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Fantômes dans l'Extrême-Orient d'hier et d'aujourd'hui - Tome 1

 | 
Marie Laureillard
, 
Vincent Durand-Dastès

Visions et contours

The Other Child: Symbols of Life and Death in Medieval China

“L’enfant autre”: symbole de vie et de mort dans la Chine médiévale

「異童」 : 中古中國的生死象征

Annika Pissin

Résumé

In early medieval and medieval Chinese narratives children appear as transformed objects, divine assistants, servants or messengers of underworld administrators or medical deities. The less supervision and thus the greater independence from adults a child had, the creepier and more potentially dangerous he was. Some of these child figures were assistants or messengers between a person’s body and the universe, and adult men who encountered them felt the need to kill them. Such children are here called “other children”; they were uncanny boys who evoked feelings of mistrust, and even disgust or fear in adults confronted with them.
This article, which is mostly based on zhiguai narratives from the third to the tenth century C.E., focuses on children and youth who derive from the supernatural realm. It starts out with a brief introduction about well-explored supernatural assistants, which leads into a discussion on how children are externalized and visualized coming from adult bodies. The article concludes by examining children who appear outside the confines of human enclosure and who share a mischievous nature. Far from promising a finished analysis about otherworldly children in medieval China, this article aims to raise awareness and curiosity about child figures in texts.

Dans les récits de la Chine médiévale, les enfants sont susceptibles d’apparaître surnaturellement sous forme d’objets, ou d’assistants, de serviteurs ou de messagers des divinités du monde souterrain ou des dieux guérisseurs. Un enfant semble avoir été perçu comme d’autant plus effrayant ou potentiellement dangereux qu’il était laissé sans supervision par les adultes et indépendant d’eux. Certaines de ces apparitions enfantines agissent comme messagers entre le corps d’une personne et le monde extérieur, provoquant chez les grandes personnes qui en font la rencontre le désir de les tuer. Nous appelons ici ces apparitions « enfants autres » : ce sont d’étranges petits garçons, qui suscitent des sentiments de méfiance, voire de dégoût ou de peur chez les adultes qui leur sont confrontés.
Cet article, essentiellement basé sur des anecdotes zhiguai composées entre le iiie et le xe siècle, étudie des enfants ou des adolescents qui sont des émanations du monde surnaturel. On évoque pour commencer les figures, déjà bien étudiées, des assistants surnaturels, avant de discuter des conditions dans lesquels des apparitions enfantines peuvent être issues de corps adultes. L’article s’achève sur l’évocation d’apparitions enfantines qui se situent hors du champ de l’activité humain, et dont le trait commun est la nature malicieuse. Cet article, loin d’avoir la prétention traiter exhaustivement de la question des enfants venus de l’autre-monde dans la Chine médiévale, vise plutôt à inviter ses lecteurs à accorder aux personnages enfantins de la littérature de l’étrange la curiosité et l’attention qu’ils méritent.

在中國中古早期與中古時期的敘事中,孩童經常以變形之物、地府主事或醫療神祗的僚佐、侍者或使者等形像出現。越少成年人的監管意味著孩童有越多的獨立性,同時他也越詭異,并有更多潛在的危險性。其中某些孩童形像是人身與宇宙之間聯繋的侍者或使者。而與他們相遇的成人則覺得有必要殺死他們。這樣的孩童被稱為「異童」。
成年人遇到這些神秘小孩的時候會對他們猜疑,甚至厭惡或害怕。
本文以三到十世紀志怪為主要資料來源,探討來自神鬼世界的孩童與青年的問題。文章首先簡略介紹已有很多研究成果的神鬼僚佐,再討論孩童如何在成人身體的基礎上外在化并形像化,最後以對出現在人世樊籬之外的、具有頑皮天性的孩童的考察為結尾。本文并非以對中國中世紀的非現世孩童做完結式分析為目標,而只是想引起大家對文本中孩童形像的關注與興趣。

Texte intégral

  • 1 See Kirkland Russell, 1993, “A World in Balance: Holistic Synthesis in the T’ai-p’ing kuang-chi”, (...)

1Medieval Chinese communities stretched beyond the limits of mere living and dead adults and children. The holistic worldview of the period up to at least the tenth century not only included adult gods, immortals, transcendents and transformers, but also supernatural children.1 In narratives, children could be transformed objects, just as adult figures, but mostly they were used in an assisting function as servants or messengers to adult beings, such as underworld administrators or medical deities. The less supervision and independence from adults a child appeared to have, the creepier and more potentially dangerous and arbitrary he seemed. Such “other children” were uncanny boys who evoked feelings of mistrust, and even disgust or fear in adults confronted with them.

  • 2 See Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children: A Study in the Historical Anthropology of Medi (...)

2Even more so than women, children can easily be overlooked in narratives and discarded as negligible because they were presented as minor characters by authors.2 Nevertheless, authors had in many cases chosen to present children and not adults in certain functions, in which those children were involved in diverse actions. This article, which is mostly based on zhiguai narratives, focuses on children and youth who derive from the supernatural realm. It starts out with a brief introduction about well-explored supernatural assistants, which leads into a discussion on how children are externalized from adult bodies. The article concludes by examining children who appear outside the confines of human enclosure mostly as transformers, and who share a mischievous nature. Far from promising a finished analysis about otherworldly children in medieval China, this article aims to raise awareness of child figures in texts.

Merging “real” and “other” children: Examples from art, family and healing rituals, and children’s placement in the underworld administrative system and sacred scriptures

  • 3 Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Introduction: Children in Chinese Art”, in Ann Wicks, ed., Child (...)
  • 4 Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, p. 10.

3Medieval images of children in texts share some features with images of children in decorative arts. Children in both cases appear to be real and simultaneously other or somewhat symbolic.3 Examples from decorative art demonstrate the ease with which images of real children and other children crossed over each other’s boundaries. On a seventh-century greeting card, for example, a boy is depicted playing with a dog, sitting next to auspicious plants. Wicks and Avril suggest that the card was a gift for friends: “The boy represents male progeny, the only certain way to prolong life, that is, in the sense of the patrilineal continuation.”4 This boy, then, is both a real, chubby boy and the image of an “other” boy as a symbol of longevity and the perpetuation of a family.

  • 5 Ebrey Patricia, 1985, “T’ang Guides to Verbal Etiquette”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 45/2 (...)

4Ritual practices within a family context, similar to art, make use of the fine line between real and other children by crossing that line. In some rituals, boys were allotted a brief central role. A sample letter from the Dunhuang cave library, for example, explains several steps of a correct wedding in which a boy plays a crucial role: the boy is placed in front of the bed and is supposed to pronounce a blessing. The child thus assumes the role of a blessing himself, a symbol for male offspring and prosperity.5

  • 6 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, ed. Bernard Faure, Stanford: Stanford Universit (...)
  • 7 On the instability of children, see Cullen Christopher, 2000, “The Threatening Stranger: Kewu in P (...)
  • 8 For a brief manual, see for example Sun Simiao, 孫思邈, 1999, Qianjin yifang jiaozhu 千金翼方校註, ed. Zhu (...)
  • 9 For descriptions and discussions, see Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 203ff, (...)
  • 10 See Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, esp. Chapters 5 and 6, and Faure Bernard, 1 (...)
  • 11 Faure Bernard, 1998, The Red Thread, p. 262; Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. (...)
  • 12 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 225.
  • 13 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 225.
  • 14 Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, pp. 151–152.
  • 15 For children’s agency rather than their passivity, see Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Superna (...)
  • 16 See for example Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 278 太平廣記, 10 vols., Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, pp. 22 (...)

5Children who assisted in healing rituals were real boys and girls, too, who would be used interchangeably with other ritual items, such as a finger, a bronze mirror, clear water, a sword blade, the flame of a lamp, or a jewel, a hollow statue, a pearl or a piece of flint.6 Tantric priests could use children as instruments in magic–medical practices for transmitting messages between a sick adult and the appropriate divinities or demonic culprits because, in physical and social terms, children were not yet fully stabilized beings, but rather talking vessels.7 In the course of a healing ritual, religious–medical specialists used children to assist in expelling or understanding the disease of the priest’s patient.8 During such a ritual, a child became possessed by a demon or a god, and was then interviewed by the priest.9 Strickmann and Faure have described the function of real children in healing or interrogation rituals with words such as “vessels”, “vehicles” and “messengers”.10 Faure proposes that children are part of Buddhist therapy due to their “permeability” and their “aptitude for mediumship”, and finds that this “is reflected in the pantheon, and in Buddhist social institutions as well”.11 Strickmann points out that child mediums were not so much seen as permeable but rather as fillable and well-fitted vessels for spontaneous and urgent cases of medical intervention and where the interrogation of the demon or deity was not framed in as many rules as in greater, more planned events.12 He argues that children’s bodies have thus been understood as a “less august vehicle”.13 Davis, like Faure, ties child mediums to Buddhist practice and states that “Buddhist Ritual Masters did have a well-defined if somewhat socially circumscribed tradition of using young boys and girls as possessed medium”.14 Yet although children were used as vessels, Davis points out that they were not without agency.15 Children in the role of messengers, assistants and mediums did not mediate only in the world of the living as living children; they were also visualized as assistants to divinities in dreams and thus were visualized mediators in both natural and supernatural worlds.16

  • 17 The colours of clothes are significant as they are often mentioned, but I could find no explanatio (...)
  • 18 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 303, pp. 2403–2404 (Xiaoxiang lu 潚湘錄 by Li Yin 李隱, Tang dynasty).
  • 19 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji, pp. 1075–1076 (Qianding lu 前定錄 by Zhong Lu, 9th c.).

6Another group of assisting youngsters or neat young boys possessed of responsibility and a mediating function consisted in those who worked for the underworld administration, mostly as errand boys. Such child figures could have been dead children who had a live before but mostly the authors did not discuss their origin. These boys were occasionally described as wearing yellow garments,17 with a certain authority inherent in those who come from the underworld.18 For example, when Cang Bi, a favourite slave of minister Li Linfu’s household, who died suddenly but came back to life again after ten days, told the minister about her experience in the realm of death, she also mentioned three or four errand boys. They wore yellow garments and hurriedly called Cang Bi to enter a tower, and also told her to step forth for an audience with the administrator in charge. The age of these young assistants is usually not given. Only in one narrative we learn from a seven-year-old boy Zengzeng that “usually, when someone dies prematurely and has not reached his seventh year yet, he has not committed any crimes during his lifetime, and he does not receive retribution. Since I was not reborn immediately, I was given duties of office, and I bring back and forth documents from and to the palace of the underworld. The lord of the underworld is making notes about the evil and good [deeds] of everybody and every month he is sending them to the palace of the underworld. Between [these errands] I have leisure time and can go wherever I want to.”19

  • 20 For the classification of children and childhood, see my dissertation Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites (...)
  • 21 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 109, p. 742 (Fayuan zhulin 法苑珠林 by Daoshi 道世, c.600–683).
  • 22 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 109, p. 743 (Fayuan zhulin). The focus of this narrative is the mon (...)
  • 23 Gjertson Donald, 1975, Miraculous Retribution: A Study and Translation of Tang Lin’s Ming-pao chi, (...)

7Finally, authors deploy images of youthful assistants, the heavenly lads (tian tong 天童) within the context of men who are diligently engaged in reading and reciting sacred texts. While it is difficult to determine the age of most of the young assistants and mediums, they are at least clearly designated as “children” and, with the exception of Zengzeng’s account, we might imagine them as young, mostly teenage boys (小儿 or 小童). The heavenly lads’ age, however, is more difficult to determine. Tong might denote a young boy who is at the age of formal education, i.e. at least ten years old, but he could also be in his twenties. Tong has the connotation of a boy or young man who is a dependent of an adult man, like an unmarried son, servant or apprentice.20 Contrary to the children discussed above, these youths come alone, and quite literally “out of the blue” in the context of reading the scriptures. Heavenly lads are generally benevolent, for they are described as coming forth from sacred texts – be these books or in the performance of a ritual. For example, when Hongming, who became a monk during the sixth century, was reciting the Lotus Sutra and practising fixed contemplation in the Yin Yun Men monastery on Zhishan very diligently and tirelessly, his actions prompted many heavenly lads (天童子) to supply him with food and become his messengers.21 Another example is the monk who recited the Lotus Sutra on Yinbaolu mountain. He moved a (heavenly) lad to give him food.22 Another monk, when sitting in meditation or discoursing on the Dharma, would often see four blue-clad youths who would hold flowers and stand in attendance.23

  • 24 These monks are described and discussed by Campany Robert, 2009, Making Transcendents and Wicks An (...)
  • 25 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 225.

8These youthful attendants appear like manifested wonders, symbols of the sacredness and achievement of the reader, and could be part of the self-representation practices of well-achieving monks as adepts of sacred texts.24 They might be so common that they lack any definition in medieval texts. Albeit mostly concerned with evidence from medieval Japan, Strickmann finds an immediate link between child mediums and child gods and scriptures. According to him, “[t]hese (not always benign) youthful guardians were thought to cluster around the faithful and were especially attached to their sacred books. … Medieval scriptures, Daoist as well as Buddhist, were all accompanied by their own complement of guardian spirits, whom Daoists called ‘jade youths’ and ‘jade maidens’. Upon formal transmission of a scripture, its invisible protectors were officially transferred to the text’s new possessor and served him as bodyguards.”25

  • 26 Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures and Taoist Sacraments: Taoist Roots in the Apocrypha”, in M (...)
  • 27 For a critique of her use of terms such as “Taoist religion” and her subjects, Celestial Masters, (...)
  • 28 Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures”, pp. 330–331.
  • 29 Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures”, pp. 330–331. Seidel relies on the Daozang, while Michel S (...)

