Communicating Civilization Through Rituals: Mount Tai Pilgrimages in Song China, 960-1279

In: Journal of Chinese Humanities

This paper examines the imperial feng 封 and shan 禪 ritual at Mount Tai in 1008 and its connection with popular pilgrimages among the Mount Tai cult. It aims to demonstrate how ritual can be used as a tool of the imperial state in communicating its political and cultural agenda.

Placing the imperial pilgrimage within its historical context at the turn of the eleventh century, it can be understood as an effort to secure mass identification with the state and its authority. More importantly, it could be used to establish ownership of Chinese civilization by the Song dynasty (960-1279) in its competition with the Khitan, who had long adopted Chinese institutions and ideology. Various strategies were deployed by the throne to communicate the imperial symbolism of the mountain. The mountain, therefore, had become valuable symbolic capital. Through the composition of temple inscriptions, the literati were able to redefine the popular ritual practices of the Mount Tai cult and brought them into a hegemonic discourse on the mountain. This facilitated the construction of an imperial cultural identity accessible to all social groups and allowed an abstract concept of Chinese culture to be communicated through the fabric of society.

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  • 2

    See for instance Cannadine“Introduction” 3; Raymond Firth Symbols Public and Private (London: Allen and Unwin 1973); Clifford Geertz “Centers Kings and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power” in Culture and Its Creators ed. Joseph Ben-David and Terry N. Clark (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1977); Victor Turner Dramas Field and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1974).

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  • 3

    Clifford GeertzNegara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press1980) 13 136.

  • 5

    Terry Kleeman“Mountain Deities in China: The Domestication of the Mountain God and the Subjugation of the Margins,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 114 no. 2 (April-June 1994): 226.

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  • 6

    Brian R. DottIdentity Reflections: Pilgrimages to Mount Tai in Late Imperial China (Cambridge: Harvard University Press2004) 30.

  • 9

    Kleeman“Mountain Deities in China” 228.

  • 11

    Kleeman“Mountain Deities in China” 230.

  • 12

    DottIdentity Reflections31.

  • 14

    WechslerOfferings of Jade and Silk171.

  • 16

    WechslerOfferings of Jade and Silk170.

  • 18

    Edouard ChavannesLe T’ai Chan: Essai de monographie d’un culte chinois (Paris: Ernest Leroux1910) 398-399; Kleeman “Mountain Deities in China” 230; Ye Tao Taishan xiangshe yanjiu (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe 2009) 53.

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  • 19

    Susan Naquin“The Peking Pilgrimage to Miao-Feng-Shan: Religious Organizations and Sacred Site,” in Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in Chinaed. Susan Naquin and Chü-fang Yü (Berkeley: University of California Press1992) 4.

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  • 21

    Kleeman“Mountain Deities in China” 230.

  • 28

    Wang Gungwu“The Rhetoric of a Lesser Empire: Early Sung Relations with Its Neighbors” in China Among Equalsed. Morris Rossabi (Berkeley: University of California Press1983) 47.

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  • 29

    James L. Watson“Standardizing the Gods: The Promotion of T’ien Hou Along the South China Coast, 960-1960,” in Popular Culture in Late Imperial Chinaed. David Johnson Andrew J. Nathan and Evelyn S. Rawski (Berkeley: University of California Press1985) 292.

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  • 30

    Lau Nap-Yin and Huang K’uan-Chung“Founding and Consolidation of the Sung Dynasty Under T’ai-tsu, T’ai-tsung, and Chen-tsung,” in Cambridge History of Chinavol. 5 pt. 1: The Sung Dynasty and Its Precursors 907-1279 ed. Denis Twitchett and Paul J. Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2009) 262-270.

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  • 36

    Ge ZhaoguangZhongguo sixiang shi (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe2001) 2: 168-172; He Pingli “Song Zhenzong dongfen xisi luelun” Xueshu yuekan no. 2 (2005).

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  • 37

    Tang“Dailan,” juan 3: 36.

  • 41

    Ibid.juan 9: 212.

  • 42

    WechslerOfferings of Jade and Silk4.

  • 45

    Ibid.27.

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    F.W. MoteImperial China 900-1800 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press1999) 112-113.

  • 47

    Rossabi“Introduction.” in China Among Equals7.

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    Zhang GuoqingLiaodai shehui shi yanjiu (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe2001) 221-222.

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    Wang Chengli“Qidan ji heishan de kaocha,” in Liao-Jin shi lunjied. Zhang Changgen (Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe) 6: 21.

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  • 55

    Ibid.2225.

  • 62

    Ge Zhaoguang“Songdai Zhongguo yishi de tuxian—guanyu jinshi minzu zhuyi sixiang de yige yuanyuan,” Wen shi zheno. 1 (2004): 9.

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  • 70

    Ibid.1575-1577.

  • 71

    WechslerOfferings of Jade and Silk3.

  • 72

    Lei Ge“The Heavens Are High and the Emperor Is Near: An Imperial Power System That Is Open to the People,” Journal of Chinese Humanities 1 no. 1 (2015).

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  • 77

    Ibid. 70: 1577.

  • 78

    Prasenjit Duara“Superscribing Symbols: The Myth of Guandi, Chinese God of War,” Journal of Asian Studies 47 no. 4 (November 1988): 780.

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  • 80

    Zhou Ying“Dongyue miao zai quanguo de chuanbo yu fenbu,” Taishan xueyuan xuebao 30 no. 2 (March 2008): 17.

  • 83

    Duara“Superscribing Symbols” 81.

  • 84

    David Johnson“The City-God Cults of T’ang and Sung China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 45 no. 2 (December 1985): 363-457.

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