The Conception of the Soul in Early Medieval China

Traditional religion in China centered on offerings and sacrifice made to gods and ancestors, and the dead were assumed to pass lives rather like when they were alive, except for their dependence on descendents for sustenance. By the late Warring States period, ideas had evolved of differentiated yang souls called "cloudsouls" (hun) and yin-type souls called whitesouls (po). Moreover, they had identified pneumas (qi), essence (jing), and body gods (shen) which can be produced and sustained by the body. This give rise to many ideas about the existence of transcendent beings (xian) and ways human individuals could reach this status. In the second century C.E., we then see the rise of mass religions with ideas of how to save all through a focus on morality and the confession of sin. Finally, in the fourth century, we see these individual paths of salvation brought into the plans for transcendence in the Daoist religion's Supreme Purity movement, and Buddhism concepts of universal salvation in the Numinous Jewel Movement. Eventually, by the twelfth century, Daoism evolves mass rituals for the salvation of all souls in the universe, which become the culmination of all Daoist ritual.

This project first set out the evolving conception of the individual's spiritual components through early texts, then look at the rise of moralizing religions under the Latter Han, then follow the complex interaction of the organized religion of Daoism with Southern occult traditions and the integration of certain elements of the Buddhism worldview into Chinese cosmology and ritual. The project will then explore ways of analyzing these various responses through the use of a model form in interrogating these traditions. Eventually, the hope is to compile a truth table of various positions on the souls and salvation held by various groups in Chinese religious history as a way of better understanding inter-religion religious contact and interaction.

Affiliated Persons

Photograph of Prof. Dr. Terry F. Kleeman

Prof. Dr. Terry F. Kleeman

Individual Researcher