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Fear of others: Some comments on the fear of witchcraft in traditional China

Barend J. ter Haar, University of Hamburg

March 22, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 202 Jones Hall

East Asian Studies Program

This talk will introduce a book manuscript that deals with the fear of witchcraft and its presumed perpetrators in traditional China. In line with existing scholarship into similar fears elsewhere (most extensively studied for Western Europa), accusations of witchcraft are understood as the product of bad social relationships. At least two types of fear were particularly prominent. One was the fear that a person was possessed by another creature controlled by another human being. This fear can still be found in most local cultures (“minorities”) but has seemingly disappeared from most of the imperial core of traditional China from the 10th century onwards. The other was the fear that someone is making figurines or little images to harm someone, usually the person (rarely someone’s animals or other resources in the Chinese case) making the accusation or someone close to her or him. This fear was connected to real practices of cursing, obtaining sexual access, and healing, all of which used a representation of the person who was addressed in the ritual. For reasons of time, the talk’s primary focus will be the fear of figurines. In both types of fears, both male and female persons can be either the accused or the accuser.

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