Empowered Writing
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Empowered Writing

Exorcistic and Apotropaic Rituals in Medieval China

Paperback 34.95 USD
PDF download 15.00 USD To order, please go to www.lulu.com
Stephan Peter Bumbacher
220 Pages, illustrated
June 2012
ISBN 978-1-931483-23-0


Empowered Writing explores the inherent powers of Chinese talismans, petitions, registers, and holy scriptures, presenting a systematic study of their exorcistic and apotropaic properties. The book divides into three parts: tallies, petitions, and scriptures--all inherently empowered since they originate from the very same primordial energy as Dao, the heavens, and highest gods.

Tallies emerge as certificates of legitimation, used both in the imperial government and in religion. Petitions and registers, on the other hand, are writings addressed to higher ranking spirits to control demons, disease, and misfortunes.

Scriptures, third, contain power even in their physical presence: entrained with superior spiritual beings, they can exorcize evil spirits and negative energies. This feature holds also true in Buddhism, where the readers of sutras can count on the support of unseen guardian buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Using a vast arsenal of original sources, the book traces the unfolding and transformation of empowered writing from the Warring States period through the Six Dynasties, closely examining the different kinds of writing, their uses, and interpretation as well as relating uniquely Daoist features to imperial and Buddhist usages. The book is pathbreaking in its endeavor and stunning in its depth of analyis. It is a must for all China historians and scholars of religion.

The Author

Stephan Peter Bumbacher is professor of Chinese Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Tuebingen. He also teaches Classical Chinese and Chinese religions at the University of Zurich, and Comparative Religion at the University of Basel. His main research interests are Daoist studies, the interactions between religions, as well as textual criticism. He is the author of The Fragments of the Daoxue zhuan (2000) and the co-editor of The Spread of Buddhism (2007).


No one, to my knowledge, has so fully engaged the important topic of fu, the credential of authority used so widely in Daoism. Bumbacher explores and carefully distinguishes the various terms used for this sort of document in a variety of social contexts. Bumbacher's care, at each step of his analysis, to place Daoist ritual items and practices in the context of Chinese society, including Buddhist society, is eminently praiseworthy. Bumbacher's findings on the Daoist cult of the book is important and stunning in its implications. He concludes that the Daoist attitude toward scripture changed fundamentally in the fourth century as a result of new knowledge of the way Buddhists treated their sutras. This finding has wide reaching implications and, while advancing our knowledge vastly, will prompt international discussion.

--Stephen R. Bokenkamp, Arizona State University

Based on three rituals attested in texts of the fourth and fifth centuries C.E., Bumbacher demonstrates that one can only reconstruct the use of writing, texts, and scriptures philologically and religio-historically in a proper manner if one abandons the obsolete notion of magic as defined by Frazer. Beyond that, I find his arguments particularly convincing that make evident the structural identity between and influence of administrative acts, bureaucracy, court ceremonies, and complex religious rituals. 

--Burkhard Gladigow, University of Tuebingen

To see the table of contents and the introduction, please click here: WritIntro.pdf