Materializing Martial Gods: Thunder Ritual, Material Culture, and the Story of Daoism in Ming China
2: Thunder in the Bedroom: Imperial Consorts, Ritual Scrolls, and Daoist Demonifuges at Jiajing's Court
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316B
Michael E. Naparstek
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, United States
The received historical narratives have obscured and omitted women’s roles in Daoist practice during the Ming. Fortunately, recent scholarship on Daoist material culture by Luk Yu-ping has demonstrated how sponsoring the production of objects afforded high-ranking women a vehicle for practicing Daoism at the Ming court. Following the work of Luk and other art historians such as Maggie Wan, this paper shows how the Honored Imperial Consort Shen at the court of the Jiajing Emperor (1521-1567) commissioned ritual objects that promoted the exorcistic practices collectively known as Thunder Ritual (leifa). One of the most striking surviving examples is a hanging painted scroll of the Thunder Ritual master Sa Shoujian leading an attack on the underworld with his demon-quelling counterpart, Wang Lingguan. Commissioned in 1542, the same year that the emperor barely survived an assassination attempt in the bed of his most beloved consort, this painted scroll stands as a material node at the intersection of Daoism’s historical significance and the ritual response to perceived threats both inside the palace and out. For a high-ranking imperial consort, this scroll provided an avenue to invoke the apotropaic power of the ferocious demonifuge, and as such, reflects the critical role Thunder Ritual played among Jiajing’s most intimate circle. By focusing on this scroll itself and the historical and ritual contexts in which it was produced, this paper explores women’s roles in the promotion of Daoism at court and contributes to a fuller understanding of Daoism’s importance in the history of the Ming.