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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Rooms 8 & 9, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Wednesday, 19 February, 2020 - 16:00 to 17:30

China Research Seminar talk given by Dr Noga GananyLecturer in late imperial Chinese literature, University of Cambridge

*** Please note the unusually early start time of this week's talk ***

Travel looms large in the lore of Zhenwu, a warrior-god who is best known for his exorcistic journeys and divine residence on Mount Wudang, a major pilgrimage center in Hubei Province. In late imperial China, particularly during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Zhenwu’s reverence and his cult center on Mount Wudang enjoyed unprecedented popularity as well as generous imperial patronage. It was also during this period that the life story of Zhenwu was increasingly used by writers and publishers in re-visualizing China’s cultural geography. In this talk, I will explore this hagiographical re-imagining of the world by focusing on three contemporaneous late-Ming works: the narrative-text Origin Story of Zhenwu (later known as Journey to the North, 1602), the encyclopedia Sancai tuhui (1607), and the geographical compendium Hainei qiguan (1609). While these works vary in style, format, and purpose, they share a common conception of Mount Wudang that centers on the life of Zhenwu. Origin Story of Zhenwu offers a captivating, illustrated narrative of Zhenwu’s hagiography, coupled with a ritual manual for the worship of Zhenwu, that remained in circulation for centuries to come. The encyclopedia Sancai tuhui and the compendium Hainei qiguan were part of a broader attempt in late-Ming commercial publishing to present a comprehensive vision of the world that would be accessible – and aesthetically appealing – to a broad readership. Whether their targeted readers were potential pilgrims or “armchair travelers,” all three works reveal a vision of Mount Wudang as a bridge between the human, the demonic, and the divine that is discursively constructed by the lore of Zhenwu. I argue that these ambitious projects not only shed light on the literati’s project to reorganize all knowledge about the world and broadcast it to a wide readership, but also reveal the important role that commercial publishers played in reinterpreting the cultural and religious traditions that shaped China’s imagined landscape in late-imperial China.

Professor Hans van de Ven FBA: