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R UMOURS AND COLLECTIVE FEAR. “C HINESE ” WHISPERS an experiment reliability transmission meaning of the message gossip hear-say rumour folklore.

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Presentation on theme: "R UMOURS AND COLLECTIVE FEAR. “C HINESE ” WHISPERS an experiment reliability transmission meaning of the message gossip hear-say rumour folklore."— Presentation transcript:


2 “C HINESE ” WHISPERS an experiment reliability transmission meaning of the message gossip hear-say rumour folklore



5 AGAINST A TEXTUALIZED VIEW OF THE WORLD claims of China as textual empire overdone the role of the textual has a history at all times texts are interpreted through preexisting texts through oral knowledge/lore all events have an important oral component archives only (very) partial need for alternative sources diaries letters memories etc. limited sphere of writing in premodern China much information only transmitted orally

6 NEED TO STUDY THE ORAL inherent problem of sources writing down itself changes the oral writing and oral have histories over time writing acquires higher status differences social group differences genre etc. how to study oral transmission need to know the who, how and what of transmission reception of transmission (same is true for reading and writing) rumours intrinsic interest experienced as threat=> production of record some rumours spread fast=> collective fear=> many records

7 STATE ’ S MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE ORAL states rely strongly on texts, overestimate role of texts issue of control oral messages function differently depending on nature of the network oral potentially influenced/changed/adapted at each stage transmission (esp. between groups/networks) tendency to interpret spread as organization

8 ADVANTAGE OF STUDYING RUMOURS rumours spread quickly>fear>documentation documentation minimally: presence rumour + year additional info: variations in rumour, who are spreading, details in consequences possible analysis changes in contents over time and space speed and distance of spread understanding collective fear as form of collective action reinterpreting past “rebellions/incidents” as caused by rumours


10 ANTECEDENTS : THE SPOTTED BARBARIAN bogeyman threats to children Ma Hu 麻胡 (original name Ma Qiu 麻秋 ) , 麻祜 Liu Hu 劉胡 and others barbarian, tattooed face, demonic>liminal “beating the yehu” before Tang many homophones, during Tang and Song usually 夜狐,野虎,野胡, 夜胡 : consistently liminal creatures of liminal spaces, increasingly thought of as living among mankind exorcism of demonic creatures enacted during rituals by beggars =>old folkloric complex name consistent in pronunciation descriptions and choice of characters suggest marginality expelled with violence

11 A NEW TYPE OF MONSTER : EARLY EVIDENCE written down late 15 th century “in the North, old women of over eighty or ninety, whose teeth have fallen out and grown again, may go out during the evening and at night, and eat people‘s babies. They are called Autumn Aunties ( qiugu 秋姑 )” old woman identified as such written down before 1716, “There was a granny ( laomu 老母 ) of over 90 years of age, who only shared her bed with one small grandchild. The grandchild once heard her eating noisily at night. When he inquired about this, she replied ‘You are mistaken! Where would I get something at night? ’ A few nights later the same thing happened again. The grandchild told it to the people in the household ( jiaren 家人 ). Together they secretly opened up her bed mat and inspected it. It was full of human bones. Thereupon they were greatly startled, and together they grabbed her and placed her in confinement."

12 THE EARLIEST COMPLETE STORY … The girl said: 'This child is also hungry.' She gave a date, but it was a cold human finger. The girl was very startled. She got up and said: 'This child has to go to the toilet. ‘The old lady said: 'The mountains a re deep and there are many tigers. I am afraid you might walk into the mouth of a tiger. Be careful, but it would be better if you did not get up.'The girl said: 'When a untie ties up this child's foot with a big rope, then she can pull it back again when something urgent happens.'The old lady agreed. Thereupon she tied a rope to her foot and grabbed hold of one end. The girl then got up, dragged the rope with her and walked outside into the moonlight. vVhen she looked at it, it turned out to be innards. She untied them and climbed up a tree to escape [the old lady].The old lady waited for a long period and then called the girl. When she did not reply, she again called out: 'You child come, listen to this old woman's words. Do not let the cold wind touch your skin. If you have to go back tomorrow because you have become ill, your mother will say that I have not looked after you properly.' Thereupon, she pulled at the innards, but when the inna rds returned, the girl did not. The old lady wept and got up. She ran and called out: 'It seems as if I see the girl in the tree.' She called [the girl], who did not reply. The old lady got afraid of the situation and said: 'In the tree is a tiger.‘ The girl said: 'In the tree is much better than on a sleeping mat. You are the real tiger. How did you dare to eat my younger brother?‘ The old lady left in great anger. …

13 DISCUSSION above: fragment of the complete story 1748 or older represents the mature version as told in China in the 20 th century, but also the very similar versions as told in late 19the century Europe more complete than “Ma mère l'oye” version (from 1697), which lacks the final escape of the girl 1837 account of “Autumn Barbarian Granny” ( qiuhu laoma 秋胡老媽 ), led to actual persecution & execution various similar cases recorded for 18 th and 19 th century China of old women seen as preying on children and persecuted for it the above story is found all over China in 20 th century identical plot as pre-1748 account similar names as old Ma Hu/ yehu complex

14 OVERALL THOUGHTS core elements stable over centuries (name creature, marginality, violent expulsion) strength of oral transmission narrative may be newer, especially the were- dimension (lack of data) capability oral tradition to transmit a narrative over centuries demonizing power of stories=> real persecutions a Chinese story in origin?


16 D ARK AFFLICTIONS 黑眚 documented since 15 th century problem of ascertaining what is oral culture and what is written editing Demonic Monster(s) 妖魔 (or adjective "demonic"); Creature(s) ( 物 ), with some further specification; Fox(es) ( 狐 and/or 狸 ), often with an additional term , such as “demonic” 妖 or “essence“ 精 Affliction(s) 眚 (sometimes with additional label) Dark Miasma 黑氣 transmitted narrative consistent: smaller creatures attacks at night entry despite closing doors and windows pressure on chest/beatings/wounds collective action with (exorcist) noise local types: foxes (northern), maliujing & appearances strange lights (Lingnan) etc.




20 BACKGROUNDS causes problem of lack of detailed info never during stressful events anticipatory (Wokou attacks, famine elsewhere, etc.) post-traumatic (after 1555 famine Shanxi, etc.) all social groups involved stigmatisation only in Lower Yangzi region from 1557 onwards (1657) “That time there was a magician staying in the residence of a doctor Zhou, who said of himself that he could catch the evil with amulet water. In reality he had no special abilities and only planned to cheat small bribes [out of people]. The thugs from the market place clamoured falsely that this man was the one who cut out paper objects and set free evil creatures. They captured him and sent him to the magistrate. He was tortured to death in prison.”



23 ONGOING RUMOURS minimal list of incidents (without indicating scale): 1434, 1441, 1476, 1483,1484, 1488, 1503, 1506,1507,1508, 1509, 1510, 1511, 1512, 1513, 1514, 1523, 1529, 1533, 1551, 1553, 1555, 1556, 1557, 1558, 1559, 1560, 1563, 1566, 1572, 1577, 1582, 1589, 1592, 1594, 1595, 1596, 1598, 1600, 1601, 1602, 1606, 1638, 1642, 1643, 1647, 1657, 1658, 1681, 1690, 1709, 1724, 1768, 1769, 1774, 1775, 1777, 1821, 1828, 1829, 1832, 1840, 1844, 1846, 1847, 1849, 1851, 1853, 1963, 1870, 1881, 1886, 1900, 1905, 1910 limits data carried out in margins other projects


25 L ONG LASTING TRADITION OF FEAR already pre-Tang Tang (515-845) scares of organ snatching (in capital regions), ascribed to hairy monsters and the emperor fears of Camphor and Willow deities led to individual persecutions (since late southern Song), usually of marginal figures use of the accusation to fight individual social conflicts well-attested Ming-Qing period rumours with anonymous perpetrators well- attested 16 th -19 th century NB why more cases M/Q period?



28 REINTERPRETING ANTI - CHRISTIAN EVENTS accusation of organ-snatching and foetus-theft applied to Western missionaries not because of written propaganda (discuss Bixie jishi 辟邪 紀實 case) importance of oral transmission of fears, including a pattern of accusation misunderstanding RC rituals and orphan-care numerous outbreaks collective fear with missionaries as suspects 1891 riots 1900 Boxer “rebellion” “real” analytical nature of such events not anti-christian or anti-missionary (eurocentric/nationalist view) anti-magician (putting China central, a la proposal Paul Cohen)


30 旱魃 term from ancient mythology “Droughtdemon” fought by Yellow Emperor demonic, female creature that causes drought and needs to be expelled term for malformed babies specific Northern Chinese complex Hebei, He'nan and Shandong, and the northeast (Manchuria) largely rain dependent regions attested in anecdotal sources since late 15 th century folkloric accounts 20 th century reconstruction taking sources together

31 THE DROUGHTDEMON COMPLEX extended period of drought recently deceased & buried old women identified as Droughtdemons Droughtdemons suck out humidity=> grave humid in folklore: hairy (NB 毛 ), able to fly collective identification of specific dead woman as Droughtdemon despite prohibitions magistrates, resistance relatives excavating grave=> confirmation total annihilation corpse legal suits may follow specific victims=> fear cannot really spread supralocally


33 DIVINE MARRIAGES sacred marriage to deity Lord of the River 河伯 story and other stories>derogatory accounts present it as sacrifice stories about the successful other thanks to sexual relationship ( 五通 in Lower Yangzi region) rape explained as divine relationship (understudied) negative narrative tradition

34 HAREM RECRUITMENT FEARS attested 977, and more frequently 1337 until 1715 to what extent is absence of occurrences absence of data? basic fear simple: recruitment of unmarried women for the imperial harem all local single women are married out, irrespective of age often in one of first years new emperor (977, 1337, 1566-1568, 1621-1622, 1645 and 1647), but more often not some cases caused by arrival persons from imperial court in a region


36 TRANSMISSION AND IMPLICATIONS rumours are expressions of long term narrative traditions=> evidence on transmission of information long term (remarkably stable over many centuries) very intense over short term as well (especially clear in case Dark Disasters) to us incredible narratives have impact all social layers (there are also always sceptics) over time and space cause far-reaching collective action increasingly with human victims state cannot avoid complicity when people act importance of local agency: people will always also think and act for themselves, often on massive scale, including religious culture

37 MODERN RUMOURS esp. research Steve Smith (China historian 1950s & 1960s, also Russian history) rumours do not stop in 1911 or 1949 when modern style news is controlled, rumours only increase they do receive less attention of authors sources 1950s rife with rumours foreign invasion demonic appearances apocalyptic rumours

38 MASS CAMPAIGNS need to recognizing role oral communication and interpretation Importance of local agency in carrying out and changing./distorting mass-campaigns

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