Filial piety, we are told, was one of the cornerstones of traditional Chinese civilization. It is striking, therefore, that the Chinese pantheon features a patricidal deity. Celebrated in fiction and drama for over a millennium, the myth of Nezha has its protagonist rebel against paternal authority from the moment of his birth. Culminating in suicide, followed by rebirth and attempted murder, the myth is widely known, and its protagonist commonly worshipped, to this day. Why was Nezha driven to attempted patricide? Which tensions in the Chinese family structure did his myth reflect? How did the legend negotiate these tensions in diverse historical settings? These questions will be briefly addressed from psychological, sociological, and historical perspectives. The speaker will suggest that the oedipal god survived in the Chinese cultural environment by the pretense of filial piety. He will further trace his cult from China back to ancient India, for Nezha was originally an Indian deity named Nalakūbara, whose figure had been likely influenced by that of the great child god Kŗşņa. It is possible, therefore, that two of the greatest Asian story cycles of the child-god Nezha and of the infant Kŗşņa are related.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Meir Shahar studied Chinese in Taipei. He went on to pursue graduate studies in the U.S. and received a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University in 1992. Professor Shahar has taught at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and is currently Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the Department of East Asian Studies, Tel Aviv University. He is also the director of the Tel Aviv University Confucius Institute. Professor Shahar's research focuses on the interplay of Chinese religion, Chinese literature, and in his most recent publications the Chinese martial arts. In (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1992)), he offered a novel hypothesis on the origins of the Journey to the West's simian protagonist, and in Crazy Ji: Chinese Religion and Popular Literature (Harvard University Asia Center, 1998) he examined the role of fiction and drama in spreading the cult of one of the most colorful Chinese deities: Jigong. In The Shaolin Monastery; History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008) he analyzed the history of the Shaolin fighting-tradition, the evolution of the Chinese martial arts, and the martial arts' interplay with China's diverse religious traditions (Buddhism, Daoism, and the Popular Religion). Professor Shahar's growing interest in the impact of Indian mythology on the Chinese supernatural is reflected in a forthcoming conference volume coedited with John Kieschnick and tilted "Under the Spell of India: Buddhism and the Formation of Medieval Chinese Culture." The speaker is currently engaged in two research projects: one on the legend and cult of the Chinese oedipal deity Nezha (Nalakubara); the other on the history and lore of the Southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian. The former project is supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the latter benefits from a Chiang Ching-Kuo Fellowship.