Cover of History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community by P. Steven Sangren
History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community
P. Steven Sangren

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1987
280 pages.
$65.00

Cloth ISBN: 9780804713443

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This book is a case study of history and culture in the Taiwanese town of Ta-ch'i and the group of rural villages that constitute its standard marketing community. However, its scope exceeds that of most community studies. The author attempts to construct a holistic view of Chinese culture from an analysis of the relationship between history and ritual in a particular locality.

The author argues that social institutions and collective representations are dialectically connected in the process of social and cultural reproduction. He describes this dialectical process through an analysis of the key cultural concept of ling, the magical power attributed to ghosts, gods, and ancestors. In analyzing the symbolic logic of ling, he asserts that it can be fully understood only as a product of the reproduction of social institutions and as a manifestation of a native historical consciousness. Structuralist and Marxist insights are combined to explain how ling is best understood as both a cultural logic of symbolic relations and a material logic of social relations.

The book is in three parts. Part I is a social and economic history that outlines what one might call an objectivist or positivist view of Ta-ch'i's history, describing events as they were, regardless of the perceptions of local participants. This material is a background to the synchronic sociological analysis of local territorial cults that constitutes Part II. In Part III, the author unsettles the objectivist assumptions of Part I by showing how the idiom of ling underlies Taiwanese constructions of history and identity and how the cultural construction of history dialectically reproduces society and creates history. The book is illustrated with 8 pages of photographs, 17 line drawings, and 9 maps.

About the authors

This book is a case study of history and culture in the Taiwanese town of Ta-ch'i and the group of rural villages that constitute its standard marketing community. The author attempts to construct a holistic view of Chinese culture from an analysis of the relationship between history and ritual in a particular locality.

The author argues that social institutions and collective representations are dialectically connected in the process of social and cultural reproduction. He describes this process through an analysis of the key cultural concept of ling, the magical power attributed to ghosts, gods, and ancestors. In analyzing ling, he asserts that it can be fully understood only as a product of the reproduction of social institutions and as a manifestation of a native historical consciousness. Structuralist and Marxist insights are combined to explain how ling is best understood as both a cultural logic of symbolic relations and a material logic of social relations.

The book is illustrated with 8 pages of photographs, 17 line drawings, and 9 maps.