From the Mao Cult to the Occult Mao : Rewriting the Chairman in Contemporary Chinese Fantasy Novels

par  Zhange Ni (Associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, Virginia Tech)

Résumé :

Contemporary China witnesses the flourishing of internet-based fantasy novels that draw on the bodily practices and cosmological assumptions of the premodern Chinese fangshu 方術 tradition, or, more precisely, the tradition of fangji 方技 (formulas and techniques aimed at bodily cultivation) and shush 數術 (computational arts to navigate a correlative cosmos). Arguably the most prominent fantasy subgenres, xiuzhen 修真 (immortality-cultivation) and daomu 盜墓 (tomb-robbing) tell adventure stories centered upon inner alchemy and fengshui. These popular practices have their roots in fangji and shushu respectively, partake in the ongoing revival of Chinese religion – or “superstition” – since the 1980s, and have been radically reimagined for the digital present in fantasy novels.

This paper studies Heishan laoyao 黑山老妖 (The Old Demon of the Black Mountain, 2007), a xiuzhen novel by Mengru shenji 夢入神機, and Daomu biji 盜墓筆記 (The Tomb-Robbers’ Notebooks, 2006-2011), Nanpai sanshu 南派三叔’s daomu series. Both novels enact Mao Zedong (1893-1976) as a practitioner of the occult arts and position him at the center of their fantastic otherworlds. Existing scholarship on the Mao cult has studied it as either embodying the sacralization of the putatively secular politics or inseparable from folk religion practiced at the grassroots level. These novels, in comparison, attest to the transition of the site of enchantment from politics to economy and the contemporary revival of popular religion, including “superstitious” ideas and practices. The political-economical theology these novels endeavor to articulate, one that references Chinese fangshu to address issues of the digital age, is worthy of our critical attention.

Sur la conférencière :

Zhange Ni received her Ph.D. in Religion and Literature at University of Chicago Divinity School (2009). She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, Virginia Tech. In 2021-2022, she is a research fellow at Institut d’études avancées de Nantes. Her fields of specialization are religion and secularism, popular literature, critical theory, and Asian studies.

Date et lieu:
Vendredi 17 décembre 2021 à 10H
Université de Paris, Bâtiment Grands Moulins, salle 479C
5 rue Thomas Mann – 75013 Paris.

Pour y assister via zoom :
https://u-paris.zoom.us/j/89704734045?pwd=aHI5NU5VWnVmcW13cXBqdVFmM0ZyQT09

En cas de difficultés : contacter Shuang Xu, CRCAO, équipe Chine (shuang.xu@u-paris.fr)