Way and Byway

Submitted by Komjathy on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 20:33
Komjathy's picture


WAY AND BYWAY: TAOISM, LOCAL RELIGION, AND MODELS OF DIVINITY IN SUNG AND MODERN CHINA. By Robert Hymes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. xvii + 364; appendix; glossary; index. Cloth, $60.00, ISBN 0-520-20758-0; Paper, $24.95, ISBN 0-520-20759-9.


Expanding on his earlier Statesmen and Gentlemen: The Elite of Fu-chou, Chiang-hsi, in Northern and Southern Sung (Cambridge University Press, 1986) and Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China (co-authored with Conrad Schirokauer; University of California Press, 1993), here Hymes examines Chinese conceptions of the divine during the Song dynasty (Northern: 960-1126; Southern: 1127-1279). In particular, this study focuses on two new religious traditions at the time, namely, the Tianxin (Celestial Heart) tradition (ch. 2), a nationally active school of healing and exorcistic ritual, and the "Three Immortals cult" (chs. 3, 4, and 5), also referred to as the "Three Lords cult" or "Huagai cult," which originated on Huagai shan (Flower Canopy Mountain; Jiangxi) and centered on worship of the so-called Three Immortals (Masters Fuqiu, Wang and Guo). "The central project of this book is to connect the different choices that different actors make from a repertoire of religious models to differences in their places in society, the situations in which they find themselves, and their views of religious and secular authority" (5).


Hymes argues for a strong, sometimes unconscious but sometimes purposeful tendency to analogize between two spheres treated as equally real: from the divine to the human and from the human to the divine. He also sees Song religion as the meeting point of a relatively few common assumptions, a wide variety of usages, gods, rituals, and practices, and several organized and semi-organized bodies contending to impose order on variety (21). Religious activity in turn expanded, multiplied, and differentiated during the Song. Way and Byway contains nine chapters: (1) Introduction; (2) Celestial Heart Taoism; (3) Hua-kai Mountain and Its Immortals; (4) The Rise of the Hua-kai Cult; (5) Explaining the Rise of the Hua-kai Cult; (6) Taoists, Local Gods, and the Transformation of Wang Wen-ch'ing; (7) The Bureaucratic Model: A Speculation; (8) God Worship and the Chiao; and (9) Conclusion: The Two Models. Finally, an appendix discusses issues revolving around the dates of specific individuals and texts, specifically Deng Yougong, the Shangqing tianxin zhengfa (Correct Methods of Celestial Heart from Shangqing; HY 566), Shangqing gusui lingwen guilü (Spirit Code: A Numinous Text from the Marrow of Shangqing; HY 461), and Huagai shan Fuqiu Wang Guo san zhenjun shishi (Verities of the Three Perfected Lords Fuqiu, Wang, and Guo of Huagai Mountain; HY 777). 


Utilizing diverse source materials, Way and Byway offers in-depth analysis of Song religious innovations such as popular ritual movements and deity cults. Perhaps most importantly, the book makes a compelling argument for revising the "bureaucratic model" of Chinese divinity. Hymes identifies two competing "models of divinity," namely, the bureaucratic model and the personal model (on characteristics of the former see 4, 171-72, 267; on the later see 4-5, 265-66). The centrality of these models within Chinese society varies according to three elements that condition their use: (1) the god, (2) the representer or actor, and (3) the context (267). According to Hymes' analysis, the bureaucratic model tends to predominate among professional clergy, while the personal model tends to be more central to lay and local conceptions. This general tendency, of course, varies according to social circumstances. The reader may also become confused by reference to the "Three Immortals cult" under three different names: Three Immortals cult, Three Lords cult, and Huagai cult. This confusion is added to because the Chinese terms are not included in either the main body of the work or the glossary. Gathering from the title of a related text, the cult was most specifically related to worship of the "Three Perfected Lords" (san zhenjun). This minor deficiency aside, Way and Byway is an excellent book, recommended for scholars specializing in Chinese history and religion. The book will make an important contribution to research libraries and the personal collections of researchers involved in the study of Daoism as well as of Song and post-Song religious traditions.


Louis Komjathy

Boston University

March 1, 2003