Read Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History by Barend J. Ter Haar Online


This book analyzes the role of oral stories in Chinese witch-hunts. Successive chapters deal with the implications of Chinese versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story; the use of parts of the adult human body, children and foetuses, to draw out their life-force; attacks by mysterious creatures, causing open wounds, suffocation, the loss of hair and the like; the presenThis book analyzes the role of oral stories in Chinese witch-hunts. Successive chapters deal with the implications of Chinese versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story; the use of parts of the adult human body, children and foetuses, to draw out their life-force; attacks by mysterious creatures, causing open wounds, suffocation, the loss of hair and the like; the presence of a Drought Demon in the corpses of recently deceased women; and finally the emperor forcibly recruiting unmarried women for his harem. Of interest to historians and anthropologists working on oral traditions, folklore and witch-hunts (also from a comparative perspective), but also to those working on anti-Christian movements and the intersection of popular fears and political history in China....

Title : Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History
Author :
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ISBN : 9789004148444
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 378 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History Reviews

  • Mel
    2019-03-12 22:45

    This was a very ambitious book. In the past historians have looked at specific outbreaks of witchcraft and sorcery, focused on individual stories or looked at specific groups. Ter Haar tried to look at the overall development of scares in general throughout Chinese history (while mainly focusing on the Song and later) and trying to establish patterns and connections of the type of scapegoating and how rumours and scares started. The book covered supernatural scares, such as demons and sorcerers, folk tales, to marriage scares in the light of rumours that the Emperor was wanting to increase his harem. I felt this book would have benefited from an explanation of Ter Haar's methodology. He tried to present these stories as oral history given by the common people. However, as all the sources he used were written sources I thought more of an explanation to their use was needed. He seemed to be using various sources, such as newspapers, local gazettes, court cases and letters, published stories and diaries from the elite. This is a very wide range of material, covered a great deal of time and a great deal of China. How he selected his material and why I think would have been very interesting to learn and would have added strength to his arguments. Ter Haar first turns his attention to different types of demons that are used to frighten children. He looks at the stories chronologically and traces the changes in the antagonist over time. Early accounts talk of the Yehu which is fought off by exorcists, this then turns into the "spotted barbarian" a male demon used to frighten children and eventually becomes "auntie old tiger". The latter would be considered almost a fairy tale. It was a very interesting story I had not come across before about "auntie old tiger" who lured two children into her house. The children sleep with her and she eats the boy who is sleeping on her chest, the girl realises what's going on and fakes needing to pee to get outside, outside she manages to get the old lady to be eaten by tigers. Ter Haar points out how the development of this tale sees the shifting of the demons from male into female. It is worth noting that the stories where the demonic antagonist becomes a woman happens around the same time as the Bodhisattva Guan Yin also undergoing her sex change and becoming a woman (albeit as a were creature). While ter Haar does look a great deal at the variations of regional differences for these demons it is impossible to say if they were the only ones, and therefore if his progression is the only answer, as surely male demons were also common in late imperial China. The next chapter looks at the myths of organ snatching and foetus theft. These stories came about because of the fear that Taoists were wanting to use body parts, usually body parts of children, in their elixirs of immortality. In these cases fear grew in such a way that people were tortured and killed for carrying out such acts. The fear stretched among both the common people and the elite, though the elite would often comment that they found such stories to be only believed by the gullible. In nearly all cases those who were believed to be responsible were marginal outsiders. The Ming and Qing dynasty which saw these rumours at their strongest also had a rising transient population, merchants and religious men who would travel the countryside and be viewed with suspicion. There were also rumours of beggars who would steal children, either to act as beggars or to be sold into prostitution. It is interesting to see that ter Haar is fairly dismissive of all these rumours as anything other than rumours. Page 127 contains the story of monk being attacked for cooking, what they thought was foetuses and made to confess to eating 37 male foetuses and was killed by a mob.. One thing that is mentioned in the scares that I had not previously been aware of is a group of women in the Bamboo Grove (Buddhist) monastery who were particularly famous for gynaecology and healing of women. They had a pill which would treat irregular menstruation and "women's aliments" (128). Chapter 4 looks at westerners, in particular missionaries, as scapegoats of scares. They were strongly believed to be kidnapping, maiming and eating children and were held responsible for the many children that died in their care. Chapter 5, "Demon birds and vicious foxes" seemed to be a little misnamed. Instead of looking specifically at these types of creatures ter Haar focused on attacks on the body including queue cutting. The black terrors, or dark miasmas are covered in this chapter. Chapter 6 looked at "evil emperors" and "wicked women" what was interesting here was that it was the Emperor who was considered to be the marginal outsider. In these stories there were documented marriage scares, cases were families quickly married off their young daughters as there were rumours that the Emperor was looking for palace women. This struck me as very odd as from what I learned in "A Dream of Red Mansions" serving in the palace, or becoming a concubine of the Emperor was considered a great honour for the family and really improved their social standing. It seemed odd to me that families would rather marry an unsuitable commoner rather than have ties to the royal family. Ter Haar partially explained this by saying that the fear associated with these rumours happened when the Emperor was Manchu or Mongol, and the (Han) people feared intermarrying or the dynasty was already viewed as weak. There was an interesting story about "Drought demons". In this case when there was a drought it was blamed on dead old women whose corpses were then dug up and beaten till they came apart. It was thought that these women were really demons. It would be really interesting to investigate this phenomena closer and analyse the specific gender and class issues that were surrounding it, particularly in light of how burial was considered so important, and the marginal place women had in ancestral rights. Another interesting point is that he didn't mention the witchcraft accusations that were quite common between the women of the palace. If you are going to do a book that looks at witchcraft scares this would seem to be an important part to discuss, particularly if you are going to include other examples from the Imperial palace. Overall I enjoyed this book a great deal, it has it's weaker moments but it had some very interesting material and considered many things which I'd not seen looked at before. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese rumours, occult and folk beliefs. Unfortunately it costs about £75 pounds and I'm very glad I was able to borrow it from the SOAS library.