9In her seminal article about apocrypha, Seidel also discusses the belief that guardian deities coexist with sacred scriptures.26 In contrast to Strickmann, Seidel points out the intimacy a Daoist adept has with the guardian spirit that comes with the register the adept needs.27 Based on Tao Hongjing’s writings, she explains that “these ‘officials and generals, clerks and soldiers’ … named in the register, are not human beings of this world; they are beings exteriorized (hua 化), according to the requirements of the situation, out of the body of the initiate”.28 Thus, these jade lads and lassies did not necessarily come only with the texts, as Strickmann suggests; from a different point of view, they might derive from the initiate himself. Seidel continues to make clear that “[t]he intervention of these divine intermediaries is essential in every exorcism, act of healing, and, generally, in every ritual. There are rituals in which the priest invites, one after the other, all the gods, officials, generals, immortal youths and jade maidens etc., contained in the registers which he carries on his person to descend on the altar of the jiao (醮). … The more extensive his registers, the higher the priest’s rank and the more divine messengers are at his disposal to escort to Heaven all the petitions and memorials presented in the jiao ritual.”29

  • 30 Dao Xuan (596–667), Xu Gaoseng zhuan 6.

10Although these lads and maidens come as attendants, they are quite different from the medical attendants mentioned earlier. The latter group of children accompanies the master healer or master of the ritual and is associated with the adult person, whether he comes from the natural or the supernatural realm. The youthful attendants who appear to a devoted scripture reader and serve him come alone, albeit contained in the grander world of immortals and divinities. Also, unlike the attendants working for the after-death administration or those boys who accompany immortals in dreams, boys associated with scriptures rarely talk and have no other function apart from serving the diligent reader. However, in this instance too, functions and imaginations merge and a lad described as a book-lad could also be a messenger from the underworld. For example, when he was not yet dead, the Buddhist monk Zhituo dreamt of a lad who grasped the Lotus Sutra in his hands and said: “The Heavenly Emperor [Shakra] sends for you to talk with him.”30

  • 31 The matter becomes more complex by adding Strickmann’s suggestion to connect the youthful assistan (...)

11The lads from the scriptures, or emanating from an adept’s body with the help of the scriptures, are not quite unaccompanied children since they come together either with adult divinities who are also part of the texts (or talismans), or they come to the adult reader.31

The child within: Body-residents

  • 32 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 221.
  • 33 I have found no account of women seeing such children before death.
  • 34 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 152, p. 1092 (Jia hua lu嘉話錄).

12Child assistants are mostly benevolent young boys controlled by adult divinities, underworld administrators, the inner deities of a knowledgeable magic–medical practitioner, or the divine powers inherent in certain scriptures. However, as Strickmann remarked, those youthful guardians are not always benign.32 This seems to be especially true for those youths who inhabit a person’s body; they deeply scare adults and are closely related to a person’s ill health and death.33 A few narratives present the following image: a person becomes severely sick and around the time of death, a child or several children appear to him or in his environment. Sometimes these children carry flags or banners with them. Medieval authors understood these children as harbingers of death. See, for example: “At the time Minister Zhao was dying, a little boy was sighted …. The Boy was wearing a loincloth and holding a five-coloured rope, and was seeking for ‘a minister Zhao’! Those who saw him knew that he was ‘supernatural’. A few days later, [Minister] Zhao passed away.”34 The boy could simply be a messenger from the underworld, but he might also be a visualization of the sick person’s bodily function.

13Prescriptive and ritual texts from the Daoist canon appear to integrate children into the body’s interior:

  • 35 Lagerwey John, 2010, China: A Religious State, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 72–73, f (...)

As death approaches and up to the seventh day after death, heavenly lads and all the officers of the three worlds, the five thearchs, and the four bureaus come to inspect and on the basis of his acts of merit or demerit, write a report to the heavenly palaces. I (the Lord of the Dao) then send seven divine lads to make a final inspection and draw up the balance sheet of good and evil and decide where the deceased is to be reborn. … The Lord of the Dao says: the seven divine lads are the spirits of the stars of the Bushel in the sky. When people are in the womb, in the seventh month, they descend into the human body and open his seven orifices to the light. They take note of his name.35

  • 36 Lévi Jean, 1989, “The Body: The Daoists’ Coat of Arms”, in Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff and Nadia (...)
  • 37 For the importance of the Bushel, see Schafer Edward, 1977, Pacing the Void, Berkeley: University (...)
  • 38 See also Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, pp. 4–5.

14According to Lévi’s summary of several entries from the Daozang, “the lungs give birth to the po bodily souls and their spirit changes into a little jade boy nine inches high, whom one can see coming and going through this organ”.36 The Taishang yebao yinyuanjing places the origin of the boys in the Bushel, yet still intrinsically connected to the human body.37 These children move within the organs, within the body, and between the body and the heavenly palaces. They are here presented as messengers who report the merits and demerits of the dying person and thus are connected to adult supervisors.38

  • 39 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, pp. 124–126.
  • 40 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, pp. 174–77.
  • 41 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, pp. 174–77.

15The boy searching for Minister Zhao held a five-coloured rope. In other narratives, such children are holding banners or streamers, which were otherwise used in funerals. In the nineteenth century, de Groot correlated the different souls with a certain streamer “made expressly of three broad strips and seven strips, that the soul of the dead may exactly fit in and consequently not hesitate to take up its abode therein immediately”.39 The number would match the number of divine lads who walk in and out of a person’s body to report to the supernatural power in charge of evaluating a person’s life. Groot also mentioned the “soul banner”, which “is rendered fit to be an abode for the soul and so to replace the body enclosed in the coffin, by means of a description of the deceased”.40 Groot observed that during a funeral such items were carried “by a servant in a kind of uniform, or even by a dirty coolly …”.41 Although this observation comes from a nineteenth-century practice, it still might serve as a possible explanation of the occurrences of children with flags and other funeral items appearing during a person’s death while not being explicitly described as youthful underworld assistants.

  • 42 In some paintings, however, children at play can also be observed waving banners (Bartholomew Tere (...)
  • 43 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 161, p. 1161 (Linggui zhi). The use of “little people” in that text (...)

