Chinese Animal Gods

Lecture | February 7 | 5-7 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

 Meir Shahar, Tel Aviv University

 Center for Buddhist Studies

Our ancestors depended upon beasts of burden for a living. In the Chinese case this dependence was reflected in the religious sphere. Chinese religion featured deities responsible for the wellbeing of draft animals. The two principal ones were the Horse King (divine protector of equines) and the Ox King (tutelary deity of bovines). This lecture will examine the ecological background and historical evolution of these animal-protecting cults. I will survey the Horse King's and Ox King's diverse clientele, from peasants who relied upon the water buffalo to plough their rice fields to cavalrymen whose success in battle depended upon their chargers' performance. Particular attention will be given to the theological standing of animals as reflected in their tutelary divinities' cults. In some cases the animal itself was regarded as a deity who chose to sacrifice itself for humanity's sake. Chinese Buddhist scriptures described the ox as a bodhisattva who out of pity for the toiling peasant chose to be incarnated as his beast of burden.

Meir Shahar is Professor of Chinese Studies at Tel Aviv University. His research interests span Chinese religion and literature, Chinese Buddhism, and the impact of Indian mythology upon the Chinese imagination of divinity. Meir Shahar is the author of Crazy Ji: Chinese Religion and Popular Literature; Oedipal God: The Chinese Nezha and his Indian Origins; and The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts, (which was translated into numerous languages). He is the co-editor (with Robert Weller) of Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China; the co-editor (with John Kieschnick) of India in the Chinese Imagination: Myth, Religion, and Thought; and the co-editor (with Yael Bentor) of Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism.