image du temps, le temps dans les images.” Arts Asiatiques 66 (2011): 11-32.


Arrault, Alain; Lina Verchery (trans.). A History of Cultic Images In China: The Domestic Statuary of Hunan. Hong Kong, Paris: Chinese University Press of Hong Kong, Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 2020.

Abstract: In what period did objects of worship appear in China? Could there be a possible convergence between written testimonies and archaeological remains? How was the production of icons understood, especially in light of its eventual condemnation in iconoclastic discourse? This history of cultic images designed for religious worship in China remains to be written. The statue collections over the course of 16th to 20th centuries in central Hunan of southern China will give us insight into the local artistic tradition of statue-making, and the dynamics of multifarious religious practices consisting of a hybrid of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucian, Shamanism, and so forth. The documents contained inside these effigies, as well as the inscriptions found on the statues themselves, provide first-hand information that has not been filtered down through theological or philosophical discourses. Moreover, this art of domestic statuary—which is found far from palaces, large temples, monasteries, and painted or sculpted grottoes—is, indeed, still alive.


Bickford, Maggie, "Three Rams and Three Friends: The Working Lives of Chinese Auspicious Motifs." Asia Major 12(1999)1: 127-158.


Blake, C. Fred. Burning Money: The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

Abstract: For a thousand years across the length and breadth of China and beyond, people have burned paper replicas of valuable things—most often money—for the spirits of deceased family members, ancestors, and myriads of demons and divinities. Although frequently denigrated as wasteful and vulgar and at times prohibited by governing elites, today this venerable custom is as popular as ever. Burning Money explores the cultural logic of this common practice while addressing larger anthropological questions concerning the nature of value. The heart of the work integrates Chinese and Western thought and analytics to develop a theoretical framework that the author calls a “materialist aesthetics.” This includes consideration of how the burning of paper money meshes with other customs in China and around the world. The work examines the custom in contemporary everyday life, its origins in folklore and history, as well as its role in common rituals, in the social formations of dynastic and modern times, and as a “sacrifice” in the act of consecrating the paper money before burning it. Here the author suggests a great divide between the modern means of cultural reproduction through ideology and reification, with its emphasis on nature and realism, and previous pre-capitalist means through ritual and mystification, with its emphasis on authenticity. The final chapters consider how the burning money custom has survived its encounter with the modern global system and internet technology. (Source: publisher's website)


Blake, C. Fred. “Lampooning the Paper Money Custom in Contemporary China.” The Journal of Asian Studies 70.2 (2011): 449-469.

Abstract: Over the past millennium and across the length and breadth of China and beyond, people have been burning paper replicas of the material world to send to their deceased family members, ancestors, and myriads of imaginary beings. The paper replicas, which include all types of goods and treasures, mostly old and new forms of money, is commonly referred to as the paper money custom. Studies of the paper money custom have neglected the native opposition to it, especially that of the contemporary intelligentsia, one form of which consists of news reports and human interest stories in the popular press that lampoon the practice of burning paper money. Many stories lampoon the paper money custom by showing how it burlesques traditional virtues such as filial piety. One of the interesting maneuvers in this criticism is how it employs the old and newer kinds of paper monies to shape the response of the readers.(Source: journal)


Brereton, Brian G. "Taiwan’s Mythological Theme Parks: Mnemonic Guardians and Uncanny Imaginaries." Acta Orientalia Vilnensia 7.1-2 (2006): 61-76.

Abstract: This paper analyzes the mnemonic roles of mythological theme parks in contemporary Taiwan. I investigate two popular theme parks, Madou’s “Prefecture that Represents Heaven” (???) and its single Taiwanese precedent, the “Palace of Southern Heaven” (???) in Zhanghua. I term these sites “mythological theme parks” because they differ significantly in form and function from other popular religious temples throughout Taiwan and China. Though both theme park and temple are loci of social production and reproduction, the nature of interaction at mythological theme parks resembles in many ways that which occurs at the imaginary realms manufactured by secular theme parks. These mythological theme parks feature moral imaginaries displayed in sculptural and animatronic depictions of the afterlife and acts of filial piety. My study addresses both textual sources and ethnographic data, collected while conducting fieldwork during the summers of 2004 and 2005, to evaluate how these mythological theme parks culturally convey the past into the present.

Brereton, Brian Gosper. “From Flesh to Fantasy: Contemporary Conceptions of the Chinese Afterlife in Spirit-travelogues and Mythological Theme Parks.” Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 2009.

