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The Image And Status Of Shamans In Ancient China

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Chapter Summary

This chapter analyzes the social image of shamans in early Chinese society and presents the reasons for the changes in their social and political status from the pre-Qin through the Han. It looks at the primary basis for Zheng Xuan's assessment of ancient shamanism, namely, the definition of shamans given in the Discourses of the states. Various officials who had once been a part of the entourage of the feudal leaders-shamans, invocators, sacrificers, diviners-lost their positions and could no longer rely on their techniques such as sacrifice, astrology, divination and healing to retain their position in the ruling class. Having lost their source of livelihood, they had little choice but to use their religious knowledge to "serve" (or "cheat" or "scare") ordinary members of society and thereby make a living. Others turned to wandering from state to state, seeking new benefactors among the lords and aristocrats.

Keywords: early Chinese society; Eastern Han; political status; Shamans; social status; Zheng Xuan



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