spirit-mediums


spirit-mediums
Mediums possessed by the local gods played a prominent role in the religious life of China into the twentieth century. These mediums channel the commands of the gods to their supplicants. Some also channel the dead. Some mediums write out messages or medical prescriptions from the gods with a planchette on sand or some other medium. Many are illiterate, but nonetheless compose powerful talismans. To demonstrate the power of the possessing god, these mediums cut themselves with swords, skewers or other weapons, displaying an uncanny imperviousness to pain. They also perform extraordinary feats, such as falling into trance, leaping and shouting, climbing sword ladders, walking across fire, and so forth. They still frequent temple festivals in Taiwan, in the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, and in southern China. In south China these mediums are referred to as ‘divination lads’ or ‘children of the gods’.
After going into trance, they often go barefoot, loosen their hair and don a child’s apron. Such activities have been declared illegal and branded as prime examples of ‘feudal superstition’ by Republican and CCP governments, and they are still illegal under the most recent, comparatively relaxed regulations on lawful religious practice in China (see religious policies of the state). Despite these bans, in the past twenty years performances by spirit-mediums have become fairly common in many parts of China, particularly in the southeast coast of Fujian, where mediums frequently enter into trance on the festivals of the local gods (see temple fairs). They are carried on sedan chairs in processions, skewer or cut themselves, climb sword ladders, and consult with the gods or the dead to solve urgent social or familial problems. Young mediums are beginning to emerge, but in most areas the traditions of training and transmission have been interrupted. In a few areas, all young village boys are given training in the chanting of invocations, collective dance and ritual performance inside temples to prepare for a role as either a spirit-medium or an altar-lad assistant. Chinese spirit-mediums should be distinguished from shamans of the Siberian kind, who go on long spirit journeys. Some journeys to the underworld have been reported by a class of mediums working with Daoist priests involved in death rituals, but the majority of mediums in China are possessed by local gods or dead relatives, and act out communication between the unseen and the visible.
Davis, Edward (2001). Society and the Supernatural in Song China. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Dean, Kenneth and Zheng, Zhenman (1994). ‘Group Initiation and Exorcistic Dance in the Xinghua region’. Min-su ch’ü-i [Studies in Ritual, Folklore and Theatre] 91:567–640.
KENNETH DEAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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