[Documents menu] Documents menu

Message-Id: <199712061341.IAA16732@h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Sat, 6 Dec 1997 08:38:15 -0500
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu>
From: "Steven A. Leibo, The Sage Colleges" <LEIBO@cnsvax.albany.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: Impersonator of the Dead
To: Multiple recipients of list H-ASIA <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>

Impersonator of the dead

Dialog from H-Asia list, 6 December 1997

December 1, 1997
From: reinders eric <Eric.Reinders@Colorado.EDU>

Dear H-Asianists,

A student stumped me with a question about the ritual role in traditional Chinese funerals known as the shi (impersonator of the dead). I said that it's normative for the eldest son to play that role; she asked if a daughter can play that role. Uhh... Anyone have an answer for that?

Eric Reinders
University of Colorado at Boulder

December 6, 1997
From: Lionel Jensen <ljensen@carbon.cudenver.edu>

My understanding of funerary rite from the Han and the practice of personation of the dead is that this role is not usually performed by a woman; however, the impersonator of the need only be a living descendant, so in theory there would be nothing to bar a woman from service in this critical role. Mao 209 of the Shi jing provides a Zhou aristocratic desideratum of the proper ritual context for the ascent and descent of the spirits of dead ancestors. The fullest and most compelling treatment of the practice in recent literature may be found in Michael Carr, "Personation of the Dead in Ancient China," _Computational Analysis of Asian f African Languages_ 24 (1985): 1-107. I highly recommend Carr's thorough analysis and would also suggest that you have your student explore the ethnographic record of the shi practice in de Groot's _Religious System of China_.

Lionel M. Jensen, Ph. D.
Director, Program in Chinese Studies
University of Colorado at Denver
Campus Box 182
P. O. Box 173364
Denver, CO 80217

tel.:(303) 556-4272 [o]
FAX:(303) 556-6037 [o]

From: Sara Friedman <slf1@cornell.edu>

My guess is that a daughter would not be allowed to play the role of the shi in a traditional funeral, particularly in rural communities. In the coastal villages in Fujian where I did my research, a patrilineal nephew would assume the role of chief mourner in the absence of a son. Daughters had clearly specified ritual roles of their own, such as ritualized wailing during the death rituals leading up to the funeral and during the funeral itself.

Sara Friedman
Department of Anthropology
Cornell University