Research Project


The social Origin of Wu (Shamans) in the Shang and Zhou dynasties

Dr. Jinfeng Wang

Wu 巫 (shamans) were widespread during the Shang and Zhou periods, and played an important role both in politics and daily life. A number of scholars have studied the phenomenon before. For instance, Chao Fulin in his article Wu and Witchcraft in Shang Dynasty (Academic Monthly, No. 10, 1996.) focused on shamanism and artifacts of exorcism in that period .Lin Xiandong talked about the types, activities, and influence of shamans on society during the Shang (Necromantic Knowledge in the Shang Dynasty (Master thesis, Zhengzhou University, 2006. adviser: Professor Li Min ).Huang Xiaofeng argued that in the Zhou Dynasty shamanism and its beliefs gradually spread to the common people (One Aspect of Zhou Dynasty Folk Beliefs: Looking at how the Wizard became the Witch, Journal of East China Normal University, No.5,1999), etc. However, few scholars have paid attention to the social origin of wu in Shang and Western Zhou times. Given this state of affairs, the proposed research project will look into the following questions:

What was the social origin of shamans in the Shang dynasty? The goal is to give an overview of all types of shamans at that time, at all social levels. Given the very limited social mobility (e.g. through education) in the Shang Dynasty, did becoming a shaman offer the opportunity to improve one’s social status? What was the internal hierarchy among wu? What was the difference in position between high and low level shamans? Was it possible to climb to the highest levels from below? What was the social origin of wu in the Western Zhou dynasty? The goal is to do a comprehensive study of their social status, especially of those shamans at the lower levels of society. What was the internal hierarchy of wu in the Western Zhou dynasty? Once again the idea is to explore the difference in position between the top level shamans and those at the bottom. Was there any mobility within this hierarchy? How does the social situation of shamans in Shang and Western Zhou Dynasty compare to each other? What are the similarities and differences in their status? What are the social reasons behind these differences? Seventhly, the social flow problems revealed from the origin of the witch during the two periods.

  • What were the obstacles for the social mobility of shamans during these two periods?
  • What was the social influence of shamans with a background from the lower classes?

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