Abstract

The common occurrence of cults of the dead in Neolithic and early Bronze Age societies around the world raises at least one major question about early Chinese religion: what factors account for the elaboration of ancestor worship in China and for the degree to which—compared to its role in other cultures—it endured? The study of Chinese religion in the Neolithic and Shang periods (ca. 4000–1050 B.C.E.) can contribute to our understanding of such matters, but the bulk of recent scholarship is inevitably and properly focused on technical analyses of sites, artifacts, rituals, and spiritual Powers. Many studies address problems of definition, such as the nature of Ti, the high god of the Shang, and his cult (Akatsuka 1977:471–537; Ikeda 1981:25–39; Eno 1990); images of T'ien (Heaven, Sky) (Hayashi 1989a); the nature of the Earth Power and its associated altar of the soil (Tai Chia-hsiang 1986); the role of sun, bird, and other totems in Neolithic and Shang belief (Hu Hou-hsüan 1977; Allan 1981; Tu Chin-p'eng 1992; Wu Hung 1985; Paper 1986; Ch'ien Chihch'iang 1988; Juyü 1991; Wang Chi-huai 1992; Xiong Chuanxin 1992; Chang Teshui 1993; Chang Wen 1994; Wang Lu-ch'ang 1994); methods and objects of sacrifice (Ikeda 1980; Ch'iu Hsi-kuei 1985; Childs-Johnson 1987; Lien Shao-ming 1989; Itō 1990; Hao Pen-hsing 1992); the religious dimensions of illness (Takashima 1980) and of settlement building (Akatsuka 1977:494–99).

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