Ancestors, Ghosts, and Gods in Ancient China

Richard von Glahn

in The Sinister Way

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 2004 | ISBN: 9780520234086
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928770 | DOI:
Ancestors, Ghosts, and Gods in Ancient China

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Although only dimly perceived before the advent of modern archaeology, the Shang kingdom, which ruled over the North China Plain in the late second millennium BCE, is now recognized as the progenitor of many basic features of Chinese religious culture. The eudaemonistic beliefs and practices that became the foundation for later Chinese vernacular religion were already present in the court religion of the Shang dynasty. The subsequent Zhou dynasty (ca.1045-256 bce) incorporated many of these practices into its own ritual culture, but the Zhou also departed from the Shang in formulating the earliest version of the moral equilibrium orientation, the cult of Heaven. Arthur Wolf's tripartite division of the supernatural realm into gods, ancestors, and ghosts can also be observed in ancient times, but the status and significance of these categories of divine beings differed greatly from their modern counterparts. Communication between Shang rulers and their ancestors via divination was essential to governance, since all important decisions were based on oracles.

Keywords: China; Shang dynasty; Zhou dynasty; religion; religious culture; cult of Heaven; gods; ancestors; ghosts; oracles

Chapter.  10440 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Christianity

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