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Vernacular “Fiction” and Celestial Script: A Daoist Manual for the Use of Water Margin

Department of Chinese Culture, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China
Religions 2019, 10(9), 518; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090518
Received: 23 July 2019 / Revised: 14 August 2019 / Accepted: 26 August 2019 / Published: 6 September 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
This article maps out a sphere of ritual practice that recognizably serves as a framework for the famous Ming dynasty (1368–1644) vernacular narrative Water Margin (水滸傳 Shuihu zhuan). By establishing a set of primary referents that are ritual in nature, I question the habit of applying the modern category of “literary fiction” in a universalizing, secular way, marginalizing or metaphorizing Daoist elements. I argue that literary analysis can only be fruitful if it is done within the parameters of ritual. Although I tie the story’s ritual framework to specific Daoist procedures for imprisoning demonic spirits throughout the article, my initial focus is on a genre of revelatory writing known as “celestial script” (天書 tianshu). This type of script is given much attention at important moments in the story and it is simultaneously known from Daoist ritual texts. I show a firm link between Water Margin and the uses of “celestial script” by presenting a nineteenth century Daoist ordination manual that contains “celestial script” for each of Water Margin’s 108 heroic protagonists. View Full-Text
Keywords: Shuihu zhuan; ritual; revelation; celestial script; literary interpretation Shuihu zhuan; ritual; revelation; celestial script; literary interpretation
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Meulenbeld, M. Vernacular “Fiction” and Celestial Script: A Daoist Manual for the Use of Water Margin. Religions 2019, 10, 518.

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