Chapter

Plague Demons and Epidemic Gods

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520234086.003.0005
Plague Demons and Epidemic Gods

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For noble and commoner alike, the scourge of illness was perhaps the most compelling evidence for the existence of demons. The Chinese attributed illness, like misfortune in general, either to adventitious affliction by some malefic entity or to just punishment inflicted on the victim for his or her own moral transgressions. Thus the agents of sickness and plague were sometimes perceived as demons, and in other cases as the minions of divine justice. This ambiguity was also characteristic of the Wutong cult. In the realm of illness and disease, as in Chinese religion in general, the emphasis shifted away from ancestors or malevolent ghosts toward gods and their underlings as the primary sources of supernatural affliction. To the Shang, illness, like war and harvest failure, was an ominous symptom of a rupture in the reciprocal economy of exchange between deified ancestors and their mortal descendants. The rise of correlative cosmology in the Warring States and early Han periods profoundly altered Chinese conceptions of disease and medicine.

Keywords: illness; plague; demons; Wutong; disease; gods; ancestors; correlative cosmology; medicine

Chapter.  11477 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Christianity

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