Dancing with Ghosts and Spirits in Ancient China

A Book Presentation by Dr. Anthony Hu (Hu Baozhu 胡寳柱)

Ghosts“When a ghost enters one’s house with a basket in hand, begging for food, this is a hungry ghost. If you take off your shoes and throw them at the ghost, it will stop coming.” This piece of advice on how to ward off ghosts is taken from an ancient Chinese bamboo text, the “Day Book” (Rishu), which was discovered in a tomb in central China’s Hubei Province. It shows that ghosts were regarded as entities people could and had to interact with in everyday life.

The presentation by Anthony Hu focuses on the ghost-spirit culture in ancient China. He discusses the way ghosts and spirits were presented in unearthed materials and the Chinese classics, and analyzes the great number of terms for these extra-human beings from linguistic, literary and sociopolitical perspectives. He also offers examples of accounts of anomalies or fantastic stories and gives a philosophical explanation to the ghost-spirit phenomenon in China. Finally he reflects on how research on the culture of ghosts and spirits in China can contribute to a deeper interreligious dialogue between Indigenous religious beliefs and the Christian Gospel.

Anthony Hu was born into a Christian family and grew up in a small village in the northern part of China, surrounded by a living environment of folk culture. He was fascinated by local customs, popular beliefs mostly rooted in Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, native theatrical performances and other forms of cultural expressions. He received his Ph.D. from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in 2020 and now works in the Sinological Monumenta Serica Institute. Recently, he published a monograph entitled Believing in Ghosts and Spirits: The Concept of Gui in Ancient China. His research interests include popular religions and culture in China, demonology, and Christian missions in the Ming and Qing periods.

The presentation was held on 30 September 2021 in Sankt Augustin (see video below).