Abstract: My dissertation analyzes the influence of conceptions and representations of the religious afterlife on individual and collective action in contemporary Taiwan. The critical study of representations of the Chinese afterlife has occurred almost exclusively in their anthropological locus classicus : the ancestral tablet, funerary ritual, and the underworld (Ahern 1973; Wolf 1974; Cohen 1988). My research, which builds on these foundtional inquiries, focuses on two alternative and fecund fields of otherworldly (re)production and representation: recent textual depictions of the afterlife and mythological theme parks. In this study, I will address both textual sources and ethnographic data to launch an inquiry into three key research questions concerning conceptions of the afterlife in Taiwan today: namely, (1) the struggle between individual desire and collective concerns, (2) the applicability and adaptability of traditional models of the religious afterlife, and (3) the processes by which representations of the afterlife illuminate and influence contemporary social systems. My analytical framework - inspired by practice theory, psychoanalytic thought, and psychological anthropology - illuminates an otherwise overlooked integrity in conventional Chinese conceptions of the afterlife and reveals the emotional correlates of their continuities and changes in current Taiwanese society.


Burruss, Susan Langhorne, "Foreign Influences on Chinese Mystical Horse Imagery." Masters Thesis (M.A.), Virginia Commonwealth University. 1999.

Abstract: Representations of the horse developed parallel to significant cultural elements at the dawn of China's vast history. As early as the Shang Dynasty (1766-1045 BC) images of the horse appeared on oracle bones. After its first appearance on oracle bones the horse remained highly significant and mystical representations of the horse continue to be a feature in Chinese art into the late twentieth century.

This study will focus specifically on representations of the horse as a mystical creature in Chinese art, as distinct from general equine imagery. Mystical equine imagery can possess characteristics associated with other animal species or mythological beings. I will establish the impact of foreign cultures on the Chinese perception of the horse as mystical. Outside elements include aspects of religion, mythology, legends, ritual, and folklore. It will be seen that these elements, combined with the indigenous mystical beliefs in China, were influential in Chinese representations of the horse as a mystical creature.

Ancient legends and myths of supernatural horses existed at an early period in China and were manifest in representation of mystical horses. Through contact with outside cultures along the silk routes the indigenous notions of the horse as a mystical creature were reinforced in China. The sheer amount of equine imagery in general in Chinese art and the obvious connections to early religious belief systems apparent in mystical representations of the horse in particular, suggest the significance of this topic. While scholars often acknowledge this in passing, to date there is no systematic study specifically of the mystical representation of the horse in Chinese art. This thesis will provide this information which is crucial for a thorough understanding of this significant subject in Chinese art. (Source: Dissertation Abstracts International)


Bussotti, Michela & Alain Arrault. "Statuaria popolare cinese: le sculture lignee dell'Hunan centrale e la collezione del Museo provinciale." DecArt 9 (2008): 2-13.


Bussotti, Michela. “Images familières, images familiales: imprimés de la Chine rurale (XVe-XIXe siècle).” Arts Asiatiques 66 (2011): 33-44.


Cave, Roderick, Chinese Paper Offerings. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1998.


de Vries, Patrick. “Passing the Shrine of the God Calming the Waves and the Notion of Emptiness in Huang Tingjian’s (1045–1105) Calligraphy.” Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques 64.4 (2010): 907-941.


Emmons, Deirdre. Dieux de la Chine. Le panthéon populaire du Fujian de J.J.M. de Groot. Lyon: Musée d'histoire naturelle/Un, deux, ... quatre Editions, 2003.


Fava, Patrice. Aux Portes du ciel. La statuaire taoïste du Hunan: Art et anthropologie de la Chine. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2014.

Abstract: Ce livre est le fruit d'une enquête dans la province chinoise du Hunan qui a duré plus de dix ans. Le point de départ aura été la découverte sur un marché du sud de la Chine de quelques statues en bois polychrome à l'intérieur desquelles se trouvaient des documents de consécration, indiquant, pour certains d'entre eux, qu'il s’agissait de maîtres taoïstes. On y mentionnait la date de fabrication, le nom des personnages représentés, celui des commanditaires, le lieu où se trouvait la statue, les raisons pour lesquelles elle avait été faite, les vœux associés au culte et bien d’autres renseignements concernant l’histoire locale. De très nombreux séjours dans le centre du Hunan apportèrent peu à peu des réponses aux différentes énigmes que posait l’immense corpus de documents de consécration accompagnant quelque deux mille statues datant pour la plupart de la dernière dynastie mandchoue (1644-1911). Non seulement personne n’avait rencontré dans aucune autre partie de la Chine une statuaire de ce type, mais de surcroît, cette province méridionale du Hunan comptait un très grand nombre de maîtres taoïstes et de sculpteurs qui perpétuaient cette tradition très ancienne. C’est grâce à eux que progressivement furent assemblées les pièces d’un puzzle très complexe qui rendait compte d’un système de croyances qui plongeait ses racines dans l’Antiquité chinoise et rappelait de manière très évidente le culte des immortels du temps de Laozi et Zhuangzi. La confrontation des sources scripturaires, conservées entre autres dans le Canon taoïste compilé au XVe siècle, avec la liturgie des maîtres de cette province, aura permis de mettre en lumière, en dépit des bouleversements de tous ordres qu’a connu le pays, l’extraordinaire continuité dont se prévaut le taoïsme et un très grand nombre de particularités locales, car la transmission au sein de lignées taoïstes s’est faite de manières très différentes dans chaque région de Chine. Le Hunan et sa statuaire auront ainsi été l’occasion d’écrire une nouvelle page de l’histoire du taoïsme qui demeure l’une des composantes essentielles de la civilisation et de la pensée chinoises. Écrit du point de vue d’un anthropologue, ce livre consacré à l’art taoïste du Hunan, ne s’adresse pas uniquement à un public de sinologues. Débordant le cadre des études chinoises, il s’interroge sur la religion en général et fait référence aux travaux de Claude Lévi-Strauss, Philippe Descola, Clifford Geertz ou Alfred Gell, et se réclame à la fois de la philosophie de l’histoire de Marcel Gauchet et de l’héritage surréaliste. La très abondante iconographie qui accompagne le texte est constituée de documents inédits qui donnent une dimension indispensable à la compréhension du taoïsme, en tant que tradition vivante. (Source: publisher's website)

