Chinese Religion Seen through the Proverb, cap. II & IV






Nature Worship















Life beyond the Grave



pp. 20-58 Chapter II

p. 48 description of dragon

bodily member

of __ (animal)


camel (with long beard)


sword {"out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword" (Apokalupsis of Ioannes 19:15)}


















[fn. e : purple perfume]

p. 49, fn. a -- the 9 varieties of dragon



its proclivity

where its figure its carven



"crying out loudly when attacked by its arch-enemy the whale"

top of bells & gongs



"taste for music"

screws of fiddles



"fond of literature"

top of stone tablets



"able to support heavy weights"

bottom of stone monuments



"liking for danger"

eaves of temples



"fondness for water"

beams of bridges



"propensity for resting"




"lust for slaughter"




"addicted to litigation and quarreling"


pp. 54-57 meteorological deities




"In the shifting Wind ... a Goddess ... carrying a large sack on her back. The wind pass over the earth whenever she opens her bag and permits them to escape." [fn. a : "the Goddess, Feng Lao P>o P>o."]


"the Rain God ... holding a vessel of water in one hand and in the other a sword with seven stars engraved upon it."

55, n. 4

"The Goddess of Lightning has lost her shoes".


"the Goddess of Lightning ... is to assist the God of Thunder, by revealing to him the hearts of men ... . [n. 5 : "White lighting makes manifest the hearts of men, and red lightning the hearts of demons."] For this reason she if often called ... the Mirror of the God of Thunder. She is represented holding one in each hand, by the use of which she sends forth ...


"golden snakes.""


"the Thunder God is ... three-eyed ... . He is standing, holding a hammer in one hand, in the act of striking a piece of iron in the other." {cf. hammer of [Norse thunder-god] To`rr}


pp. 77-117 Chapter IV

pp. 84-86 ghosts & daimones


the dead


"When a man dies ... his soul become a kuei. He seeks the darker places about the home and the spot with which he is familiar."

84, n. 3

"When a man dies, he becomes a ghost; when a ghost dies, it becomes a chi."

84, n. 4

"When a man dies he becomes a kwei which, when perceived my men, frightens them. When a kwei dies it becomes a chi which terrifies the kwei which sees it."

85, n. 3

"A dead man is like a tiger, and a dead tiger is like a lamb." {Iesous Christos is both lion (according to the Apokalupsis) and lamb (according to the Euangelion).}


"the fear that the cold hand of a demon with seize him."

"The people build extra wooden screens behind their doors, thinking the demons in trying to enter the house will bump their heads against them and leave baffled. For the same reason they erect a large wall ... in front of the main entrance. ... Thinking the spirits travel in a straight course, they believe that by twisted roads... they will be able to turn them to some other locality."

86, n. 3

"Good men have fire three feet high above their heads; evil spirits would do well to avoid it."

pp. 88-92 death-rites




"As death approaches, the nets {against mosquitoes} are taken away from the bed, that the soul in its departure may not become entangled in them. [fn. d : "If the nets are left, the soul will fall into "the Net of Heaven and Earth.""] {A reason for the plurality of nets is the multiplicity of nets between Earth and Heaven, according to Daoist cosmology} During these moments the nearest relatives are continually trying to call back the soul, and induce it to reanimate the body."

88, n. 1

"By the side of a dead man’s body there is a living demon. Used by one whose word is doubted, meaning there are those present who know I am telling the truth." {The "demon" able to testify that the dead [person’s soul] is telling the truth during Judgement of the Dead in the Hall of Truth in the Netherworld is the one of the 3 animal-headed gods who manipulate the Mirror of Deeds, according to the Bodish Book of the Dead}

89, fn. b

"The water used in washing a corpse must be paid for ... . This is accomplished by burning paper money to the Dragon King at the well or pond, before taking the water. An umbrella is used to keep the ... water from the sight of Heaven."

89, fn. c

"Ashes are put in the bottom of the coffin, accompanied by the repeating of lucky phrases".


"A sedan chair and coolies (in paper imitation) are burned for the use of the departed on his journey."


"A couple of eggs in a small jar of rice are placed by the side of the coffin." [fn. b : "The mouth of the jug is then covered with a piece of cloth. This is placed under the head of the coffin while in the home, and later in a prepared niche in the grave. The rice assures the person against hunger in the next existence, while the eggs assist him in getting through the village of fierce dogs on the way to Hell."]


"Between the third and fourteenth days after death the soul is supposed to return and visit the body in the coffin, accompanied by a number of demons."

91, fn. a

funebrial procession : "At every ... T>u Ti [‘Earth-God’] shrine on the line of march, the procession is stopped ... and the god informed ... . [p. 89, fn. a : "... the grave is under a second God of the Soil, ... informing of the new resident."]

The procession also includes a band, and at least one large paper image. This is the spirit which opens the road for the soul of the departed.


Near the close of the service in the home, by the aid of ... a literary man ..., the soul is induced to enter the ancestral tablet, which has been prepared for this purpose. This is accomplished by his dotting the word for Lord {similar to a majuscule Xi}, on the tablet with either red ink, the blood of a cock[’s comb], or the blood from the finger of the eldest son."


"there is offered up a spirit deed to the grave site." [fn. a : "A spirit deed ... is made out for it, and burned. The soul then takes it to the King of Hell, who stamps it and thus guarantees the grave".] [n. 1 : "An excitable, restless man. Lit. One for whom no Ti-Ch>i was burnt in his antenatal life."]

