Special Issue "Religion and Chinese Literature"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 July 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Zhange Ni
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Religion and Culture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The modern, Western, and Christian category of religion as interiorized and depoliticized piety was translated into China in the late nineteenth century and triggered transformations in ideas, practices, institutions, and communities included in or excluded from this non-native model, transformations whose ramifications are still palpable today. However, China is not without its own discourses comparable, but not always commensurable, with “religion.” In classical Chinese, the character jiao, meaning teaching and phonetically related to xiao (filial piety), was used together with words such as zong in medieval Buddhism to form the compound zongjiao, which designates the set of teachings identified with of a particular lineage, or san as in sanjiao, referring to the three main traditions of China: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. In this light, the compound zongjiao in modern Chinese, is both a neologism invented (first in Meiji Japan) to translate “religion” from the West and a reiteration of pre-modern Chinese concepts. “Religion” in China, that is, the modern concept of zongjiao, is a product of sustained and multi-layered negotiations and contestations both within and beyond China.

Much scholarly attention has been paid to transformations in the empirical realities grouped under the category of “religion”/zongjiao, which is flanked by the hegemonic “science”/kexue and the illegitimate “superstition”/mixin. The making of “religion”/zongjiao is located at the very heart of the project of secularism, a social, political, legal-constitutional discourse that has been deployed to reconfigure pre-existing traditions, if they were labelled as religious in the first place, as church-like institutions, and to reorganize diffused ideas and practices into the stigmatized “superstition” and the acceptable “popular belief,” the boundaries between these two blurred and flexible. And, it is the putatively secular nation-state that regulates all these religions and nonreligions. However, secularism is not limited to doctrines dictating the relationship between (institutional) religion and (state) politics. Secularism also permeates culture in general, in the form of shared assumptions, sensibilities, attitudes, and dispositions centered upon the place and role of religion in the modern world. In this regard, in the wake of, and supplementing, scholarly investigations into state campaigns, institutional reforms, and social movements, we need to study Chinese literature, a relatively uncharted terrain where “religion”/zongjiao was brought into being and remains an open-ended question.

It is to be emphasized that the model of aesthetic “literature,” not unlike the category of “religion,” was imported into China from the West in late Qing and translated as wenxue. Whereas the modern compound of wenxue designates an autonomous field distinguished from other social spheres and encompassing specific genres such as fiction, poetry, and drama, the traditional concept of wen, counterpart of jiao as the native forerunner of zongjiao, denotes writings, both in prose genres and poetic forms, performed by literati for the sake of cultivating the self and upholding civilization in general. The semantic fields of wen and of wenxue, just like those of jiao and of zongjiao, do not always overlap. The transformations of religion and literature, two sets of discourses, institutions, and practices, are closely intertwined.

To shed light on this entanglement and the complexity of Chinese secularism in the realm of culture, we invite articles that study religion and literature in China, both broadly construed, before, during, and/or after the translation of “religion” and “literature.” We are especially keen to solicit submissions that explore the religion-literature interaction from the late imperial period up to the present, but we also welcome submissions that a) take us to explore earlier periods to further our understanding of jiao and wen; or b) look beyond the limits of national history to study the circulation of ideas and practices between China, the West, and/or some other non-Western context.