16Anonymous, unaccompanied children who walk around with banners, then, might be messengers from the underworld bearing flags as a symbol for death. They could also be understood as already carrying the souls of the soon-to-be-dead person.42 If, in the nineteenth century, the banner was carried by a “dirty coolly”, that does not mean that it was the case during the Tang dynasty. However, the task could be understood to be menial and thus fit for childlike beings to carry out. Of course, the number seven can be increased. One narrative recalls an event from the Jin dynasty (265–420), in which a man suffered from an incurable disease for several years. His son employed Buddhist monks to recite a sutra, and after ten days “the sick man felt that his disease eased off. In the morning, he fell in to a light sleep and it was as if he lifted his head and saw tens of little boys in the door. All of them were dressed in five-coloured clothes and some of them carried banners and some had lances in their hands. They walked in through the door. Two boys who were at the front, came straight forward to the curtains [of the bed]. They then suddenly turned around and said to the crowd of little people behind them: ‘The ones who live here are people of the [Buddhist] Way!’ They did not come forward again. Thereafter the disease gradually improved.”43

  • 44 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 318, p. 2518 (Lu yi zhuan 錄异傳). The entry on “Yellow Fish-Hawk” in (...)

17These boys were successfully driven away, and death did not occur – an experience that was also shared by Mr Shao, who suffered from fevers for several years: “Later [one day], when he was alone in his country house, between two fever attacks he saw a group of little boys who were holding his hands and feet. Shao closed his eyes and then suddenly got up again and caught one of the boys. When he held him to the window, [the boy] changed into a yellow fish-hawk. Shao wanted to kill and eat it, but the fish-hawk was suddenly gone. Thereafter Shao’s disease healed. Whenever anybody after that had a disease, they would be calling upon Shao.”44

18In both cases, the children approaching the two men’s sick beds are unmistakably understood as signs of imminent great danger and probably death. By warding off the children through reading a sutra or another means of exorcism, the illness is cured. The ill men saw the boys with their own eyes. Also, in another case, the survivor of a mass poisoning is reported to have seen a strange little boy:

  • 45 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 417, p. 3400 (Ji shen lu 稽神錄 by Xu Xuan 徐玄, 916–991).

19The people from Yuzhang loved mushrooms. They considered a certain Huanggu mushroom as especially tasty. Once, when a commoner was repairing his house, he cooked this kind of mushrooms for the workers. One of the workers climbed up the roof-tiles of the room. When he looked down there was nobody – only a cauldron in which something was boiling covered with a bowl. Suddenly there was a young boy with a naked body walking around the pot. Then abruptly [the boy] immersed in the pot. After a while, the employer was serving the mushrooms. Only the worker [who had been sitting on the roof-tiles] did not eat them. He also did not say a word. At sunset, all those who had eaten the mushrooms were dead.45

  • 46 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 128, p. 905–906 (Jiyi ji 集異記 by Xue Yongruo 薛用弱, 9th c.).
  • 47 In the Song dynasty, similar descriptions, such as “dishevelled hair and bare feet” were also used (...)

20A naked boy was also seen in the dream of two robbers who had killed a five-year-old boy during a raid. After being captured, they told that they “dreamed of a little boy of around the age of five who was naked, dancing wildly, and [thereupon] we went astray in confusion”.46 Similar to the boy who danced around the mushroom pot, this boy also functioned as an omen, appearing at a distance, but seemingly unconnected to any natural or supernatural adult. These boys did not talk to the adults who could only sit, lie or stand and watch.47

  • 48 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 140, p. 1009 (Chaoye qianzai 朝野僉載 by Zhang Zhuo 張鷟, c.660–740).
  • 49 See Baldrian-Hussein Farzeen and Seidel Anna, 1988, “Max Kaltenmark: A Bibliography”, Cahiers d’Ex (...)

21Such boys appear not only before the death of an individual or a small group of people; their sightings are also associated with catastrophes that cause the death of more people. For example, before a large flood engulfed 500 households and a temple, claiming nearly twenty lives in the first half of the eighth century, “two little boys who were splashing water at each other were seen at the mouth of the Sanwu in Dengzhou”.48 In the aftermath of the flood, the two playing boys were regarded as an omen.49

Sickening spawn of immortality: Foetus-children

22Some of the abovementioned child figures were assistants or messengers between a person’s body and the universe, although this is not made explicit in the narratives. Those who encountered them felt the need to get rid of them. In one narrative, however, we find eerie children who are collected by an adult:

  • 50 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 346, p. 2738 (河東集). See also Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magic (...)

Once upon a time, there was a person from a commissioner escort, who went out of the Western gate of [Chang’an’s] district Lanling. There he saw a Daoist master who was taller than two zhang with long hair and a lofty cap. He wore a collar and two green skirts, and he had a goat beard which was also longer than one zhang. On each end of a carrying pole he had two jars. In the jars were several tens of little boys. Crying ones and laughing ones, who came in pairs of two and three and who were playing merrily with each other. When he saw the escort, the Daoist master spoke to his goat beard: “An’an (庵庵)!” The goat beard answered: “Na’na (納納)!” and the little boys in the jars said uniformly: “Sisi (嘶嘶)!” And within a moment he went North, and nobody knew where he went to.50

  • 51 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 58.
  • 52 The image of the shape of the gourd is reminiscent of the shape of a human body without limbs, at (...)
  • 53 In the late eighteenth century, a man was executed for owning seven jars, “four of which were fill (...)

23In his work on miniature gardens, Stein examines the phenomenon of a separate world in gourds, commenting that “a separate world and a gourd-shaped vessel are two inseparable ideas, even when one of the terms is not expressed”.51 The jars might have indeed been gourd-shaped, and it is thus possible to imagine them as universes, separate worlds in themselves.52 In fact, a figure such as the long-bearded Daoist is reminiscent of a person who is believed to have engaged in foetus theft in later times.53

  • 54 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 63.

24Stein furthermore draws a connection between the world in gourds and the surface of water.54 And, in fact, in water we also find a world that contains children:

  • 55 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 294, p. 2337 (志怪).

A legend exists that when one illuminates the water surface with fire, one can see ghosts and spirits everywhere in it. When Wen Qiao, a refugee from Pingsujun, was at the mouth of the Pen river he wanted to test that and illuminated [the water surface there]. And indeed he saw grand and glorious palaces and temples, and very luxurious folk. He also saw groups of little boys, who came in pairs of two, driving chariots and riding on yellow goats. [Wen Qiao] stared at [the scenery] and found it detestable. In his dreams he suddenly saw a divinity which spoke angrily: “Let the man understand!” Thereupon he fell ill.55

  • 56 From paintings from the Song dynasty onwards, especially the One Hundred Sons 百子图 paintings, we kn (...)

25Wen Qiao found the sight of those little boys abominable – although they were playing happily together without caring about Wen Qiao at all. Indeed, both the groups of children in the lake and in the gourd were playing in pairs of two and three and enjoying themselves.56

  • 57 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 78.
  • 58 See Campany Robert, 2009, Making Transcendents, Chapter 4, about the intricate nature of keeping a (...)
  • 59 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 368, p. 2929 (Youyang zazu 酉陽雜組 by Duan Chengshi 段成式, d. 863). The (...)

