Divine Injustice and Frail Deities in the Stories of Hong Mai
Keywords:洪邁, 《夷堅志》, 宋代民間宗教, 韓明士, 鬼魂, 動物神靈, Hong Mai, Yijian zhi, Song dynasty popular religion, Robert Hymes, ghosts, animal spirits
LANGUAGE NOTE | Document text in Chinese; abstract also in English.
Hong Mai’s (1123-1202) Yijian zhi (Records of Yijian) is well-known as a rich source for Song dynasty popular religion and the beliefs about supernatural creatures. This paper looks at aspects of Yijian zhi stories that belong to such beliefs but are often overlooked in studies of Song popular religion: (1) actions by gods and supernatural creatures that are amoral and deceptive or even cruel and unjust; and (2) the human weaknesses often displayed by gods and other divinities. The first of these is analyzed as part of a continuum found in Hong Mai’s stories that stretches from divine justice (including karmic retribution) all the way to divine treachery and cruelty. This is explained as a projection of deep human ambivalence about the reliability of the divine. The second is a projection of human personality traits upon the divine, which makes them flawed, unpredictable and, in a word, “more like us.” The two traits are absolutely central to the nature of divine agents in Hong Mai’s tales and also help to explain their effectiveness as literature and their enduring appeal.
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