2. Key Concepts & Values


Bell, Catherine, "'The Chinese Believe in Spirits': Belief and Believing in the Study of Religion." In: Nancy K. Frankenberry [ed.], Radical Interpretation in Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. 100-116.


Berling, Judith A., "Threads of 'Hope' in Traditional Chinese Religions." In: Overmyer, Daniel L. and Chi-tim Lai [eds.], Interpretations of Hope in Chinese Religions & Christianity. Hong Kong: Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture, 2002. Pp. 1-18.


Brashier, K.E., "Han Thanatology and the Division of Souls." Early China 21 (1996): 125-158.


Brokaw, Cynthia, "Supernatural Retribution and Human Destiny." In: Lopez, Donald S., Jr. [ed.], Religions of China in Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996. Pp.423-436.


Budenholzer, Frank E., "Religion and Science in Taiwan: Rethinking the Connection." Zygon 36(2001)4: 753-764.


Bumbacher, Stephan Peter, "Zum Problem nichtreflektierter Begrifflichkeit in der Sinologie." Asiatische Studien/Etudes asiatiques 56(2002)1: 15-48. [Note: On the term "magic" and its appropriateness in the study of Chinese religions.]


Campany, Robert F. "Eating Better than Gods and Ancestors." In Roel Sterckx [ed.], Of Tripod and Palate: Food, Politics, and Religion in Traditional China. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Pp. 96-122.


Campany, Robert Ford. The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE–800 CE. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2020.

Abstract: Dreaming is a near-universal human experience, but there is no consensus on why we dream or what dreams should be taken to mean. In this book, Robert Ford Campany investigates what people in late classical and early medieval China thought of dreams. He maps a common dreamscape—an array of ideas about what dreams are and what responses they should provoke—that underlies texts of diverse persuasions and genres over several centuries. These writings include manuals of dream interpretation, scriptural instructions, essays, treatises, poems, recovered manuscripts, histories, and anecdotes of successful dream-based predictions. In these many sources, we find culturally distinctive answers to questions peoples the world over have asked for millennia: What happens when we dream? Do dreams foretell future events? If so, how might their imagistic code be unlocked to yield predictions? Could dreams enable direct communication between the living and the dead, or between humans and nonhuman animals? The Chinese Dreamscape, 300 BCE–800 CE sheds light on how people in a distant age negotiated these mysteries and brings Chinese notions of dreaming into conversation with studies of dreams in other cultures, ancient and contemporary. Taking stock of how Chinese people wrestled with—and celebrated—the strangeness of dreams, Campany asks us to reflect on how we might reconsider our own notions of dreaming.


Chau, Adam Yuet. "'Superstition Specialist Households'? The Household Idiom in Chinese Religious Practices." Minsu quyi 153 (2006): 157-202.


Chau, Adam Yuet. “Modalities of Doing Religion.” In Chinese Religious Life, edited by David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive, and Philip L. Wickeri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp.67-84.


Chen, Daniel C.S., "The Notion of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion and Christian Witness." Asia Journal of Theology 11(1997)1: 72-86.


Chen, Ning, "The Genesis of the Concept of Blind Fate in Ancient China." Journal of Chinese Religions 25 (1997): 141-167.


Cheng, Chih-ming, "Harmony in Popular Belief and Its Relation to Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism." Inter-Religio 35(1999): 31-36.


Cheung, Andrew T., "Popular Conceptions of Karma, Rebirth, and Retribution in Seventeenth-Century China." Chinese Culture 36(1995)3:53-71.


Clart, Philip. "The Concept of 'Popular Religion' in the Study of Chinese Religions: Retrospect and Prospects." In: The Fourth Fu Jen University Sinological Symposium: Research on Religions in China: Status quo and Perspectives, edited by Zbigniew Wesolowski, SVD. Xinzhuang: Furen Daxue chubanshe, 2007. Pp. 166-203.


Dorfman, Diane, "The Spirit of Reform: The Power of Belief in Northern China." Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 4(1996)2: 253-289.


Falkenhausen, Lothar von, "The Concept of Wen in the Ancient Chinese Ancestral Cult." Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 18 (1996): 1-22.


Fan Lizhu, James D. Whitehead & Evelyn Eaton Whitehead. "Fate and Fortune: Popular Religion and Moral Capital in Shenzhen." Journal of Chinese Religions 32(2004): 83-100.


Feuchtwang, Stephan. "Suggestions for a Redefinition of Charisma." Nova Religio 12.2 (2008): 90-105.


Gardner, Daniel, "Ghosts and Spirits in the Sung Neo-Confucian World. Chu Hsi on kuei-shen." Journal of the American Oriental Society 115(1995)4:598-611.