Flath, James A., "Printing Culture in Rural North China." Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia, 2000. (Note: on New Year prints, nianhua).


Flath, James. “Social Narratives in Yangliuqing Nianhua of the 1930s.” Arts Asiatiques 66 (2011): 69-82.


Goldin, Paul R., "The Motif of the Woman in the Doorway and Related Imagery in Traditional Chinese Funerary Art." Journal of the American Oriental Society 121(2001)4: 539-548.


Guo, Qitao. Ritual Opera and Mercantile Lineage: The Confucian Transformation of Popular Culture in Late Imperial Huizhou. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Abstract: This book analyzes Confucian ideology as culture and culture as history by exploring the interplay between popular ritual performance of the opera Mulian and gentrified mercantile lineages in late imperial Huizhou. Mulian, originally a Buddhist tale featuring the monk Mulian's journey through the underworld to save his mother, underwent a Confucian transformation in the sixteenth century against a backdrop of vast socioeconomic, intellectual, cultural, and religious changes. The author shows how local elites appropriated the performance of Mulian, turning it into a powerful medium for conveying orthodox values and religious precepts and for negotiating local social and gender issues altered by the rising money economy. The sociocultural approach of this historical study lifts Mulian out of the exorcistic-dramatic-ethnographic milieu to which it is usually consigned. This new approach enables the author to develop an alternative interpretation of Chinese popular culture and the Confucian tradition, which in turn sheds significant new light upon the social history of late imperial China. [Source: publisher's website]


He, Xuewei, "Narrators of Buddhist Scriptures and Religious Tales in China." In: Vibeke Børdahl [ed.], The Eternal Storyteller: Oral Literature in Modern China. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999. (Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Studies in Asian Topics, no.24.) Pp. 40-44


Hong, Jeehee. “Virtual Theater of the Dead: Actor Figurines and Their Stage in Houma Tomb No.1, Shanxi Province.” Artibus Asiae 71.1 (2011): 75-114.


Hong, Jeehee. “Exorcism from the Streets to the Tomb: An Image of the Judge and Minions in the Xuanhua Liao Tomb No.7.” Archives of Asian Art 63 (2013): 1-25.


James, Jean M., A Guide to the Tomb and Shrine Art of the Han Dynasty 206 B.C.-A.D. 220. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.


James, Jean M., "The Eastern Han Offering Shrine: A Functional Study." Archives of Asian Art 51(1999): 16-29.


Jing, Anning. “The Eight Immortals: The Transformation of T’ang and Sung Taoist Eccentrics During the Yüan Dynasty.” In: Maxwell K. Hearn & Judith G. Smith [eds.], Arts of the Sung and Yüan. New York: The Metropoloitan Museum of Art, 1996. Pp.213-229.


Jing, Anning, The Water God's Temple of the Guangsheng Monastery: Cosmic Function of Art, Ritual, and Theater. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2001.

Abstract: The 14th century dragon king temple in Southern Shanxi is the only known intact survivor of this ancient Water God institution once existing in every Chinese agricultural community. After describing the history, lay-out and mural paintings of the building, its original Yuan time mural paintings enable the author to depict the ritual of praying for rain, and the actual rain-making of the god. The meaning of the unique painting of a theatrical company is interpreted as to subject and its connections with the ritual of praying for rain. Rainmaking magic is compared with similar practices in other parts of the world (India), and thus suggests a common cosmological basis of Chinese and Indian cultures, and a common pattern of human behaviour and mode of thinking concerning human procreation and food production. (Source: publisher's catalogue)


Jones, Stephen. "Chinese Ritual Music under Mao and Deng." British Journal of Ethnomusicology 8(1999): 27-66.