Dr. Zhange Ni
Guest Editor

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Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Xiuzhen (Immortality Cultivation) Fantasy: Science, Religion, and the Novels of Magic/Superstition in Contemporary China
Religions 2020, 11(1), 25; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11010025 - 02 Jan 2020
Abstract
In early twenty-first-century China, online fantasy is one of the most popular literary genres. This article studies a subgenre of Chinese fantasy named xiuzhen 修真 (immortality cultivation), which draws on Daoist alchemy in particular and Chinese religion and culture in general, especially that [...] Read more.
In early twenty-first-century China, online fantasy is one of the most popular literary genres. This article studies a subgenre of Chinese fantasy named xiuzhen 修真 (immortality cultivation), which draws on Daoist alchemy in particular and Chinese religion and culture in general, especially that which was negatively labelled “superstitious” in the twentieth century, to tell exciting adventure stories. Xiuzhen fantasy is indebted to wuxia xiaoshuo 武俠小說 (martial arts novels), the first emergence of Chinese fantasy in the early twentieth century after the translation of the modern Western discourses of science, religion, and superstition. Although martial arts fiction was suppressed by the modernizing nation-state because it contained the unwanted elements of magic and supernaturalism, its reemergence in the late twentieth century paved the way for the rise of its successor, xiuzhen fantasy. As a type of magical arts fiction, xiuzhen reinvents Daoist alchemy and other “superstitious” practices to build a cultivation world which does not escape but engages with the dazzling reality of digital technology, neoliberal governance, and global capitalism. In this fantastic world, the divide of magic and science breaks down; religion, defined not by faith but embodied practice, serves as the organizing center of society, economy, and politics. Moreover, the subject of martial arts fiction that challenged the sovereignty of the nation-state has evolved into the neoliberal homo economicus and its non-/anti-capitalist alternatives. Reading four exemplary xiuzhen novels, Journeys into the Ephemeral (Piaomiao zhilv 飄渺之旅), The Buddha Belongs to the Dao (Foben shidao 佛本是道), Spirit Roaming (Shenyou 神遊), and Immortality Cultivation 40K (Xiuzhen siwannian 修真四萬年), this article argues that xiuzhen fantasy provides a platform on which the postsocialist generation seek to orient themselves in the labyrinth of contemporary capitalism by rethinking the modernist triad of religion, science, and superstition. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
Open AccessArticle
Looking Beyond the Social: Religion as a Solution to Alienation in Xu Dishan’s, Bing Xin’s, and Su Xuelin’s Republican Era Literature
Religions 2019, 10(12), 664; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10120664 - 06 Dec 2019
Abstract
I argue that by participating in religious cultural phenomena, the protagonists of Xu Dishan’s and Su Xuelin’s fiction cultivate values that allow them to overcome their sense of social alienation by making them feel more confident about their ability to strengthen their relationships [...] Read more.
I argue that by participating in religious cultural phenomena, the protagonists of Xu Dishan’s and Su Xuelin’s fiction cultivate values that allow them to overcome their sense of social alienation by making them feel more confident about their ability to strengthen their relationships with others. These values include selflessness in the literature of both authors, as well as compassion in Su Xuelin’s literature. I further argue that these two authors’ literary narratives use the category of religion to label these values as existing outside of the space of human social interactions. This then allows protagonists to view the cultivation of these values as an ostensibly perfected resolution to their feeling of social alienation, which in the first place is caused by the imperfect sphere of human social interactions. The two case studies upon which this study draws to exemplify the argument include Yuguan from Xu Dishan’s Yuguan and Xingqiu from Su Xuelin’s Thorny Heart. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
Open AccessArticle
Gender and Superstition in Modern Chinese Literature
Religions 2019, 10(10), 588; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100588 - 21 Oct 2019
Abstract
This article offers a new perspective on the study of the discourse on superstition (mixin) in modern China. Drawing upon recent work on the import of the concept “superstition” to the colonial world during the 19th century, the article intervenes in [...] Read more.
This article offers a new perspective on the study of the discourse on superstition (mixin) in modern China. Drawing upon recent work on the import of the concept “superstition” to the colonial world during the 19th century, the article intervenes in the current study of the circulation of discursive constructs in area studies. This intervention is done in two ways: first, I identify how in the modern era missionaries and Western empires collaborated in linking anti-superstition thought to discourses on women’s liberation. Couched in promises of civilizational progress to cultures who free their women from backward superstitions, this historical connection between empire, gender and modern knowledge urges us to reorient our understanding of superstition merely as the ultimate other of “religion” or “science.” Second, in order to explore the nuances of the connection between gender and superstition, I turn to an archive that is currently understudied in the research on superstition in China. I propose that we mine modern Chinese literature by using literary methods. I demonstrate this proposal by reading China’s first feminist manifesto, The Women’s Bell by Jin Tianhe and the short story Medicine by Lu Xun. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
Open AccessArticle
Seeking the Dharma on the World Stage: Lü Bicheng and the Revival of Buddhism in the Early Twentieth Century
Religions 2019, 10(10), 558; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100558 - 27 Sep 2019
Abstract
This article focuses on the Chinese woman writer Lü Bicheng 呂碧城 (1883–1943) and her relationship with the worldwide movement for the revival of Buddhism in the early twentieth century. Lü rose up in the context of the “new woman” ideal and transcended that [...] Read more.
This article focuses on the Chinese woman writer Lü Bicheng 呂碧城 (1883–1943) and her relationship with the worldwide movement for the revival of Buddhism in the early twentieth century. Lü rose up in the context of the “new woman” ideal and transcended that ideal as she rejected the dualistic thinking that was prevalent in her time. She embraced both reason and religion, as well as both modern and traditional ideas. Her story demonstrates that religion and the creation of the “new woman” were not mutually exclusive in her life. In the 1920s and 1930s, Lü traveled extensively in the United States and Europe and eventually converted to Buddhism after she witnessed its popularity in the West. During this period, she successfully created a social space for herself by utilizing Buddhist sources to engage in intellectual dialogues on paranormal phenomena and animal protection. At the same time, she carved out a place for Buddhism in the discourse on the convergence and divergence of science and religion after the First World War (1914–1918). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
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Open AccessArticle
Family History in an Old Genre: The Strange Tales of Lü Meisun and Guo Zeyun
Religions 2019, 10(10), 547; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100547 - 23 Sep 2019
Abstract
Recording personal and family history has been a secondary purpose of the zhiguai (tales of the strange) genre from its inception. As there is no proven female author of a surviving collection before the 20th century, these family histories were shaped by male [...] Read more.
Recording personal and family history has been a secondary purpose of the zhiguai (tales of the strange) genre from its inception. As there is no proven female author of a surviving collection before the 20th century, these family histories were shaped by male collectors recording tales told by both female and male informants. Yet in the Republican period, when the practice of recording strange incidents from memory or hearsay had become a marginal practice, Lü Meisun 呂美蓀 (1881–1945) published two collections. Lü’s work stands at a fascinating intersection of gender, genre, and cultural change. She presents a family history centered on the female side of her family and her personal spiritual autobiography against the larger backdrop of cultural transformation from the late Qing through the Republican period. In this paper, I consider a male author of zhiguai during the same years, Guo Zeyun 郭則澐 (1882–1946), for comparison. With their differing conceptions of family, both writers strive to convert familial memory and strange experience into meaning relevant for a wider audience in the present moment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
Open AccessArticle
Vernacular “Fiction” and Celestial Script: A Daoist Manual for the Use of Water Margin
Religions 2019, 10(9), 518; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090518 - 06 Sep 2019
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and Chinese Literature)
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