Exorcism and Money: The Symbolic World of the Five-Fury Spirits in Late Imperial China

By Qitao Guo | Go to book overview

6
The Social Dimension of the
Wuchang Cult

Thus far, I have presented four stories: one about the origins of Wuchang as a symbol of ghost exorcism, a second about Ming Taizu’s effort to build a new, empirewide unified format of ritual observance, a third about the incorporation of Wuchang into local pantheons or its subordination to lineages’ tutelary deities in the mid-Ming metamorphosis of the official worshipping system, and a fourth about the mythological conflation between Wuchang and other pentad spirits. The meanings of Wuchang these historical processes generated were layered one upon the another, various representations built into a single popular image to form a pattern of symbolism. Behind this pattern lies one final story, that of how the changing symbolism of Wuchang reflected and helped to implement dramatic changes in class and lineage structure in the mid-Ming context and afterward. These changes affected not only state-society and elitecommoner relations, but above all gentry-merchant relations.

At the core of the mid-Ming change was the development of a money economy, particularly manifest in Huizhou, the emerging capital of mercantile activities in late imperial China. From the mid Ming onward, merchants in southern Anhui, particularly those from Huizhou, worshipped Wuchang, but not Wutong, as their patron deity of wealth. In fact, Wuchang appears to have been a mid-Ming substitute for Wutong in Huizhou and southern Anhui at large. This partially explains why the two pentad spirits converged in Huizhou folklore. However, some of the top gentry from the prefecture, and top scholars from other places in Jiangnan as well, denied any linkage between the two. The commoner devotees from southern Anhui, too, insisted that they worshipped Wuchang but

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