26What were Wen Qiao and the person from the commissioner escort confronted with? One explanation could be that those children were symbols of inner alchemy, which came to life in the imagination of some authors and other people, and which might reflect a more widespread belief. Stein points out that vessels and mirrors (or lakes) are “tokens of fertility and fecundity”;57 it therefore would not be surprising to find those inhabited by numerous children with the same symbolic connotation. However, such symbols were not supposed to be comprehensible to everybody, as deep knowledge about them might have been part of secret transmissions and may even be considered dangerous.58 For another example, see the narrative about a monk called Tai Qiong from the upper capital, who was competent in reciting the Renwangjing. At the beginning of the Kaiyuan period (713–741), he was performing in Jingyao village in the Fengxian district and subsequently made a stopover in the village temple. He stayed there for two summers. One day, he took his alms bowl and wanted to walk up to the hall. When he closed the gates, he saw something floating down in front of the eaves of the temple. At that time, it was twilight, and the monk approached [the thing] to have a closer look. It turned out to be a newly born baby whose swaddling clothes were very new. The monk was surprised and found it strange. He lifted up the child and wanted to ask the villagers about it. After he walked for five or six li, the “package” suddenly became very light. When the monk looked at it, it was a comet.59

  • 60 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 65.
  • 61 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, pp. 65–66. More similar stories exist. See for example Dudbr (...)

27In his examination of gourds and the surface of water, Stein adds another related motive: chaos, like water, “closed like an egg, and the state of unconsciousness. Chaos is a dark leather bag in which nothing can be seen.”60 He then explains this by referring to inner alchemy theory: “To penetrate [Kunlun, an abode of immortals, but also a part of the head] by mystical meditation, one enters into a ‘chaotic’ state resembling the primordial state, paradisiacal, unconscious of the uncreated world. … The kunlun of the head and belly are the centres where the alchemical refinement of the immortal embryo goes on.”61 I suggest that the children in the stories might be a more accessible narrative imaginary form of the abstract Daoist secrets and practices.

Too smart to be real: Xiang Tuo and other eerie children

  • 62 See for example Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 248, pp. 1923–1924 (Qi yan lu 啟顏錄 by Hou Bai 侯白, Su (...)
  • 63 Mather Richard, 1995, “Filial Paragons and Spoiled Brats: A Glimpse of Medieval Chinese Children i (...)
  • 64 Kinney Anne, 1995, “The Theme of the Precocious Child in Early Chinese Literature”, T’oung Pao, 81

28Children are called witty when they argue with adults and win these arguments in the context of events organized by adults.62 On the other hand, children are considered ill-bred and disturbing when they approach adults and ask them questions about their own matters or do not behave according to social norms. Wittiness, we may conclude, is tolerable as long as it happens under an adult’s guidance and supervision. It becomes rude and considered dangerous when a child acts without the control of an adult. Examining the precocious children in the Shishuo xinyu, for example, Mather points out that “sometimes there is only a fine line between ‘precocious intelligence’ and mere impertinence”,63 and Kinney finds a “social disruptive” element in some of the earlier narratives on precocious children.64 This notion is reminiscent of Strickmann’s abovementioned suggestion that children who come with scriptures are not always benign.

  • 65 Waley Arthur, 1960, Ballads and Stories from Tun-Huang: An Anthology, London: Ruskin House, George (...)
  • 66 See Altenburger Roland, 2009, “Weises Kind und frecher Bengel: Zur volksliterarischen Ausgestaltun (...)

29One radical, albeit neglected, social disruptor in the medieval period is Xiang Tuo, otherwise called “Confucius’ teacher”. However, in a version found at Dunhuang, Xiang Tuo is portrayed as Confucius’ enemy rather than as his teacher. After finishing their famous argument, Confucius beheads the boy in an act of exorcism. This is possible because Xiang Tuo is no longer depicted as an example of precocity but as an eerie otherworldly child: “Confucius sighs: ‘Good, very good indeed. Now I know that the young are indeed to be feared.’ (夫子嘆曰善哉善哉方知後生實可畏也).”65 The Dunhuang version of the Xiang Tuo story features the boy together with a demon army, and tells about his physical transformation and other forms of sorcery. Confucius finds the sorcery alarming and has shrines built across the county after he executed the youth.66

  • 67 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 269, pp. 2110–2111 (Guo shi bu 國史補 by Li Zhao 李肇, fl. 806–820); Li (...)
  • 68 Ten-year-old boys could take the Divine Youth 神童 exams, for which they had to memorize and recite (...)

30Being killed for standing in the way of a sage and arguing with him would not have been an outrageous motif in medieval times. Teenage children, for example, were summoned to the underworld for stealing money from their parents, or beaten to death for stealing salt. 67 However, in a period in which precocity is praised and intelligent children can enter a bureaucratic career by means of special examinations68 – the age in which we find a copy of the poem – Confucius seems to overreact and to show excessive violence. Yet exorcising child figures who are deemed out of place is acceptable. The impertinent character of Xiang Tuo in the Dunhuang version can also be found in children who are actually transformed objects or animals. A Mr Tian, for example, on his way back home encounters a little boy in deep red clothes and pursues him, despite feeling afraid:

  • 69 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 360, p. 2859 (Wuxing ji). The Baopuzi neipian 4 tells about tree sp (...)

When Tian reached [the boy] he asked: “From which town are you?” The boy said: “My home is the head of the tree.” Tian felt insulted and said: “I am a grown-up! And I am having a conversation with you, young laddy! How can you answer so frivolously?” They walked about another hundred steps until they reached the top of a slope. Next to the road was an enormously huge tree and the boy climbed straight into it. His shape was like that of a monkey. Tian found it strange and shot into the tree. Then he saw something like a flag which appeared and vanished. When he arrived home, [Tian] became ill and almost died.69

  • 70 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 469, p. 3867 (Qiangguai lu).

31Tian experiences the boy as rude and impolite and admonishes and even shoots at him. The boy, however, turns out to be a nature spirit or a transformed animal. He is furthermore announcing disease with a flag – reminiscent of the children who appear before a sick or dying person. Such children are frightening and mischievous in their playfulness. Another person, for example, finds himself confronted with three or four boys playing further down on a sandbank while the adult man is in his boat. The boys were eating a big fish and then said that they were still hungry: “Why don’t we eat old Liu!?” The boys turned out to be otters.70 Like Xiang Tuo and the monkey boy, the group of otter-children are quite outspoken. They speak unceremoniously and improperly, and compared to real children, they are very much out of place.

  • 71 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, p. 325. On a skeleton-ghost, see Pissin A (...)
  • 72 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, p. 339.