Goossaert, Vincent. L'interdit du boeuf en Chine. Agriculture, éthique et sacrifice. Paris: Collège de France, 2005. Bibliothèque de l'Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises, vol. XXXIV.

Abstract: L'interdit du boeuf (ne pas tuer de bovin, ne pas manger leur chair) se forme entre le 9e et le 13e siècle, en même temps que la religion chinoise moderne dont il est indissociable. Si la justification de cette nouvelle règle éthique se place d'abord au niveau de l'économie agricole -- les bovins, symboles fragiles de la civilisation céréalière chinoise, sont nos compagnons de travail -- la très abondante littérature (traités, poèmes, romans, théâtre, révélation ...) qui exhorte les lecteurs à ne pas tuer et manger les animaux les plus proches de l'homme relie cet interdit à de multiples enjeux: les règles de pureté rituelle (est-il nécessaire d'être végétarien pour être pur?), le choix des animaux sacrificiels (que mangent les dieux?), l'éthique du respect de la vie (tous les animaux sont-ils égaux?). Certains respectent l'interdit, des activistes en faisant même une croisade morale; d'autres le bravent, se démarquant par là-même du reste de la société. L'interdit du boeuf se révèle ainsi comme une perspective inédite et fascinante pour comprendre certains modes de fonctionnement de la société chinoise à la fin de la période impériale: qui dicte les règles éthiques et rituelles: les lettrés, les religieux bouddhistes et taoïstes, les leaders des communautés locales? Finalement, en Chine comme ailleurs, tuer et manger contribuent à ordonner la société. [Source: publisher's website]


Goossaert, Vincent. "The Beef Taboo and the Sacrificial Structure of Late Imperial Chinese Society." In Roel Sterckx [ed.], Of Tripod and Palate: Food, Politics, and Religion in Traditional China. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Pp. 237-248.


Goossaert, Vincent. "Mapping Charisma among Chinese Religious Specialists." Nova Religio 12.2 (2008): 12-28.


Hu, Baozhu. Believing in Ghosts and Spirits: The Concept of Gui in Ancient China. London: Routledge, 2020.

Abstract: The present book by Hu Baozhu explores the subject of ghosts and spirits and attempts to map the religious landscape of ancient China. The main focus of attention is the character gui 鬼, an essential key to the understanding of spiritual beings. The author analyses the character gui in various materials – lexicons and dictionaries, excavated manuscripts and inscriptions, and received classical texts. Gui is examined from the perspective of its linguistic root, literary interpretation, ritual practices, sociopolitical implication, and cosmological thinking. In the gradual process of coming to know the otherworld in terms of ghosts and spirits, Chinese people in ancient times attempted to identify and classify these spiritual entities. In their philosophical thinking, they connected the subject of gui with the movement of the universe. Thus the belief in ghosts and spirits in ancient China appeared to be a moral standard for all, not only providing a room for individual religiosity but also implementing the purpose of family-oriented social order, the legitimization of political operations, and the understanding of the way of Heaven and Earth.


Huang, Martin W., "Karmic Retribution and the Didactic Dilemma in the Xingshi Yinyuan Zhuan." Chinese Studies 15 (1997) 1: 397-440.


Hryniewska, Joanna, Arkadiusz Gut and Michał Wilczewski. "The Chinese Folk Model of the Mental Concept of 'Soul': A Linguistic Perspective." Roczniki Humanistyczne 66, no. 9 (2018): 195–216.

Abstract: The paper focuses on specific intuitions associated with mental concepts—especially with the concept of the soul in Mandarin. The main objective is to seek the basic linguistic meanings that shape folk intuitions about the mental space in Chinese culture through a linguistic analysis performed on the selected data from modern Chinese language dictionaries, authentic language corpora, and literary works. First, we briefly describe the phenomenon of high-level synonymy in Chinese language, including terms for describing mental concepts. Next, we discuss the linguistic realizations of the concept of the mind as it is presumed to be interrelated with the concept of the soul. Then, we present a linguistic analysis of terms used to talk about the soul in Mandarin to show how the concept of the soul is reflected in this language. The analysis allowed us to demarcate the semantic boundaries of the “soul.” We found that the Chinese folk model of this concept distinguishes between two main conceptualizations: (1) the “soul” as an invisible and immaterial part of living creatures, which is not bound permanently to the body, and as a seat of emotions and thoughts, and (2) the “soul” as a quasi-independent spiritual being that shows much creative potential and is able to persist after the physical death of a person or animal. Although we found a tendency to separate the “soul” from the “body”, the “soul” is still functionally conceptualized in relation to the “body.” Accordingly, we provided linguistic evidence supporting the arguments against the radical mind–body dualist position and for the sake of the weak mind–body holism.(Source: journal)


Ikels, Charlotte. "Serving the Ancestors, Serving the State: Filial Piety and Death Ritual in Contemporary Guangzhou." In: Charlotte Ikels [ed.], Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp.88-105.


