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Record Type: Review   ID: 808

Fortune-Tellers and Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society

Smith, Richard J.

 The author operates on the principle that an analysis of divination, especially when it pervades a culture, will serve as a window to the culture. "Divination is a device for constructing social meaning" (p. vii). His own interest, as a historian, is in what fortune-telling may reveal about the traditional Chinese culture in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Divination touched every aspect of Chinese culture and "had the potential of empowering everyone in Chinese society" (p. 10). He begins with a history of divination in China up until the period of interest. He reviews orthodox cosmology in the Qing, the I Ching in Qing society, geomantic theories and techniques, methods of calculating fate, spirit mediums and messages, and a conclusion, which is that there is universal interest in divination because it "attempts to bridge the gap between 'hard' science, which purports to describe impersonally the way the universe works, and religion, which attempts to invest human lives with cosmically-delivered but individualized meaning" (p. 283). In the Qing, divination pervaded every aspect of Chinese society. He suggests that it can "best be understood as a highly personalized ritual of empowerment, which, like other Chinese rituals, synthesized ethics, aesthetics, and world view" (p. 265).
Publisher Information:Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991. 434p. Bibl: 351-369; Chap. bibl: 289-349; 61 figs; Glossaries: 371-420; 4 illus; Index: 423-434; 1 table
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