92, fn. d

The custom of burning paper money is said to have originated in the borrowing, for the sake of the Dragon King C^in Ko Lao Lun Wan, to be repaid when returning to earth, money to settle with the judges in Hell, concerning guilt for having drowned several in the cities through reversal (in defiance of the fortune-teller Wan Kuei Ku Tzu) of a directive from the Pearly Emperor.

p. 94 worship of the dead by the living

Ancestral-tablets for the most recent five generations are "upon the altar-board in the guest-hall. Here they are worshipped by the relatives, and at times are bowed to by one’s friends. When one sacrifices to them, fire-crackers are exploded to arouse and inform them of what is about to be done. After paper money is burned, offerings of food and drink are made, and the devotees kotow to the tablets." [n. 5 : "In the worship of men and gods one kotows three times; in the worship of ancestors and demons one must kotow four times."]

p. 99 widowhood

After a woman is married to a husband, "her filial duty is to his father and mother. ... should he die she will not remarry without their consent {cf. the widow Rut in the Tnak}, but will rather remain a widow for the rest of her life, or commit suicide in order to go with him should they desire it." {is the custom of Sati in India of Chinese provenience?}

p. 101 redanimated corpses {cf. Bodish ro-lans ‘risen corpse’ (R), Mongolian vitar (TAJ, p. 357, n. 373)}

"The corpse ... may become a Chiang Shih ... governed by the dog, cat {cat assisted in resuscitating ro-lans (HD, p. 55)}, or rooster. [fn. a : "if a cat, dog, or rooster approaches the corpse, it will call the Chiang Shih into activity.] It has the power of leaving the coffin, either before or after burial. ... However, it can only travel in a straight line. {"American folklorist Evans Wentz was told about paths of the dead in Brittany that he could not distinguish from the beliefs about fairy paths. Similar could be said of invisible ghost routes in Albania and elsewhere." In Ireland, "Writing in 1870 (in The Fireside Stories), Patrick Kennedy stated it clearly: fairies "go in a straight line, gliding as it were within a short distance of the ground"." "There are startling similarities to the beliefs underpinning Chinese feng-shui landscape divination, in which homes and ancestral tombs had to be protected from straight roads or other linear landscape features ("arrows") because troublesome spirits travelled along them and would bring bad luck." (WhLL)} In case it should run into an object and be knocked down, it will be unable to return to the grave. ...

When ... there is danger of a relative’s becoming one, they prepare against such a contingency by placing iron upon the body [fn. b : also, "some article made of iron is placed in a baby’s cradle to keep off the kuei."], and binding the feet, or putting them into a rice measure. A mirror and sieve are hung above the casket; the former to prevent its rising, and the latter holds its soul in the net of Hell."

R =

TAJ = James E. Bosson (transl.) : A Treasury of Aphoristic Jewels. 1969.

HD = Stan Mumford : Himalayan Dialogue. 1989.

WhLL =

pp. 102-112 were-animals




"These animals ... produce insanity by the use of magical power." [n. 6 : "running against the claws (of the five animals), -- turbulent insanity."] [fn. b : "The five animals are the fox, weasel, hedgehog, snake, and rat."] [p. 104, fn. : "They have the objectionable habit of lying down in the road. If anyone steps on their claws at such times, he is promptly bewitched."]



"The king of the were-beasts is the tiger. ... Lin Chun ... turned into one, established the tiger tribe, and set up his worship."

105, n. 7

"When tigers transform themselves into men, their tails do not change."


" "When the tiger looks into the mirror," even though he may be in the form of a man, he sees his image as it really is, and this so frightens him that he immediately leaves. So for protection, ... a Taoist monk ... wears a mirror some place on his body. ... When a man has been killed and devoured by a tiger, his soul becomes a demon, called ch>ang kuei ... . It is then associated with the tiger, as his servant. Its duty is to entice victims within the reach of its master."


109, n. 3

"The mouth of the fox contains a bewitching pearl if you get it you will become a favorite of the whole world."

109, fn. a

"The female fox turns into a woman and seeks a man who will make love to her. She then kisses this pearl into his mouth, and he immediately becomes wise."


The were-vixen "quite often takes the form of a beautiful woman. It marries and makes a home, but always in time causes its husband and children to go insane."


"It has not the power to change its tail. This often leads to its discovery." [p. 110, n. 2 : "Talk of demons and they will appear; talk of a fox and his tail will be seen."]


"The fox makes its home in caved-in graves. ... At times it simply puts on a skull and is able to transform itself."



"The monkey oft[t]imes assumes the form of a Buddhist devotee." {cf. Monkey in Journey to the West}


111, n. 1

"A hare having become an elf, is more destructive than a tiger."



"When a man and wife are well mated in this life, after death they may become mandarin ducks".


were-serpents : "They say that shrewish women ... are changed into them."


"the were-fish ... gains its soul from the body of a man who has drowned. ... It often takes the form of a gigantic demon, which then attacks one."

pp. 113-116 spirit-animals


"the spirit-animals ... are four in number, namely, "the unicorn, the Phoenix, the Tortoise, and the Dragon.""


114, fn. a

"The unicorn has a body resembling a deer, a round neck, the tail of an ox, the forehead of a wolf, red eyes, and a single horn. It is courteous, and benevolent."

114, fn. b

"Before the birth of Confucius a unicorn appeared to his mother and presented her with a tablet of jade, on which was inscribed, "the son ... will ... become a throneless king." Another appeared shortly before his death. Shu Sun Shi ..., while gathering fuel, caught ... this one. ... Confucius ... believed his doctrines could not gain way because of the death of the unicorn."


114, fn. d

"The phoenix is described as having a back like a unicorn, a neck like a snake, a tail like a fish, feathers like long scales, a breast like a goose, and a beak like a chicken."


phoinix’s __

is __ (color)

for __




merit or benevolence


















"It is reputed to rest only in the wu t>ung tree or on bamboo."


116, n. 7

"The tortoise has foreknowledge."


Clifford H. Plopper : Chinese Religion Seen through the Proverb. Shanghai, 1935.