Jing, Jun. "Meal Rotation and Filial Piety." In: Charlotte Ikels [ed.], Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp.53-62.


Jordan, David K., "Filial Piety in Taiwanese Popular Thought." In Walter H. Slote & George A. De Vos [eds.], Confucianism and the Family. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1998. Pp.267-283.


Kipnis, Andrew B., Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self, and Subculture in a North China Village. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.


Kohn, Livia, "Counting Good Deeds and Days of Life: The Quantification of Fate in Medieval China." Asiatische Studien/Études Asiatiques 52(1998)3: 833-870.


Knapp, Keith Nathaniel. Selfless Offspring: Filial Children and Social Order in Medieval China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005.

Abstract: Both Western and Chinese intellectuals have long derided filial piety tales as an absurd and grotesque variety of children's literature. Selfless Offspring offers a fresh perspective on the genre, revealing the rich historical worth of these stories by examining them in their original context: the tumultuous and politically fragmented early medieval era (A.D. 100-600). At a time when no Confucian virtue was more prized than filial piety, adults were moved and inspired by tales of filial children. The emotional impact of even the most outlandish actions portrayed in the stories was profound, a measure of the directness with which they spoke to major concerns of the early medieval Chinese elite. In a period of weak central government and powerful local clans, the key to preserving a household's privileged status was maintaining a cohesive extended family.

Keith Knapp begins this far-ranging and persuasive study by describing two related historical trends that account for the narrative's popularity: the growth of extended families and the rapid incursion of Confucianism among China's learned elite. Extended families were better at maintaining their status and power, so patriarchs found it expedient to embrace Confucianism to keep their large, fragile households intact. Knapp then focuses on the filial piety stories themselves--their structure, historicity, origin, function, and transmission--and argues that most stem from the oral culture of these elite extended families. After examining collections of filial piety tales, known as Accounts of Filial Children, he shifts from text to motif, exploring the most common theme: the "reverent care" and mourning of parents. In the final chapter, Knapp looks at the relative burden that filiality placed on men and women and concludes that, although women largely performed the same filial acts as men, they had to go to greater extremes to prove their sincerity. [Source: publisher's website]


Lai, Whalen, "Rethinking the Chinese Family: Wandering Ghosts and Eternal Parents." In: Robert Carter & Sheldon Isenberg [eds.], The Ideal in the World's Religions: Essays on the Person, Family, Society, and Environment. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1997. Pp. 253-271.


Li, Yih-yüan, "Notions of Time, Space, and Harmony in Chinese Popular Culture." In: Chun-chieh Huang & Erik Zürcher [eds.], Time and Space in Chinese Culture. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995. Pp.383-398.


Lippiello, Tiziana, Auspicious Omens and Miracles in Ancient China: Han, Three Kingdoms and Six Dynasties. Nettetal: Steyler Verlag, 2001.


Liu, Tseng-kuei. “Taboos: An Aspect of Belief in the Qin and Han.” In: John Lagerwey and Marc Kalinowski [eds.], Early Chinese Religion: Part One: Shang through Han (1250 BC-220 AD). Leiden: Brill, 2009. Pp.881-948.


Miller, Eric T. "Filial Daughters, Filial Sons: Comparisons from Rural China." In: Charlotte Ikels [ed.], Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp.34-52.


Oxfeld, Ellen. “Moral Discourse, Moral Practice, and the Rural Family in Modern China.” In Modern Chinese Religion II, 1850-2015, edited by Vincent Goossaert, Jan Kiely, and John Lagerwey, 401-432. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2016. (Handbook of Oriental Studies, section 4: China, vol.32)

Overmyer, Daniel L. and Chi-tim Lai [eds.], Interpretations of Hope in Chinese Religions & Christianity. Hong Kong: Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture, 2002.


Overmyer, Daniel L., "Hope in Chinese Popular Religious Texts." In: Overmyer, Daniel L. and Chi-tim Lai [eds.], Interpretations of Hope in Chinese Religions & Christianity. Hong Kong: Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture, 2002. Pp. 105-116.


Palmer, David A. “The Body: Health, Nation, and Transcendence.” In Chinese Religious Life, edited by David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive, and Philip L. Wickeri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp.87-106.


