Narrating Miracles, Salvation, and Community: The Worlds of Proselytizing Storytellers in Premodern China
4: A Mirror of Magic and Spiritual Power: Christian Stories in Late Ming Fujian
Friday, March 25, 2022
11:30am – 1:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 315
University of Hong Kong, United States
This paper examines Lixiu yijian 勵修一鑑 (The Mirror for Exhortation of Self-cultivation), a collection of Catholic hagiographies and miracle stories compiled by the Confucian convert Li Jiugong 李九功 (?-1681) in Fujian during the last ten years of the Ming regime. The stories were intended for propaganda and proselytism of the newly introduced Catholic doctrine, in particular its authenticity, authority, and orthodoxy in the grand arena of native religions and folk beliefs. A detailed analysis of the edifying stories from the collection reveals that, on the one hand, the main themes of the Christian exempla often mingled a spiritual enlightenment with a moralistic concern of the divine retribution to one’s virtuous or sinful acts, which in a way resembled the popular morality books (shanshu 善書) of the time. On the other hand, the Christian narratives carried visible signs of inter-religious appropriation, e.g., prayers, sacred objects, occult rituals, and exorcism, albeit with a purpose to defeat and subjugate, if not to eliminate, the multitude of native deities deemed as demons or idols. The paper further provides contextual analysis of some related key issues beyond storytelling, such as the network-building efforts of Li and other leading converts in the Fujian Christian community, the role of Catholic priests in promoting the miracle stories of both European and Chinese origins, and varied Chinese responses to the Christian “magic” experiences being told.