China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Otherworldly communication is a critical aspect of the religious experience, while forms of mediation constitute much of what is unique about any given devotional community. This panel offers a longue durée perspective on communication with supernatural beings in imperial China drawing on both textual and fieldwork expertise. Together panelists explore who received such transmissions, which specialists interpreted them, and how they reached broader audiences. Campany examines dream communications explicated by a figure who was in control of the dreamer as a teacher and de facto arbiter of the dreamer’s experiences. Dreams formed the raw material for a theological and pedagogical practice predicated on revealing just enough to outsiders to make them want more. Kleeman follows the apotheosized founder of the Celestial Masters church in the centuries after his death, tracing the crystallization of a posthumous persona and charting a unifying function for geographically dispersed communities. It is clear which divine figure was communicating; who exactly was receiving it is more opaque. Cheng’s contribution hones in on a mediumistic subject doubly occluded: by literati prejudice against the wu and by sexual discrimination. Her excavation of female mediums foregrounds the intimacy of possession and the challenge of accessing the medium’s subjectivity. Burton-Rose’s paper considers the impact on official historiography of spirit-writing historiographers, examining a case study of what happened when a contributor to the Ming History had already directly communicated with his deceased biographical subject.