32As well as animals, objects also change their form temporarily and appear in the shape of disrespectful children. Lifeless matter changing into living beings is not uncommon in Chinese folklore. Groot suggests that “a human corpse, and even dry bones … possess the animation they possessed when the individual was alive”.71 This animation also works the other way around, as Groot observes: “A conspicuous feature of the belief in changes of lifeless things into living beings, and conversely, is that they are suggested especially under the impression of some outward likeness between those things and those beings.”72 Thus the monkey and the playful otters can effortlessly be imagined as children due to their natural shapes. Their animation is that of overconfident children.

  • 73 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 370, pp. 2942–2943 (Yiguai lu).
  • 74 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 370, p. 2939 (Youyang zazu).
  • 75 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 369, p. 2934 (Youyang zazu). See for a comparison Li Fang, 1961, Ta (...)

33Other examples are a were-tripod that lost one foot and haunted a place in the disguise of a limping little boy,73 a wooden ladle in the form of a small boy with wild hair, and a boy as the fragmented glow of a star that caused a scholar to have a sleepless night, although the boy was only playing and did not mean any harm.74 Finally, a village chief encountered some boys outside his village who were playing with fire and the chief instantly knew that they were evil spirits and shot at them: “[When he hit them] there was a sound as if he had struck wood. The fire ceased, and [the village chief] heard a child wailing: ‘He has shot my head!’ When the village chief headed uphill towards the village and searched for the child, he saw six or seven broken wheels of a carriage. His arrow was still stuck in the tip of one wheel.”75

Conclusion

34Children in any disguise are easily overlooked in historical texts. That might be because they are simply not seen or because they are treated as minor side figures and thus are not further analysed. This paper has certainly not exhausted the plethora of narratives that feature otherworldly children. It has also not provided an analysis or a theory concerning those children, an undertaking for which many more narratives should be assembled. I hope, however, to have fulfilled the main purpose of this article, which was to point out the existence of these children. I believe that Chinese authors have used child figures for certain reasons that adults could not have achieved in those texts. Studying such children, rather than focusing merely on adults, might not only add a different point of view on medieval religion, but possibly also on medieval ideas about children.

  • 76 Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, p. 4.

35Wicks and Avril point out that third-century visualization practices concentrate on the “inner infant” and suggest that these visualization practices might also be interrelated with practices of depicting children. They furthermore point out that third-century “affirmation of childlikeness reinforced artistic tendencies toward more depictions of children”.76 I suggest that for similar reasons and mutual reinforcement we also find more children in narratives. The children come in different shades, and here I have mostly concentrated on the uncanny ones.

  • 77 See Haar Barend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories.

36The belief in inner physical instability, which does not necessarily mean fragility, renders “real” children close to immortal as well as connected to demonic realms. This makes them suitable as mediating objects. When other objects, such as mirrors or wooden dolls, for example, are used in possession, they can retain some dangerous energies.77 Thus those objects are helpful in a healing ritual but are possibly perilous afterwards. Such a dichotomy between beneficial and dangerous also exists in child figures, although not necessarily in “real” children.

  • 78 For the education of children, see Yan Zhitui [Yen Chih-t’ui], 1988, Family Instructions for the Y (...)

37Furthermore, children who diligently assist adults might be the result of adult wishful thinking or trained good manners in a scholarly family,78 and therefore child assistants are pervasive in the supernatural world as well. Yet their existence might be based on several beliefs and practices. Children or youths in the underworld administration system, for example, might have been believed to be part of the ideal Han administration, which was the template for this system, as Seidel has shown. Children could have also entered that world as assistants according to a comforting belief that such a post is bestowed on those innocent youngsters who die too early – up to the age of seven, as the boy Zengzeng explains.

38Lastly, children who appear near the moment of death and during an illness might be connected to a medieval envisioning of the body in esoteric texts, in which children are the externalizations of body deities. Their detailed description in texts – detailed in terms of the colour of their clothes, their behaviours and sometimes hairstyles – might point to a further link between visual representations of such imaginings and the mutual reaction to forms of narration. Possibly linked to such child figures are the floating and glowing embryos that sometimes turn out to be bloody sacks. These might, moreover, be related to myths about chaos. I hope that this brief article will encourage more research into divine, supernaturally bureaucratic, and eerie children in order to broaden our insight into medieval life and death.

Notes

1 See Kirkland Russell, 1993, “A World in Balance: Holistic Synthesis in the T’ai-p’ing kuang-chi”, Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies, 23, pp. 43–70, for the holistic worldview that the Taiping guangji represents in its compilation of stories featuring the intersection of ordinary living beings and supernatural ones or supernatural experiences. For extensive discussions about the early medieval supernatural worlds, see Campany Robert, 2009, Making Transcendents: Ascetics and Social Memory in Early Medieval China, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, and Campany Robert, 2012, Signs from the Unseen Realm: Buddhist Miracle Tales from Early Medieval China, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. “Transformers” in this article are lifeless objects and animals that transform into human beings and then back again, and are discussed as were-beings in Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, The Religious System of China: Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect, Manners, Customs and Social Institutions Connected Therewith, 6 vols., Leiden: Brill, and in Haar Barend J. Ter, 2006, Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History, Leiden and Boston: Brill.

2 See Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children: A Study in the Historical Anthropology of Medieval China, 500–1000 A.D., dissertation, Leiden University; Hsiung Ping-chen, 2005, A Tender Voyage: Children and Childhood in Late Imperial China, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

3 Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Introduction: Children in Chinese Art”, in Ann Wicks, ed., Children in Chinese Art, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 6. Such representation of children in art, which is at the fringes between symbolic and real, is also applied in poetry, where children assume a symbolic function representing, for example, melancholy. See Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children.

4 Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, p. 10.

5 Ebrey Patricia, 1985, “T’ang Guides to Verbal Etiquette”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 45/2, p. 601.

6 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, ed. Bernard Faure, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 211, and Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 123–124; see also Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine for the narratives he quotes on pp. 208–216, in which he shows that the possession ritual includes a child gazing into a mirror and describing what he or she sees.

7 On the instability of children, see Cullen Christopher, 2000, “The Threatening Stranger: Kewu in Pre-Modern Chinese Paediatrics”, in Lawrence Conrad and Dominik Wujastyk, eds., Contagion: Perspectives from Pre-Modern Societies, Aldershot: Ashgate, and Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children, pp. 87–92.

8 For a brief manual, see for example Sun Simiao, 孫思邈, 1999, Qianjin yifang jiaozhu 千金翼方校註, ed. Zhu Bangjia 朱邦贤 and Deng Wenguo 陈文国, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, p. 868.

9 For descriptions and discussions, see Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 203ff, and Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 123ff.

10 See Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, esp. Chapters 5 and 6, and Faure Bernard, 1998, The Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality, Princeton: Princeton University Press, Chapter 6. Both rely on the Taisho Tripitaka.

11 Faure Bernard, 1998, The Red Thread, p. 262; Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 227.

12 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 225.

13 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 225.

14 Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, pp. 151–152.