Pas, Julian F., "Chinese Beliefs in the 'Soul': Problems and Contradictions in the Popular Tradition." Chinese Studies 15 (1997) 1: 291-349.


Peng, Mu. "Shared Practice, Esoteric Knowledge, and Bai: Envisioning the Yin World in Rural China." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2008. 

Abstract: How do rural Chinese people practice popular religion? Without Church and institutional propagation, how do people form visions of the yin world, the Chinese spiritual world that is the opposite of the yang world where we live? Based upon fieldwork from 2005-2006 in Chaling County, Hunan Province, China, my dissertation explores what and how social processes and agents influence and shape formation and reproduction of religious beliefs and practices in individual and rural community. Portraying how daily life practices, rites of passage, and annual festival performances mold people’s mind and body, I highlight various wandering ritual specialists, who, as ordinary villagers as well as itinerants, shape and are shaped by local tradition. Centering upon how beliefs and practices are reproduced on the ground, my dissertation touches upon wider issues in the study of religion in general and Chinese popular religion in particular. Religion, belief, and ancestor worship are all modern Western categories. What are the Chinese sense of religion, worship, and belief and believing—at least in one place and time? I invoke the local term bai to shed light on the sense of doing religion. On the one hand, bai refers to concrete bodily movements that embody respect and awe, such as bowing, kneeling, or holding up offerings on ritual occasions. On the other hand, villagers not only use bai as a generic term to generalize ritual worship, but also to characterize their religious inclinations and practices. In this sense, my dissertation is an ethnography of bai, of how cultural and social practices cultivate people to bai appropriately and to envisage the yin world at the same time. Religious practices, I argue, instill into people beliefs and ways of doing religion, and deeply engrain visions of the yin world in the acting body and mind as a whole. Religion is not simply a matter of belief. Using case studies in rural China, I aim to offer an ethnographic critique that demonstrates the possibility of religion as a way, as a repertoire, for people to negotiate and come to terms with the dread and desires of life and death. (Source: dissertation)


Poo, Mu-chou, "The Completion of an Ideal World: The Human Ghost in Early Medieval China." Asia Major, 3rd series, 10 (1997) 1/2: 69-94.


Poo, Mu-chou, "The Nature of Hope in Pre-Buddhist Chinese Religion." In: Overmyer, Daniel L. and Chi-tim Lai [eds.], Interpretations of Hope in Chinese Religions & Christianity. Hong Kong: Christian Study Centre on Chinese Religion and Culture, 2002. Pp. 33-60.


Sangren, P. Steven, "'Power' Against Ideology: A Critique of Foucaultian Usage." Cultural Anthropology 10(1995)1: 3-40. [Note: republished as chapter 6 in the author's Chinese Sociologics: An Anthropological Account of the Role of Alienation in Social Reproduction. London: Athlone Press, 2000.]

Abstract: The inadequacies of Michel Foucault's notion of power are examined. Though Foucault's conceptualization of power has gained substantial following in sociology & is invoked as an explanatory principle in social analysis, it is flawed because it assumes demiurgic demonic properties & fails to distinguish between the real operations of power & the ways in which power is represented in social institutions & discourses. Inherent in Foucault's notion is nonacknowledgement of the alienating & idoelogical elements of representations of power. This neglect reduces the coherence of Foucault's notion & its value for academic exploration into the operations of power in social processes. Foucaultian & Chinese conceptions of power are compared. [Source of abstract: D. Generoli,Sociological Abstracts, Inc.]


Sangren, P. Steven. “Fate, Agency, and the Economy of Desire in Chinese Ritual and Society.” Social Analysis 56.2 (2012): 117-135.

Abstract: For many Western observers, Chinese religion and cosmology appear rife with contradictions, among them the recurrent motif in litera- ture and myth of preordination or fate, on the one hand, and a relentless attempt, through ritual means, to discern, control, or change fate, on the other. This article argues that the obsession with fate and luck is best comprehended with reference to desire understood as a human universal. Underlying one's hope to control the future lies a psychologically more fundamental wish to claim ownership of one's being. I argue that fate and luck are operators in a symbolic economy that implicitly posits what Freud terms the 'omnipotence of thoughts'. Moreover, if the underlying principle of Chinese notions of fate and luck can be termed an 'economy of desire', it is a principle that also coordinates and encompasses Chinese patriliny, family dynamics, and wider collective institutions. (Source: journal)


