International Conference


Spirit-Writing in Chinese History

June 25-26, 2019


Matthias Schumann (IKGF Erlangen) / Elena Valussi (Loyola University Chicago)


IKGF Seminar Room, Building D1
Hartmannstraße. 14,
91052 Erlangen

Spirit-writing (fuji 扶乩) played an important role in Chinese history. Commonly understood as transmitting the messages of deities and spirits, it was used to obtain knowledge about the future, to receive medical prescriptions or to compose religious scriptures. Spirit-writing faced periods of suppression, particularly in mainland China after 1949, but its practitioners have been able to adapt the practice to changing social, political and cultural contexts. It has therefore remained popular until this day not only among Chinese-speaking communities, but also in countries that appropriated aspects of Chinese religious traditions such as Vietnam.

This conference brings together scholars from various disciplines to provide an overview of the historical evolvement of spirit-writing until today, but also to address issues that deserve further attention. Besides the technical variety of spirit-writing and its regional spread and distribution, it is important to get a better grasp of the social groups that are involved with the practice. Women in particular have long been associated with spirit-writing, but their activities and beliefs have seldom been explored in any detail. The conference also aims to identify spirit-writing's place in China's religious landscape, in particular with regard to its relation with the established religious traditions. Thus, for example, can we speak of a specific tradition of spirit-writing communities with its own religious repertoire or are other expressions such as popular Confucianism or religionized Confucianism more useful to describe the communities as well as the contents of spirit-written materials? This conference further takes into account the broader transcultural context in which the practice was and is situated. At least since the early 20th century, Chinese practitioners began to engage with other forms of "inspired writing" around the globe to legitimize and enrich their own activities. At the same time, spirit-writing spread to many regions beyond the Chinese mainland, thereby sparking processes of innovation and appropriation.

For more information, please contact Matthias Schumann (


Please register until June 17, 2019 using our online form online form


Poster Flyer Abstracts


June 25, 2019

9:00 a. m. Welcome Address
Michael Lackner (Director IKGF)
9:10 a. m. Introduction
Elena Valussi (Loyola University Chicago) and Matthias Schumann (IKGF)
9:30 a. m. Overview Paper 1:
Five Questions for a Comprehensive History of the Spirit-written Literature

Vincent Goossaert (École Pratique des Hautes Études, PSL)
10:15 a. m. Coffee Break
10:45 a. m.
Panel 1: Spirit-Writing and the Literati Elites in Late Imperial China
Discussant: Vincent Goossaert
Between Belief and Disbelief: Ji Yun 紀昀 on Spirit-Writing and the Mantic Practices
Michael Lackner (IKGF)
Deities on Patriarchal Spirit Altars: The Gender Dynamics of Peng Dingqiu's (1645-1719) Spirit-Writing Circle
Daniel Burton-Rose (Northern Arizona University)
扶乩与近代中国的忠烈成神:以了闲坛为例 ,1898-2018 (Spirit-Writing and the Divinization of Civil Officials' Martyrs in Modern China: A Case Study based on the Liu Han Altar, 1898-2018)
Zhu Mingchuan 朱明川 (Fudan University 復旦大學)
12:15 p. m. Lunch Break
1:30 p. m. Overview Paper 2:
A Typological Study on the Spectrum of Spirit-writing in Late Imperial China

Hu Jiechen 胡劼辰 (Yuelu Academy 岳麓书院)
2:15 p. m. Coffee Break
2:45 p. m.
Panel 2: Networks, Communities and Sites
Discussant: Xia Shi (New College of Florida)
Spirit-Writing Cults in Western Guangdong: Their Position in the 19th-Century Spirit-Writing Cult Movement
Shiga Ichiko 志賀市子 (Ibaraki Christian University 茨城キリスト教大学)
The Rise of Spirit-Writing Cults in the Chaozhou Area (1860-1949)
Li Guoping 李國平 (Leipzig University)
當代香港扶乩道壇的歷史與傳承:以飛雁洞佛道社為例子 (History and Transmission of Daoist Spirit-Writing Altars in Hong Kong: A Case Study of Fei Ngan Tung Buddhism and Daoism Society)
Luo Dan 羅丹 (Sun Yat-sen University 中山大學)

June 26, 2019

9:00 a. m. Overview Paper 3:
A Motley Phoenix? On the Diversity of Spirit-writing Groups in Modern Taiwan

Paul R. Katz (Academia Sinica 中央研究院)
9:45 a. m.
Panel 3: Spirit-Writing in Contemporary Vietnam
Discussant: Shiga Ichiko
Spirit writing and Sinophobia in Contemporary Vietnam
Tam Ngo (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen/ Department of Comparative Religious Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen)
Reveal and Conceal: Spirit-Writing as a Clandestine Practice in Vietnam and its Diaspora
Janet Hoskins (University of Southern California)
10:45 a. m. Coffee Break
11:15 a. m.
Panel 4: Spirit-Writing in the Changing Context of Republican China
Discussant: Paul Katz
碟仙:《靈乩指迷》與民初扶乩技術的改革 (The Transcendent of the Plate: The Lingji zhimi 靈乩指迷 (A Guide to the Spirit Stylus) and the Reform of Spirit-Writing Techniques during the Early Republic)
Fan Chunwu 范純武 (Foguang University 佛光大學)
'Protecting the Dao and Transmitting the Classics': The Confucian Dimension of Spirit-Writing in Republican China
Matthias Schumann (IKGF)
Spirit Writing and Daoyuan's Gendered Teachings
Xia Shi (New College of Florida)
12:45 p. m. Lunch Break
2:00 p. m.
Panel 5: Spirit-Writing and the Individual
Discussant: Hu Jiechen
A Female Lineage for Female Practitioners: Goddesses, their Poems, and Bodily Practices in the Female Alchemy Corpus
Elena Valussi (Loyola University Chicago)
與亡靈對話:清代扶乩的另類現象與功能初探--以雲南、台灣為考察中心 (Conversing with the Dead: A Preliminary Discussion of an Alternative Phenomenon and Function of Qing-Dynasty Spirit-Writing — An Investigation Focused on Yunnan and Taiwan)
Wang Chien-chuan 王見川 (Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology 南臺科技大學)
Spirit-writing as a Technique for Individual Divination: Themes and Patterns in the Divination Records of a Modern Taiwanese Phoenix Hall
Philip Clart (Leipzig University)
3:30 p. m. Coffee Break
4:00 p. m. Concluding Discussion

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