Jones, Stephen. Plucking the Winds: Lives of Village Musicians in Old and New China. Leiden: CHIME, 2004.

Abstract: This book tells the story of 20th-century China through the eyes of village musicians in north China. Based on extensive fieldwork since 1989, it portrays the lives of several generations of members of an amateur ritual association in South Gaoluo, a village not far from Beijing. The musicians perform solemn chants and music for wind and percussion instruments, serving funerals and Chinese New Year rituals. The reader learns how they have managed to maintain their local ritual traditions amidst massacre, invasion, civil war, famine, political campaigns, theft, destruction, banditry, and religious rivalry (from a Catholic community in the early 1930s).

The book looks beyond cosy and rosy images of modernizing ideology to the realities of local survival, and shows the astonishing resilience and stoic humanity of the musicians and their fellow villagers under all kinds of onslaughts. In a community whose history might seem to have been erased under Maoism, the account becomes a kind of detective story. It also features the author's relationship with the musicians and provides a lively impression of the "spit and sawdust" which are the tribulations and delights of fieldwork in rural China. The account is further enlivened by a CD and many photographs. [Source: publisher]


Jones, Stephen. “Turning a Blind Ear: Bards of Shaanbei.” Chinoperl 27 (2007): 174–208.

Abstract: This article introduces the blind bards of Shaanbei, contrasting the new stories of the Party's model bard Han Qixiang, and the official teams, with the persistent practice of traditional stories, based in ritual practice and healing, among the majority. Since the 1980s, sighted bards have encroached on the blindmen's 'food-bowl', and TV and pop music have dented the bards' popularity. [Source: author]


Jones, Stephen. Ritual and Music of North China: Shawm Bands in Shanxi. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Abstract: The rich local traditions of musical life in rural China are still little known. Music-making in village society is largely ceremonial, and shawm bands account for a significant part of such music. This is the first major ethnographic study of Chinese shawm bands in their ceremonial and social context. Based in a poor county in Shanxi province in northwestern China, Stephen Jones describes the painful maintenance of ceremonial and its music there under Maoism, its revival with the market reforms of the 1980s and its modification under the assault of pop music since the 1990s. Part One of the text explains the social and historical background by outlining the lives of shawm band musicians in modern times. Part Two looks at the main performing contexts of funerals and temple fairs, whilst Part Three discusses musical features such as instruments, scales, and repertories.


Jones, Stephen. Ritual and Music of North China, Volume 2: Shaanbei. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009.

Abstract: This second volume of Stephen Jones' work on ritual and musical life in north China, again with an accompanying DVD, gives an impression of music-making in daily life in the poor mountainous region of Shaanbei, northwest China. It conveys some of the diverse musical activities there around 2000, from the barrage of pop music blaring from speakers in the bustling county-towns to the life-cycle and calendrical ceremonies of poor mountain villages. Based on the practice of grass-roots music-making in daily life, not merely on official images, the main theme is the painful maintenance of ritual and its music under Maoism, its revival with the market reforms of the 1980s, and its modification under the assaults of TV, pop music, and migration since the 1990s.

The text is in four parts. Part One gives background to the area and music-making in society. Parts Two and Three discuss the lives of bards and shawm bands respectively, describing modifications in their ceremonial activities through the twentieth century. Part Four acclimatizes us to the modern world with glimpses of various types of musical life in Yulin city, the regional capital, illustrating the contrast with the surrounding countryside.

The 44-minute DVD, with its informative commentary, is intended both to illuminate the text and to stand on its own. It shows bards performing at a temple fair and to bless a family in distress, and shawm bands performing at a wedding, at funerals, and a shop opening - including their pop repertory with the 'big band'. Also featuring as part of these events are opera troupes, geomancers, and performing beggars; by contrast, the film shows a glimpse of the official image of Shaanbei culture as presented by a state ensemble in the regional capital. [Source: publisher's website]


Jones, Stephen. “Revival in Crisis: Amateur Ritual Associations in Hebei.” In: Adam Yuet Chau [ed.], Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation. London: Routledge, 2011. Pp. 154-181.


Jordan, David K., "Pop in Hell: Representations of Purgatory in Taiwan." In: David K. Jordan, Andrew D. Morris, and Marc L. Moskowitz [eds.], The Minor Arts of Daily Life: Popular Culture in Taiwan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. Pp. 50-63.


Ju Xi. “The Transformations of Our Lady.” Arts Asiatiques 74 (2019): 45–68.

