History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth

By Paul A. Cohen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Mass Spirit Possession

When we took up Spirit Boxing [Shenquan], we were first told . . . to write down on a piece of red paper our names, home villages, and how many we were. The six of us then kneeled down and burned incense; we didn't burn white paper. We requested teachers. I requested Sun Bin.a They requested Liu Bei, Zhang Fei,b and such people. We requested the gods to attach themselves to our bodies [qiushen futi]. When they had done so, we became Spirit Boxers, after which we were invulnerable to swords and spears, our courage was enhanced, and in fighting we were unafraid to die and dared to charge straight ahead. This is how it was when the six of us became Spirit Boxers.

Xie Jiagui, former Boxer, Chiping county, Shandong

It is reported that when they practice boxing they assemble several untutored boys who stand facing the southeast. The teacher pulls the right ear of each youngster with his hand and has him recite a charm three times. The charm goes as follows: "I beseech the Holy Mother of the West Emituofo [Amitabha]." When they've completed the charm the boys fall to the ground on their backs and almost stop breathing. After a brief interval [the teacher] makes them get up and dance or he gives them sticks to serve as swords and they pair off and fight, as if engaging an adversary. They really behave as if they are drunk or in a dream state. After a long while the teacher strikes each boy's upper garment with his hand and calls out his real name. Thereupon the lads suddenly return to their senses and stand erect like wooden chickens. They have no recollection of the boxing techniques [they've just used]. It's as if they are completely different people from the ones fighting a few moments earlier.

Sawara Tokusuke, Japanese resident, North China

On that day [ May 27, 1900], after arriving in Xiong county [in Baoding prefecture, Zhili], the members of my family went to have a look at the boxing

____________________
a
A one-legged warrior of the Warring States period ( 403-221 B.C.).
b
Liu Bei was a political leader, Zhang Fei, a general, during the Three Kingdoms period ( third century A.D.). Both were also characters in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

-96-

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