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Chen, "The nine songs: a reexamination of shamanism in ancient china," 1986

USC dissertation in Comparative Literature.
August 27, 2009

David Tze-Yun Chen, Ph.D

Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation, as the title clearly indicates, is a follow-up to Arthur Waley's The Nine Songs: A Study of Shamanism in Ancient China. His study of the Nine Songs in the context of shamanism was an investigation in the right direction, for the Nine Songs had been misunderstood in the past two thousand years because the Confucian commentators had imposed an allegorical interpretation on them. But as a pioneer in this field, Waley was often hampered by the lack of evidence to support his theory.

Chapter one is a collection of evidence, showing that Ch'u was an ancient and populous clan, and the state of Ch'u became quite powerful early in the Western Chou time.

The second chapter discusses shamanism in ancient China from the Shang dynasty. A comparison is made between the worship of the royal house of Chou and the cult of nature gods of the state of Ch'u.

The functionaries of shamanism were the shaman (hsi or wu), the invoker (chu), and the temple officer (tsung). The shaman was often called the impersonator (shih), for it was into him that the god would descend. In the third chapter the author demonstrates how the impersonator and the invoker cooperated closely in the seance.

Chapter four covers the three possible methods of inducing ecstasy: the dance to the drum, the use of alcoholic drink, and the use of Cannabis sativa, or hemp, which is commonly known as marijuana.

In the fifth chapter, the author, using archaeological findings and reliable pre-Ch'in texts, proves that the chariot was used as a ritual vessel and the dragons mentioned in the Nine Songs are a synecdoche for horses.

The authorship and the dating of the Nine Songs are discussed in chapter six. It is argued that these poems were probably composed in the sixth century B.C., during the reign of King Ling (540-20 B.C.), and Ch'u Yuan had nothing to do with them.

The last chapter presents a new translation of the Nine Songs, with commentaries