A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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“A valuable historical reference guide.” —Publishers Weekly
“This is a very ambitious and timely book, a book that many historians, literary theorists and story tellers who care about China and its “Other Half of the Sky” want to write, but Brian Griffith did it first, with such scope, ease and fun.” —WANG PING, author of The Last Communist Virgin and Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China
“This book is a most engaging and entertaining read, and the depth of its scholarship is astounding. Griffith vividly describes the counterculture of Chinese goddesses, shows that their fascinating stories are alive and active today, and points us toward a more inclusive and caring partnership future.” —RIANE EISLER, author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics and The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future
Touching on the whole story of China—from Neolithic villages to a globalized Shanghai—this book ties mythology, archaeology, history, religion, folklore, literature, and journalism into a millennia-spanning story about how Chinese women—and their goddess traditions—fostered a counterculture that flourishes and grows stronger every day.
As Brian Griffith charts the stories of China’s founding mothers, shamanesses, goddesses, and ordinary heroines, he also explores the largely untold story of women’s contributions to cultural life in the world’s biggest society and provides inspiration for all global citizens.
Brian Griffith grew up in Texas, studied history at the University of Alberta, and now lives just outside of Toronto, Ontario. He is an independent historian who examines how cultural history influences our lives, and how collective experience offers insights for our future.
these figures resembled wrathful goddesses of Daoist or Buddhist history. Between about 2500 to 1700 BCE, a Longshan civilization emerged in regions around the Yellow River delta. It’s a culture famous for distinctive pottery. Many wheel-cast pots have hollow tripod legs, for standing in a fire and conducting heat to the food or drink inside. And as J.G. Anderson found obvious, “the apparent likeness of nearly all the tripod legs to a woman’s breast ... can hardly be unintentional.” The tips of
Sanniang led rebel armies against the Manchus (Judge, 2008, 162). Outlaws like these helped feed the whole genre of Wuxia novels, where male and female heroes joined forces to battle for justice. All this glorification of criminals seemed dangerously foolish to most government officials. With some justification, they argued it was the government which protected ordinary people from criminal gangs: “In many localities of Shensi [Shaanxi], pugnacious, violent people abound who rely on their
best clothes, and the best horses. I have no regrets. I’ll reincarnate and do it all over again” (Li, 2000, 36). Obviously the grey area between criminality, self-preservation, and moral protest was very wide. But many fugitives from the law were wanted for breaking rules that just had to be broken—as in this account from a famine in 1912:I was passing his [the landlord’s] place, and paused to watch the demonstration. I saw that many of the men were half-starved, and I knew this man had over
ancestors. About 50 million previously landless families got a farm—often less than half an acre (Hessler, 2010, 186). And with this, the goal of their rebellion was achieved. After that, most people just wanted to farm their share of land and be left alone. The Communist Party had no further mandate to “modernize production” by imposing initiatives for collectivization, production brigades, quotas, or unsustainable industrialized farming methods. Within two decades, this whole set of “Marxist”
teachers, and spirit mediums. Besides, farming villagers were seldom interested in “renouncing the world.” They were more prone to worship deities of nature than to wish for salvation from the earthly realm. The Indian monastic practice of begging for alms was so repugnant to Chinese values, that the practice basically died out among China’s Buddhists (Hawkins, 2004, 240–241). To compete successfully in China, Buddhism had to change. And it did change, with almost amazing flexibility. One of the