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The Illusion of Standardizing the Gods: The Cult of the Five Emperors in Late Imperial China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 March 2010

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Nineteenth-century observers of the Fuzhou area, both Chinese and Western, were struck by the worship of a group of deities associated with pestilence and epidemic disease. The local people called these gods the Five Emperors (Wudi). To Justus Doolittle, an American missionary stationed in Fuzhou, Proclaimed Zuo Zongtang, Governor-General of Fujian and Zhejiang: “the rival societies for getting up processions to parade the idols have from the beginning violated the law and corrupted morals, hence the evil must be stopped without delay” (Zuo 1867, 22). While these two observers each brought his own concern to bear on his perceptions of popular belief and ritual practice, they were united in their focus on the dangers the worship of these deities posed to public morality and order; neither was much interested in the identities or histories of these gods. But a detailed investigation of their identities and histories may explain how the deities were perceived as dangerous to public morality and order, and offers rich insight into the social history of Late Imperial China.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1997

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