Abstract: In 1890, the abbot of the Daoist monastery Baiyunguan in Beijing, Gao Rentong, commissioned a painter who remained anonymous to do a set of twenty-one paintings, The Transformations of Our Lady. These paintings show how Bixia yuanjun, an ordinary woman, transformed during her asceticism into a multitude of divided bod- ies before becoming the Primordial Sovereign of the Azure Clouds. Indeed, having become an adept of Daoist inner alchemy, she attained divine status. A specialist in Daoism, Liu Xun put forward the idea that this series owed its origin to the links between Baiyunguan and the imperial court at the end of the Qing (1644–1911), and above all to the Manchu noblewomen. In the article, the author demonstrates that the themes of the Baiyunguan paintings were probably based on the murals of a temple from the early Qing period in Hebei. In addition, she shows that their content, like that of the wall paintings, was taken directly from the Precious Scroll of the Taishan on the origins of the Celestial Immortal and the Holy Mother, a sacred writing (baojuan) that circulated widely in the capital region.


Knapp, Ronald G., China's Living Houses: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamentation. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999.


Lai, Guolong, "The Baoshan Tomb: Religious transitions in art, ritual, and text during the Warring States period (480--221 BCE)." Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of California, Los Angeles. 2002.

Abstract: This dissertation explores historical transitions in funerary art, ritual, and text in their archaeological context by focusing on the tomb of a high-ranking Chu official, Shao Tuo (d. 316 BCE), discovered at Baoshan in Hubei Province. The Warring States transition has long been regarded as a process of rationalization and secularization, developing from the mystical, superstitious Shang and Zhou dynasties to the rational, bureaucratic Qin and Han empires. This contextual study problematizes this vision of antiquity, arguing that religious transitions played a vital role in shaping the intellectual and religious foundations of a unified empire.

Chapter 2 demonstrates that the tomb inventories and funerary gift-lists as ritual devices structured the communication between humans and spirits, and that tomb construction, modeled on the cosmos, expressed new conceptions of the afterlife that emerged during the Warring States period. Chapter 3 shows that the practice of burying mingqi ("spirit artifacts") and personal belongings was a form of a tie-breaking ritual, the purpose of which was to ritualize the gradual separation between the deceased and the living. Chapter 4 shows that the new categories of burial furnishings, such as lamps and folding beds, were chosen to perform specific religious functions. The lamps in the Baoshan tomb were to facilitate the spirit journey to the increasingly alienated, gloomy, and dangerous underworld, a conception of the afterlife that emerged in the Warring States era.

Chapter 5 discusses the historical development of ancestral cults, changing from the use of living persons as impersonators to the concordant use of images. This transition led to the development of the burying of tomb figurines as substitutes of human servants, the use of spirit tablets, and a reinterpretation of the concept of wei ("position") in early Chinese ritual art. The pictorial representation of the human figure originated in the context of rhetorical uses of works of art. Finally, the appendix reconsiders Karlgren's linguistic method of distinguishing "free" texts from "systematizing" texts, and draws connections between funerary texts and the genesis of ritual texts in Early China. [Source: Dissertation Abstracts International]


Laing, Ellen Johnston, "From Thief to Deity: The Pictorial Record of the Chinese Moon Goddess, Chang E." In: Dieter Kuhn & Helga Stahl [eds.], Die Gegenwart des Altertums: Formen und Funktionen des Altertumsbezugs in den Hochkulturen der Alten Welt. Heidelberg: edition forum, 2001. Pp.437-454.


Laing, Ellen Johnston & Helen Hui-ling Liu, Up in Flames: The Ephemeral Art of Pasted-Paper Sculpture in Taiwan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.


Laing, Ellen Johnston. “’Living Wealth Gods’ in the Chinese Popular Print Tradition.” Artibus Asiae 73, no.2 (2013): 343-363.


Ledderose, Lothar, Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000. [Note: See chapter 7 "The Bureaucracy of Hell" on paintings depicting the courts of purgatory.]


Lewis, Candace Jenks, "Pottery Towers of Han Dynasty China." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1999.


Lin, Wei-Cheng. “Underground Wooden Architecture in Brick: A Changed Perspective from Life to Death in 10th- through 13th-century Northern China.” Archives of Asian Art 61 (2011): 3-36.


Little, Stephen (with Shawn Eichman), Taoism and the Arts of China. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. (Note: See especially the chapter "Taoism and Popular Religion", pp.255-273.)


Lust, John, Chinese Popular Prints. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.


McLaren, Anne & Chen Qinjian, "The Oral and Ritual Culture of Chinese Women: Bridal Lamentations of Nanhui." Asian Folklore Studies 59(2000)2: 205-238.


McLaren, Anne E. Performing Grief: Bridal Laments in Rural China. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008.