15 For children’s agency rather than their passivity, see Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, p. 145. Davis has further examples for the use of young boys in healing rituals, who are better described than in the narratives I found; see for example pp. 159–161 for a translation of an exorcism held in the late twelfth century, which involved an 11-year-old boy, among other youths.

16 See for example Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 278 太平廣記, 10 vols., Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, pp. 2213–2214 (Jishen lu 稽神錄 by Xu Xuan 徐玄, 916–991), and p. 2203 (Guangyi ji 廣異記 by Dai Fu 戴孚, jinshi 757).

17 The colours of clothes are significant as they are often mentioned, but I could find no explanation. See Campany Robert, 2012, Signs from the Unseen Realm, p. 177, n. 568, pondering “red-clad officers” denoting celestial officers.

18 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 303, pp. 2403–2404 (Xiaoxiang lu 潚湘錄 by Li Yin 李隱, Tang dynasty).

19 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji, pp. 1075–1076 (Qianding lu 前定錄 by Zhong Lu, 9th c.).

20 For the classification of children and childhood, see my dissertation Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children, pp. 34–35.

21 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 109, p. 742 (Fayuan zhulin 法苑珠林 by Daoshi 道世, c.600–683).

22 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 109, p. 743 (Fayuan zhulin). The focus of this narrative is the monk’s non-rotting tongue after his death and decay.

23 Gjertson Donald, 1975, Miraculous Retribution: A Study and Translation of Tang Lin’s Ming-pao chi, Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies, Berkeley: University of California, p. 158 (Tale 1, trans. from Tang Lin, c.650–684).

24 These monks are described and discussed by Campany Robert, 2009, Making Transcendents and Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, p. 13.

25 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 225.

26 Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures and Taoist Sacraments: Taoist Roots in the Apocrypha”, in Michel Strickmann, ed., Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein, vol. 2, Mélanges Chinois et Bouddhiques, 21, p. 329.

27 For a critique of her use of terms such as “Taoist religion” and her subjects, Celestial Masters, instead of referring to practitioners of transcendents in general, see Campany Robert, 2009, Making Transcendents, p. 56.

28 Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures”, pp. 330–331.

29 Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures”, pp. 330–331. Seidel relies on the Daozang, while Michel Strickmann in Chinese Magical Medicine draws on the Taisho Daizokyo.

30 Dao Xuan (596–667), Xu Gaoseng zhuan 6.

31 The matter becomes more complex by adding Strickmann’s suggestion to connect the youthful assistants who come forth from a sutra to “an older belief in divinely inspired children: innocents whose casual words and ditties might well prove prophetic, even for great affairs of state” (Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 226). He is talking about the “nursery rhymes”, tongyao (童謠), which are occasionally placed in the same category as apocryphal texts. Child assistants who come out of the supernatural realm or a person’s body, once a sacred scripture is read diligently or a talisman is handled properly, are also reminiscent of divine responses, ganying (感應), as suggested by Seidel Anna, 1983, “Imperial Treasures”. As divine responses, young lads can also appear in grander rituals as the assistant of the ritual master, but are visible to all participants (see for example Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 418, p. 3407 (Daye shiyiji 大業拾遺記). The supernatural lads (tongzi) in this account are probably not little children or young teenagers, but young unmarried men, as they do not have the prefix “young” (xiao). Some divine responses come in the form or behaviour of sons in attendance.

32 Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 221.

33 I have found no account of women seeing such children before death.

34 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 152, p. 1092 (Jia hua lu嘉話錄).

35 Lagerwey John, 2010, China: A Religious State, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 72–73, from the Taishang yebao yinyuanjing “Scripture of the Karmic retributions of the Most High” (Sui dynasty), emphasis mine.

36 Lévi Jean, 1989, “The Body: The Daoists’ Coat of Arms”, in Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi eds., Fragments for a History of the Human Body, 3 vols., New York: Zone, i, p. 116, based on several entries from the Daozang.

37 For the importance of the Bushel, see Schafer Edward, 1977, Pacing the Void, Berkeley: University of California Press.

38 See also Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, pp. 4–5.

39 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, pp. 124–126.

40 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, pp. 174–77.

41 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, pp. 174–77.

42 In some paintings, however, children at play can also be observed waving banners (Bartholomew Terese Tse, 2002, “One Hundred Children: From Boys at Play to Icons of Good Fortune”, in Ann Wicks, ed., Children in Chinese Art, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 81), which might mean that they imitate adult banner-carriers. In addition, flag carrying might be delegated to the lowly part of society, such as servants or children.

43 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 161, p. 1161 (Linggui zhi). The use of “little people” in that text might indicate that little boys and little people could be interchangeable. However, in all the other cases I have found, the authors or copyists chose “little boys” instead of “little people”.

44 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 318, p. 2518 (Lu yi zhuan 錄异傳). The entry on “Yellow Fish-Hawk” in the Taiping yulan (Li Fang, Chapter 925) differs only slightly from this version. The little boys who came to visit him in his delirium sat on the man’s belly and some were holding his head and feet. This description is curiously reminiscent of a much later sculpture of the Pusa Buddha, a photograph of which is in Needham’s Physiological Alchemy (Needham Joseph (with Lu Gwei-djen), 1983, Science and Civilisation of China, Vol. 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 5, Spagyrical Discovery and Invention: Physiological Alchemy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 236. This narrative belongs to the legitimating tales of medical specialists, and explains the special, supernatural origin of their healing powers to people who seek their medical or other physical advice. See Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, p. 25, who discusses that narrative and analyses it within the scope of the cult of the thunder god.

45 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 417, p. 3400 (Ji shen lu 稽神錄 by Xu Xuan 徐玄, 916–991).

46 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 128, p. 905–906 (Jiyi ji 集異記 by Xue Yongruo 薛用弱, 9th c.).

47 In the Song dynasty, similar descriptions, such as “dishevelled hair and bare feet” were also used for (youthful) spirit mediums, and Davis remarks that “any photograph of a modern ‘divination youth’ with his unkempt hair, half-naked body, and handheld weapon shows that not much has changed at this level of village religion” (Davis Edward, 2001, Society and the Supernatural in Song China, p. 77). Campany Robert, 1991, “Ghosts Matter: The Culture of Ghosts in Six Dynasties Zhiguai”, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews, 13, pp. 20–21 and footnote 18 mentions a ghost story in which a ghost “who appears in the form of a naked boy carrying a knife, is characterized as a ‘ghost-child’”. This ghost child slaughters a bride. That is quite unlike the supernatural children discussed in this article, as they would usually not kill. However, they are understood by the adult observers as dangerous enough to be avoided or, better, exorcised.

48 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 140, p. 1009 (Chaoye qianzai 朝野僉載 by Zhang Zhuo 張鷟, c.660–740).