Stafford, Charles, Separation and Union in Modern China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Abstract: In this original and readable book, Charles Stafford describes the Chinese fascination with separation and reunion. Drawing on his field studies in Taiwan and mainland China, he gives a vivid account of raucous festivals of reunion, elaborate rituals for the sending-off of gods (and daughters), poetic moments of leave-takings between friends, and bitter political rhetoric about Chinese national unity. The idioms and practices of separation and reunion - which are woven into the fabric of daily life - help people to explain the passions aroused by the possibility of national division. In this book, the discussion of everyday rituals leads into a unique and accessible general introduction to Chinese and Taiwanese society and culture. [Source: publisher's website]

Contents: Introduction: an anthropology of separation; 1. Two festivals of reunion; 2. The etiquette of parting and return; 3. Greeting and sending-off the dead; 4. The ambivalent threshold; 5. Commensality as reunion; 6. Women and the obligation to return; 7. Developing a sense of history; 8. Classical narratives of separation; 9. The politics of separation and reunion in China and Taiwan; Conclusion: the separation constraint.


Stafford, Charles. “Misfortune and What Can Be Done about It: A Taiwanese Case Study.” Social Analysis 56, no.2 (2012): 90–102.

Abstract: Drawing primarily on ethnographic material from Taiwan, this paper focuses on misfortune, and more especially on the question of whether people are felt to deserve what happens to them - be it bad or good. I examine the cases of several people who have suffered misfortune in life, exploring ways in which they might actively try to make good things happen – as a way of convincing others, an d indeed themselves, that they are, after all, good. In considering these cases, I discuss three intersecting accounts of fate which are widely held by ordinary people in Taiwan and China: a cosmological one, a spirit - focused one, and a social one. (Source: LSE repository)

Sterckx, Roel, The Animal and the Daemon in Early China. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2002.


Sterckx, Roel. “’Of a Tawny Bull We Make Offering’: Animals in Early Chinese Religion.” In: Paul Waldau & Kimberley Patton [eds.], A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Pp. 259-272.


Sweeney, John A. “Unearthing the God of Place: Locating Space/Place in the Discourse(s) on Tudi Gong.” East-West Connections: Review of Asian Studies 8, no.1 (2008): 11-34.


Wang, Danyu. "Ritualistic Coresidence and the Weakening of Filial Practice in Rural China." In: Charlotte Ikels [ed.], Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp.16-33.


Watson, James L., "Living Ghosts: Long-Haired Destitutes in Colonial Hong Kong." In: Alf Hiltebeitel & Barbara D. Miller [eds.], Hair: Its Power and Meaning in Asian Cultures. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998. Pp.177-193.


Weller, Robert P. “Chinese Cosmology and the Environment.” In Chinese Religious Life, edited by David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive, and Philip L. Wickeri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp.124-138.


Weller, Robert P. & Peter Bol, "From Heaven-and Earth to Nature: Chinese Concepts of the Environment and Their Influence on Policy Implementation." In: Mary Evelyn Tucker & John Berthrong [eds.], Confucianism and Ecology: The Interrelation of Heaven, Earth, and Humans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1998. Pp.313-341.


Whyte, Martin King. "Filial Obligations in Chinese Families: Paradoxes of Modernization." In: Charlotte Ikels [ed.], Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp.106-127.


Yu, Jimmy. Sanctity and Self-Inflicted Violence in Chinese Religions, 1500-1700. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Abstract: In this illuminating study of a vital but long overlooked aspect of Chinese religious life, Jimmy Yu reveals that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, self-inflicted violence was an essential and sanctioned part of Chinese culture. He examines a wide range of practices, including blood writing, filial body-slicing, chastity mutilations and suicides, ritual exposure, and self-immolation, arguing that each practice was public, scripted, and a signal of cultural expectations. Individuals engaged in acts of self-inflicted violence to exercise power and to affect society, by articulating moral values, reinstituting order, forging new social relations, and protecting against the threat of moral ambiguity. Self-inflicted violence was intelligible both to the person doing the act and to those who viewed and interpreted it, regardless of the various religions of the period: Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and other religions. This book is a groundbreaking contribution to scholarship on bodily practices in late imperial China, challenging preconceived ideas about analytic categories of religion, culture, and ritual in the study of Chinese religions. [Source: publisher's website]


Zhang, Hong. "'Living Alone' and the Rural Elderly: Strategy and Agency in Post-Mao Rural China." In: Charlotte Ikels [ed.], Filial Piety: Practice and Discourse in Contemporary East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp.63-87.


Zhang, Zhenjun. "From Demonic to Karmic Retribution: Changing Concepts of bao in Early Medieval China as Seen in the You ming lu." Acta Orientalia 66, no.3 (2013): 267-287