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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2010

5 - Spirits of the Penumbra: Dieties Worshiped in More Than One Chinese Pantheon



In his contribution to this volume, Professor Richard Shek has illuminated the “alternative moral universe” of the Eternal Mother sects, a universe made by dissenters from a “Chinese orthodoxy” that he defines as the “doctrine of propriety-and-ritual” (lijiao). Under their religious aspect, the rites of the lijiao were understood to have been an expression of the will of Heaven and its correct performance was necessary for the maintenance of social and cosmic harmony. The sociopolitical content of the lijiao is reduced to its core, the “three bonds” (sangang), which were the paradigmatic relationships between subject and ruler, child and parents, and wife and husband.

In what follows, I turn from Professor Shek's “alternative moral universe” to look at the other term of his polarity – “Chinese orthodoxy.” I start from the assumption of a Chinese social whole, and I understand the social whole under its religious aspect as a hierarchically ordered system comprising four distinct religions (each with its own evolving orthodoxy). These were, first, the legally prescribed official religion of the empire, followed in rank order by Buddhism and Daoism (both of which were quasi-legal, i.e., accommodated and regulated, but not mandated by the law), and, finally, the diffuse popular religion that was embedded in the “natural” communities of village, neighborhood, and household.