The Layman and the Spirit-Writing Altar: Peng Shaosheng (1740–96) and the Historiography of Divine Communication

Franziska Hügelmeyer's picture
Type: 
Lecture
Date: 
May 18, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Chinese History / Studies

The Layman and the Spirit-Writing Altar: Peng Shaosheng (1740-96) and the Historiography of Divine Communication

Speaker: Daniel Burton-Rose (Chinese History; IKGF Visiting Fellow)

Time: 18 May 2021, 6:15 pm–7:45 pm Central European Time (US East Coast: 12:15 pm–1:45 pm EST; China: 0:15 am–1:45 am CST) 

This talk is part of a series of virtual lectures hosted by the International Research Consortium “Fate, Freedom, and Prognostication” at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. The full schedule is available at http://ikgf.fau.de/events/upcoming-events/

For online participation, please register anytime at http://ikgf.fau.de/lectures

Abstract:

In this lecture Dr. Burton-Rose focuses on an aspect of Shaosheng’s immense oeuvre that has received significantly less scholarly attention: his compilation of the most extensive archive of spirit-writing transcripts available from the early Qing. Specifically, it concentrates on Presenting Oneself to the Spirits (Zhishen lu 質神錄, preface 1773), a collection of séance transcripts from 1678–1720 that preserve the divine communications of the previous four generations of Shaosheng’s male relatives. Through his editorial comments on these dialogues between mortals and divine beings, Shaosheng developed the theological justifications for spirit-writing practice formulated by his great-grandfather Peng Dingqiu 彭定求 (1645–1719). Specifically, Shaosheng elevated spirit-writing into a method for reuniting Heaven and Man, claiming a place for his own patriline in a chain of divine revelations from the high deity Wenchang that first began in the Song dynasty (960–1279).

A close reading of Presenting Oneself to the Spirits, combined with collation with corroborating sources that precede and follow it, demonstrates how the collective patrilineal concerns of the Peng patriline shaped the collection but also facilitated its coming into being. Peng patriarchs used divine communication to sanction their successes on the civil service examination and the pivotal role they occupied in local elite philanthropic endeavors, but spirit-altar interactions were also one of the key activities through which members of different patrilines coordinated their interests regarding local society. In Shaosheng’s case, the social prestige of belonging to a major patriline and himself engaging in spirit-writing practices facilitated his oral histories with predecessors and copying and preservation of a documentary record that was in danger of disappearing.

Dr. Burton-Rose’s broader contention is that piecemeal use of portions of Shaosheng’s oeuvre without sufficient attention to the social matrix in which it was produced risks underestimating the extent of Shaosheng’s modifications of received materials and perpetuating the collective interests with which he imbued it.

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