Abstract: This is the first in-depth study of Chinese bridal laments, a ritual and performative art practiced by Chinese women in premodern times that gave them a rare opportunity to voice their grievances publicly. Drawing on methodologies from numerous disciplines, including performance arts and folk literatures, the author suggests that the ability to move an audience through her lament was one of the most important symbolic and ritual skills a Chinese woman could possess before the modern era.
    Performing Grief provides a detailed case study of the Nanhui region in the lower Yangzi delta. Bridal laments, the author argues, offer insights into how illiterate Chinese women understood the kinship and social hierarchies of their region, the marriage market that determined their destinies, and the value of their labor in the commodified economy of the delta region. The book not only assesses and draws upon a large body of sources, both Chinese and Western, but is grounded in actual field work, offering both historical and ethnographic context in a unique and sophisticated approach. Unlike previous studies, the author covers both Han and non-Han groups and thus contributes to studies of ethnicity and cultural accommodation in China. She presents an original view about the ritual implications of bridal laments and their role in popular notions of “wedding pollution.” The volume includes an annotated translation from a lament cycle.
    This important work on the place of laments in Chinese culture enriches our understanding of the social and performative roles of Chinese women, the gendered nature of China’s ritual culture, and the continuous transmission of women’s grievance genres into the revolutionary period. As a pioneering study of the ritual and performance arts of Chinese women, it will be of interest to scholars and students in the fields of anthropology, social history, gender studies, oral literature, comparative folk religion, and performance arts. [Source: publisher's website]


Miller, Tracy. The Divine Nature of Power: Chinese Ritual Architecture at the Sacred Site of Jinci. Cambridge, MA: published by the Harvard University Asia Center for the Harvard-Yenching Institute; distributed by Harvard University Press, 2007.

Abstract: Built around three sacred springs, the Jin Shrines complex (Jinci), near Taiyuan in Shanxi province, contains a wealth of ancient art and architecture dating back to the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127). The complex's 1,500-year-long textual record allows us to compare physical and written evidence to understand how the built environment was manipulated to communicate ideas about divinity, identity, and status. Jinci's significance varied over time according to both its patrons' needs and changes in the political and physical landscape. The impact of these changes can be read in the physical development of the site.

Using an interdisciplinary approach drawing on the research of archaeologists, anthropologists, and religious, social, and art historians, this book seeks to recover the motivations behind the creation of religious art, including temple buildings, sculpture, and wall paintings. Through an examination of building style and site organization, the author illuminates the multiplicity of meanings projected by buildings within a sacred landscape and the ability of competing patronage groups to modify those meanings with text and context, thereby affecting the identity of the deities housed within them. This study of the art and architecture of Jinci is thus about divine creations and their power to create divinity. [Source: publisher's website.]


Moore, Oliver, "Violence Un-scrolled: Cultic and Ritual Emphases in Painting Guan Yu." Arts Asiatiques 58(2003): 86-97.


Moretti, Costantino. “Scenes of Hell and Damnation in Dunhuang Murals.” Arts Asiatiques 74 (2019): 5–30.

Abstract: The descriptions of the various hells in Buddhist eschatological and cosmological literature constitute one of the most fascinating speculations on the characteristics of otherworldly realms elaborated by this religious system, which provides extravagant details on sinners’ atonement processes. While a number of important works have focused on the illustrated manuscripts of the Sūtra on the Ten Kings, which portrays the ten judges of Chinese “purgatory,” the visual narrative describing the theme of hell damnation, as seen in Dunhuang murals, has received less attention. Preliminary research has shown that these illustrations can be divided into at least three different categories: hell representations found in scenes illustrating various sūtras; damnation scenes in cosmological charts; and mural paintings of Dizang/Kṣitigarbha showing bureaucratised representations of the underworld featuring the Ten Kings “system.” This paper sets out the major characteristics of the visual vocabulary of hell representations in Mogao murals that fall into the first two categories.

Moskowitz, Marc L., "Yang Sucking She-Demons: Penetration, Fear of Castration, and other Freudian Angst in Modern Chinese Cinema." In: David K. Jordan, Andrew D. Morris, and Marc L. Moskowitz [eds.], The Minor Arts of Daily Life: Popular Culture in Taiwan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. Pp. 205-217.


Murray, Julia K., "The Evolution of Pictorial Hagiography in Chinese Art: Common Themes and Forms." Arts Asiatiques 55(2000): 81-97.

Abstract: This article discusses the way that the earthly lives of Chinese gods and sages are represented in literary and artistic media. It focuses on the development of pictorial conventions for representing key hagiographical features, such as an unusual conception, birth, and childhood feats. The origins of the iconography are traced to two different but complementary sources: indigenous accounts of gods' lives in ancient Chinese literature, and imported visual imagery of the life of the Buddha. A variety of Chinese depictions of the Buddha's life are examined, and it is suggested that they became a model for treating other gods' lives. By the fifteenth century, certain elements appear to have become so standardized that they constituted a template by which any deity's life might be conceptualized. Ming Buddhist temple murals and woodblock-printed illustrations may have helped to disseminate the hagiographical model more widely. In addition to the Buddha, the article examines serial illustrations of the lives of Houji, Laozi, Lü Dongbin, Wang Chongyang, and Confucius in some detail. [Source: WilsonWeb]


Murray, Julia K. Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007.