49 See Baldrian-Hussein Farzeen and Seidel Anna, 1988, “Max Kaltenmark: A Bibliography”, Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie, 4/4, item 46. See also a summary of an article by Kaltenmark about “Chinese versions of the universal mythological theme of the city submerged by flood … the disaster is seen as the revenge of some local genie or deity against the local population for some collective fault” (p. 11); again the playing children are like a harbinger.

50 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 346, p. 2738 (河東集). See also Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 33 (“Many an exorcist in Chinese legend captures and keeps demons in a gourd container”) and Stein Rolf, 1990, The World in Miniature: Container Gardens and Dwellings in Far Eastern Religious Thought, trans. Phyllis Brooks, Stanford: Stanford University Press, esp. p. 58ff., where he writes about “the world, a gourd-shaped vessel”.

51 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 58.

52 The image of the shape of the gourd is reminiscent of the shape of a human body without limbs, at least the torso and its organs, and therefore it is possible to imagine a world in the gourd as well as in the body; see for example Despeux Catherine, 2005, “Visual Representations of the Body in Chinese Medical and Daoist Texts from the Song to the Qing (Tenth to Nineteenth Century)”, trans. Penelope Barrett, Asian Medicine, 1/1, p. 28 and p. 30.

53 In the late eighteenth century, a man was executed for owning seven jars, “four of which were filled with the hearts and livers of small children”. See Haar Barend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories, Chapter 3, p. 147.

54 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 63.

55 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 294, p. 2337 (志怪).

56 From paintings from the Song dynasty onwards, especially the One Hundred Sons 百子图 paintings, we know that it is common to depict children at play in pairs of two or three, which is often taken as a sign for many offspring and for harmonious relations among the sons and grandsons. See Bartholomew Terese Tse, 2002, “One Hundred Children”.

57 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 78.

58 See Campany Robert, 2009, Making Transcendents, Chapter 4, about the intricate nature of keeping and, at the same time, advertising esoteric knowledge.

59 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 368, p. 2929 (Youyang zazu 酉陽雜組 by Duan Chengshi 段成式, d. 863). The evil broom as a comet might have associations with the broader belief complex of chaos-related themes, which also includes the bloody sack that features in this narrative. Further investigations into that direction of inquiry would surely be interesting; see Giradot N. J., 1983, Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos (hun-tun), Berkeley: University of California Press, and Hou Ching-lang, 1979, “The Chinese Belief in Baleful Stars”, in Holmes Welch and Anna Seidel, eds., Facets of Taoism: Essays in Chinese Religion, New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 1979.

60 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, p. 65.

61 Stein Rolf, 1990, World in Miniature, pp. 65–66. More similar stories exist. See for example Dudbridge Glen, Religious Experience and Lay Society in T’ang China: A Reading of Tai Fu’s Kuang-i chi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, narratives 62 and 203 about taisui: family members who deliberately flout the ancient taboo of disturbing ground associated with the planet taisui have to cope with a fleshy object which escapes their control and later visits death upon them all. See also Strickmann Michel, 2002, Chinese Magical Medicine, p. 75, for a translation of Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 363, p. 2882, a narrative about a killer-ghost in the shape of a luminous big plate which floated in the courtyard and “proved to be a lump of flesh with eyes all around – the motion of the eyes had caused the light. … Faithful to his hunter’s custom, he had his servant boil it, and it proved to be utterly delicious.”

62 See for example Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 248, pp. 1923–1924 (Qi yan lu 啟顏錄 by Hou Bai 侯白, Sui dynasty) and Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children, p. 230ff.

63 Mather Richard, 1995, “Filial Paragons and Spoiled Brats: A Glimpse of Medieval Chinese Children in the Shishuo xinyu”, Anne Kinney, ed., Chinese Views of Childhood, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 120.

64 Kinney Anne, 1995, “The Theme of the Precocious Child in Early Chinese Literature”, T’oung Pao, 81.

65 Waley Arthur, 1960, Ballads and Stories from Tun-Huang: An Anthology, London: Ruskin House, George Allen & Unwin, p. 94; Dunhuang bianwen ji, 1957, ed., Wang Zhongmin, Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, p. 223.

66 See Altenburger Roland, 2009, “Weises Kind und frecher Bengel: Zur volksliterarischen Ausgestaltung der Begegnung von Konfuzius und Xiang Tuo”, in Roland Altenburger, Martin Lehnert and Andrea Riemenschnitter, eds., Dem Text ein Freund. Erkundungen des chinesischen Altertums, Bern: Peter Lang. Waley points out that Confucius in another incident killed dwarf jesters “whose presence at a peace conference he thought unseemly or even dangerous, because they might well be kidnappers in disguise. But there are more stories in which Confucius kills opponents” (Waley Arthur, 1960, Ballads and Stories, p. 91).

67 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 269, pp. 2110–2111 (Guo shi bu 國史補 by Li Zhao 李肇, fl. 806–820); Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 395, p. 3160 (Ji shen lu); Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 134, pp. 954–955 (Fa yuan zhu lin).

68 Ten-year-old boys could take the Divine Youth 神童 exams, for which they had to memorize and recite the Classic of Filial Piety and the Lunyu. They also had to answer ten questions (see Rotours Robert des, 1932, le Traité des Examens. Traduit de la Nouvelle Histoire des T’ang (Chap. XLIV, XLV), Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, p. 151).

69 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 360, p. 2859 (Wuxing ji). The Baopuzi neipian 4 tells about tree spirits that look like little children, have only one leg and walk backwards; at night they mock people (in Zong Lin 宗懍, 1988, Jingchu suishiji 荊楚歲時記校注, annotated by Du Gongzhan 杜公瞻, ed. Wang Yurong 王毓榮, Taibei: Wenlü chubanshe, no. 21).

70 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 469, p. 3867 (Qiangguai lu).

71 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, p. 325. On a skeleton-ghost, see Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children, p. 289ff.

72 Groot J. J. M. de, 1892–1919, Religious System of China, p. 339.

73 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 370, pp. 2942–2943 (Yiguai lu).

74 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 370, p. 2939 (Youyang zazu).

75 Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 369, p. 2934 (Youyang zazu). See for a comparison Li Fang, 1961, Taiping guangji 324, p. 2571 (Youming lu). This narrative features dead children at play who are stranger than usual dead children.

76 Wicks Ann and Avril Ellen, 2002, “Children in Chinese Art”, p. 4.

77 See Haar Barend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories.

78 For the education of children, see Yan Zhitui [Yen Chih-t’ui], 1988, Family Instructions for the Yan Clan, trans. Teng Ssu-yü, Leiden: Brill; for the training of daily behaviour, see Pissin Annika, 2009, Elites and their Children, pp. 245–266; for family rituals in the twelfth century according to Zhu Xi, but with some relevance for an understanding of earlier family rituals too, see Ebrey Patricia, 1991, Confucianism and Family Rituals in Imperial China: A Social History of Writing About Rites, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Auteur

Lund University