China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Mu-chou Poo, Academia Sinica
Chair and Discussant: Robert M. Gimello, University of Arizona
Interest in the religious culture of China has been growing in recent years from the anthropological circle to the historical and literary circles. This panel tries to bring scholarly attention to the formative era of Chinese religious culture, the Early Medieval period. It tries to grapple with the relationship between religion and culture from different angles: Poo gives an overview of the problems of, as well as a survey of recent works on, popular religion in this period. Emphasis will be put on the definition and substance of religion in daily life, and the interrelationship between Taoism, Buddhism and the traditional cults. This paper thus serves as a general background and a framework for the panel. Lin discusses the idea of immortality in the Tai-ping-ching and the relationship between early Taoist religion and the traditional religious idea, thus echoes Poos paper in a specific way. Kieschnick examines one aspect of the cultural influence of Buddhism on China, i.e., the origin of chair. He argues that the chair was first brought to China in the early medieval period by monks and eventually spread to the rest of China. This is a concrete example of the material impact of Buddhism on China, which enlarges our understanding of the cultural aspect of religious life. Lastly, Lai investigates the influence of Taoist Sect of the Celestial Masters on the daily life of the people of the Six Dynasties period. The four papers proposed, hopefully, would add to the dimensions and stimulate new directions for the study of the history and religion of the Six Dynasties period.
Mu-chou Poo, Academia Sinica
In recent years, scholarly attention has gradually begun to focus on the religious beliefs of common people in ancient China. The appearance of new textual as well as archaeological materials further encouraged researches into peoples daily life that was for a long time an obscure area of knowledge. After establishing a preliminary sketch of popular religion in ancient China to the end of the Han dynasty, I began to look into the problem of religion in the daily life of people of the Six Dynasties period. My focus in this paper is to discuss the following points: (1) the appropriateness and historical implications in using the term "popular religion" in this period; (2) the current state of research on the subject of popular religion in this period; and (3) is it possible to talk about a religious life in this period that was neither Buddhist, nor Taoist? In other words, did the ancient beliefs of the pre-Han and Han period survive after the establishment of Buddhism and Taoist religion in China? What is the implication of this? I believe that an inquiry into the mentality behind the daily religious practices and an exploration of the religious substrata underneath the Buddhist and Taoist practices and beliefs are essential for our understanding of the phenomenon of religion in Chinese society, ancient or modern.
Fu-shih Lin, Academia Sinica
The most prominent characteristic of religious Taoism may be its belief in "immortality." Nevertheless, the idea of immortality in the Tai-ping-ching, one of the most important scriptures in the Taoist canon, has not been studied comprehensively. This paper tries to examine this idea as it is presented in the Tai-ping-ching, and to place it in the historical context to see its relationship with the earlier and later traditions of immortality. In the text, we can see that the author(s) synthesized many ideas into one theory of immortality. As the text indicates, immortality is the highest form a human being can achieve. Even though the text declares that only those who have the destiny would have a chance to obtain immortality, it also admits that those who have great merit and have accomplished virtuous deeds could also have the chance to achieve immortality. This means that almost everyone has the potential to reach the goal of immortality. Furthermore, the text instructs people in a number of methods to become an immortal, including taking recipes of immortality, swallowing talismans, engaging in dietetic practices and meditation, living virtuously, creating a peaceful society, etc. It is only after a detailed analysis and comparison that one could say with a certain degree of confidence whether the idea of immortality in the Tai-ping-ching had its origin in the early Han or pre-Han period, and whether the techniques of immortality continued to play prominent roles in Taoist practice in later periods.
John Kieschnick, Academia Sinica
Up to the Tang, Chinese for the most part sat on the ground, on mats. Through the Han, while various sorts of low couches and platforms came into use, chairs were unheard of. In the Tang all of this began to change. We have a few scattered references to chairs in the Tang, as well as a representation of a figure seated in a chair in an early Tang tomb mural. More evidence appears in the late Tang and Five Dynasties period. By the Southern Song, use of the chair had spread throughout Chinese society, and has continued to maintain its position as a basic element in Chinese interiors ever since.
Already in the Song, thoughtful writers contemplated the origins of the Chinese chair, and modern scholars have proposed a number of theories for the chairs origins as well. In my paper, I begin by tracing the rise of the chair in China, and recounting the various proposals for its origin. Next, based on evidence in the Buddhist canon, murals, steles, poetry and travelogues, I argue that the chair was first brought to China in the early medieval period by monks as a form of monastic furniture, and eventually spread from monasteries to the rest of Chinese society. In my conclusion, I reflect on the significance of these findings for our understanding of the impact of Buddhism on Chinese culture.
Chi-tim Lai, Chinese University of Hong Kong
This paper aims to reconstruct the religious life and practices of the Taoist believers of the Sect of Celestial Masters in the Six Dynasties period. Focusing on the question of the religious practice and rituals, this paper will particularly cover the details of the major aspects and requirements of the Church, as well as its own Celestial Masters, upon its adherents, Taoist masters, and administrators. Among the Taoist sects established in southern China, the churches of the Celestial Masters were known to have developed one of the most organized religious structures of life in the history of Chinese religions, namely, church organization, ritual practices and offerings, healing of illness, rite of confession of sins, petitions, and the employment of talismans. Therefore, the example of the sect of the Celestial Masters and its organized religious life deserve to be studied again today, which will be significant for our further understanding the influence of Taoism on the medieval Chinese culture.
Based upon the corpus of the scriptures that belonged to the Sect of Celestial Masters, this paper attempts to re-organize the religious pattern of life that the believers of the Sect were required to observe and practice. More important, it will further illustrate how the kinds of Taoist religious practice, ritual, and festival significantly shaped the cultural worldview and daily life of the Chinese people in the early medieval period.