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The Ancient Shrines of Dongting: The Religious Landscape of the Lower Xiang River in the Medieval Period

Bin WEI (Wuhan University)
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In a memorial of 905, Ma Yin described four shrines near Lake Dongting and Lake Qingcao in present- day Hunan. Based on the deities worshipped, these shrines can be divided into two categories: shrines to water deities and shrines to sages and worthies. These shrines are distributed along the east shore of Lake Dongting and along the Xiang River. The story of their rise and fall was closely connected to changes in the natural environment of the lower Xiang River and Dongting area. At the same time it also reflected cultural influences related to the southward expansion of the political authority of Chu and Qin-Han. Local religious beliefs were shaped by the local ecology and regional economic systems; external cultural elements also had to adjust to local conditions. As an element in the overall process of cultural change in southern China since the Warring States period, the pattern of change in the religious landscape displays some similarities with the stratification of the Chinese language in the region, with the uppermost and most visible stratum reflecting transformations driven by the Hua-Xia culture, and the persistence of indigenous culture in the lower stratum.

Journal of History and Anthropology