Abstract: Mirror of Morality takes an interdisciplinary look at an important form of pictorial art produced during two millennia of Chinese imperial rule. Ideas about individual morality and state ideology were based on the ancient teachings of Confucius with modifications by later interpreters and government institutions. Throughout the imperial period, members of the elite made, sponsored, and inscribed or used illustrations of themes taken from history, literature, and recent events to promote desired conduct among various social groups. This dimension of Chinese art history has never before been broadly covered or investigated in historical context.

The first half of the study examines the nature of narrative illustration in China and traces the evolution of its functions, conventions, and rhetorical strategies from the second century BCE through the eleventh century. Under the stimulus of Buddhism, sophisticated techniques developed for representing stories in visual form. While tracing changes in the social functions and cultural positions of narrative illustration, the second half of the book argues that narrative illustration continued to play a vital role in elite visual culture. [Source: publisher's website.]


Nygren, Christina. Gastar, generaler och gäckande gudinnor. Resande teatersällskap, religiösa festivaler och populära nöjen i dagens Japan och Kina. Stockholm: Carlsson Bokförlag, 2000. [English title: "Ghosts, Generals and Gorgeous Goddesses. Travelling Theatres, Religious Festivals and Popular Amusements in Contemporary Japan and China."]


Pleiger, Henriette, "Das qilin - die vielen Gesichter eines chinesischen Fabeltieres." minima sinica 14(2002)1: 35-57.


Qiang, Ning, Art, Religion, and Politics in Medieval China: The Dunhuang Cave of the Zhai Family. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004.


Rawson, Jessica. “Ordering the Exotic: Ritual Practices in the Late Western and Early Eastern Zhou.” Artibus Asiae 73, no.1 (2013): 5-76.


Reich, Aaron K. "In the Shadow of the Spirit Image: The Production, Consecration, and Enshrinement of a Daoist Statue in Northern Taiwan." Journal of Chinese Religions 49, no. 2 (2021): 265–324.

Abstract: Statues of the gods, or spirit images (shenxiang), remain among the most ubiquitous material objects in the religious culture of modern-day Taiwan. Notwithstanding, research to date has yet to examine adequately the people and processes that produce, consecrate, and enshrine these statues, work that effects a transformation of these cult statues into sacred presences. How should we understand the relationship between these artistic and ritual processes and the resulting spirit image that is born out of them? The article argues that the spirit image at the heart of this study, a statue of the Daoist god Guangcheng Zi, emerges in the context of its religious lifeworld not as a discrete entity, but rather as an “assemblage,” a coming together of the people who contribute to it, the materials those people use, and the specific spirits and divine powers those people invoke.



Ruitenbeek, Klaas, "Mazu, the Patroness of Sailors, in Chinese Pictorial Art." Artibus Asiae 58(1999)3/4: 281-329.


Scott, Janet Lee, "Traditional Values and Modern Meanings in the Paper Offering Industry of Hong Kong." In: Grant Evans & Maria Tam [eds.], Hong Kong: The Anthropology of a Chinese Metropolis. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997. Pp.223-241.


Scott, Janet Lee. For Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: The Chinese Tradition of Paper Offerings. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007.

Abstract: Offerings of various kinds - food, incense, paper money, and figures - have been central to Chinese culture for millennia, and as a public, visual display of spiritual belief, they are still evident today in China and in Chinatowns around the world. Using Hong Kong as a case study, Janet Scott looks at paper offerings from every conceivable angle - how they are made, sold, and used. Her comprehensive investigation touches on virtually every aspect of Chinese popular religion as it explores the many forms of these intricate objects, their manufacture, their significance, and their importance in rituals to honor gods, care for ancestors, and contend with ghosts.

Throughout For Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors, paper offerings are presented as a vibrant and living tradition expressing worshippers' respect and gratitude for the gods, as well as love and concern for departed family members. Ranging from fake paper money to paper furniture, servant dolls, cigarettes, and toiletries - all multihued and artfully constructed - paper offerings are intended to provide for the needs of those in the spirit world.

Readers are introduced to the variety of paper offerings and their uses in worship, in assisting worshippers with personal difficulties, and in rituals directed to gods, ghosts, and ancestors. We learn of the manufacture and sale of paper goods, life in paper shops, the training of those who make paper offerings, and the symbolic and artistic dimensions of the objects. Finally, the book considers the survival of this traditional craft, the importance of flexibility and innovation, and the role of compassion and filial piety in the use of paper offerings. [Source: publisher's website.]


Sen, Tansen, "Astronomical Tomb Paintings from Xuanhua: Mandalas?" Ars Orientalis 29(1999): 29-54.

Abstract: While the popularity of cremation in China between the tenth and thirteenth centuries is well documented, archaeological evidence for the Buddhist impact on the practice has been lacking. A group of Liao dynasty (907-1125) tombs from the Xuanhua district in Hebei Province, belonging to Chinese residents, provides significant visual testimony to the application of Buddhist rituals in disposing of the dead by cremation. The paintings of celestial objects, drawn on tomb ceilings and framed with Buddhist motifs, show striking similarities to esoteric Star Mandalas and demonstrate the acceptance of Buddhist horoscopic astrology by the laity. Executed during the Liao-Jin transition period, the Xuanhua astronomical paintings include the earliest illustrations yet known of zodiacal symbols in the popular pantheon of East Asia. The paintings are important clues to the synthesis of Buddhist and Chinese views of, and the ways to deal with, life after death. (Source: Ars Orientalis)


Siu, Kin Wai Michael, "Lanterns of the Mid-Autumn Festival: A Reflection of Hong Kong Cultural Change." Journal of Popular Culture 33(1999)2: 67-86.


Siu, Kin-wai Michael, "Red Packet: A Traditional Object in the Modern World." Journal of Popular Culture 35(2001)3: 103-125.


Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman, "The Temple to the Northern Peak in Quyang." Artibus Asiae 58(1998)1/2: 69-90.


Stevens, Keith, "Demonic Images on Chinese Altars." Arts of Asia 28(1998)5: 108-121.


Stuart, Jan & Evelyn S. Rawski, Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.


Thompson, Lydia, "The Yi'nan Tomb: Narrative and Ritual in Pictorial Art of the Eastern Han (25-220 C.E.)." Ph.D. diss., New York University 1998.

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the pictorial narrative of relief carvings in a second century C.E. Chinese tomb. Among the issues addressed are the relationship of pictorial narrative and ritual practice, and how the space of the tomb conveys narrative meaning. I find a dynamic space of shifting positions in which the imagery is not aimed at one ideal observer, but at two kinds of ideal observers--the living mourner as s/he enters the tomb from the south and the deceased male and female located in the rear chamber. Thus it is concluded that the pictorial narrative represents the process of forging an unbroken relationship of mutual benefit between the living and the dead and establishing a sacred center.

The public reception of the monument's imagery is also considered. It is argued that the imagery, especially representations of cultural heroes, may have been viewed differently depending on the viewers' status, education and ability to read. Such figures are usually identified with the moral and behavioural codes sanctified by the state. However, the mode of representation and placement in the tomb evoke powers of supernatural protection associated with their local cult status. This points up the dual role of the male occupant of the tomb, a member of the provincial elite: he is charged with both disseminating the ideology of the state and accomodating or co-opting the local cults.

Finally, the pictorial narrative is considered from the perspective of its function within the larger context of the burial ground and ritual performance. It is argued that the narrative structure parallels the mourner's progress as s/he enters and then exits the tomb, and that scenes of funerary rites may have had a votive function. Also examined is the role of the artisan and ritual performance in consecrating the tomb and imbuing the bas-reliefs with magical powers of protection and transformation. (Source: Dissertation Abstracts International)


Wang, Xiaoyang, and Shixiao Wang. “On the Differences between Han Rhapsodies and Han Paintings in Their Portrayal of the Queen Mother of the West and Their Religious Significance.” Religions 13 (2022).


Wicks, Ann Barrott. "The Art of Deliverance and Protection: Folk Deities in Paintings and Woodblock Prints." In: Ann Barrott Wicks [ed.], Children in Chinese Art. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002. Pp.133-158.


Wu, Ka-ming. Reinventing Chinese Tradition: The Cultural Politics of Late Socialism. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

Abstract: The final destination of the Long March and center of the Chinese Communist Party's red bases, Yan'an acquired mythical status during the Maoist era. Though the city's significance as an emblem of revolutionary heroism has faded, today's Chinese still glorify Yan'an as a sanctuary for ancient cultural traditions. Ka-ming Wu's ethnographic account of contemporary Yan'an documents how people have reworked the revival of three rural practices--paper-cutting, folk storytelling, and spirit cults--within (and beyond) the socialist legacy. Moving beyond dominant views of Yan'an folk culture as a tool of revolution or object of market reform, Wu reveals how cultural traditions become battlegrounds where conflicts among the state, market forces, and intellectuals in search of an authentic China play out. At the same time, she shows these emerging new dynamics in the light of the ways rural residents make sense of rapid social change. (Source: publisher's website)


Yang, Yu. "Chinese Zhima Plates Held in Russian Collections, Part II, God of Wealth." Manuscripta Orientalia: International Journal for Oriental Manuscript Research 19, no.2 (Dec 2013): 26-30.


Yen, Chuan-ying, "The Immortal World in Tomb Murals." The Chinese Pen 91, 23.1 (1995): 81-94.