“Soul Calling” – the beginning and end of an absurd farce more than 200 years ago

Original link: https://aaronnick.github.io/posts/soulstealers/

Note: This article is the framework of the company’s reading and sharing.

1. Introduction to books

“Soul Calling: The Great Panic of Chinese Sorcery in 1768” describes an interesting historical story – at the peak of Qianlong’s prosperous age, the political and social life of the entire Qing Dynasty was affected by a sorcery called “Soul Calling”. It got dark.

In a few months, this demonic wind hit half of China , causing the people to panic, officials to run for their lives, and the emperor to sleep and eat.

The author tries to restore this absurd farce more than 200 years ago from historical records, the emperor’s Zhu Critic and other materials, and tries to discuss the reasons behind this farce.

From this, we can better understand the traditional Chinese monarchy, bureaucratic operation and some basic problems of Chinese society.

full book catalog

  • Chapter 1 The Legend of the Chinese Thief
  • Chapter 2 Prosperity
  • Chapter 3: Present or Hidden Threats
  • Chapter IV Definition of Crime
  • Chapter 5 The Origin of the Great Hex Panic
  • CHAPTER VI The Suppression of the Provinces
  • Chapter 7 Traces of the Demon Party
  • Chapter 8 End
  • Chapter IX Political Crime and Bureaucratic Monarchy
  • Chapter 10 Themes and Variations

2. Introduction of the author

Feili Kong, an expert in American Sinology, learned from Fei Zhengqing and Shi Huaci, and taught at the University of Chicago after his doctorate. .

His research fields are mainly the history of the Qing Dynasty in China and the history of overseas Chinese. His representative works include: “Calling the Soul”, “The Origin of the Modern State in China”, “The Rebellion and Its Enemies in the Late Empire of China”

Kong Feili’s historical writing has always been known for its ingenious writing and profound meaning, and inherited the style of his teacher Shi Huaci. The construction of historical narrative is permeated with profound knowledge and humanistic care (Shi Huaci once said that he combined “the study of history with the involvement of human beings”. consciousness and the deep concern of the intellectual history movement”).

3. Sharing after reading


  1. What is Soul Calling, and why did Soul Calling occur in the heyday of the Qing Dynasty?
  2. Why does Soul Calling lead to nationwide siege and panic?
  3. How did the ghost case end?
  4. Victims, ordinary people, officials, emperors, what role do these people play?

what is soul

It is widely believed that the soul and the body can be separated, and that warlocks with ulterior motives steal the soul through superpowers, that is, “steal the soul”, and curse the soul. The key items are: hair, clothing, paper people.

Time span of the ghost case: It happened throughout the year, and it was mainly homeless

  • January Deqing mason Wu Dongming case
  • April Xiaoshan Jucheng monk case, tinsmith case
  • In May, the case of Zhang Beggar’s braid cutting in Suzhou and the case of the monk Jingzhuang in Xukou Town
  • Scholar Han Peixian’s haircut case in June
  • July Beggar Cai Tingzhang’s Braid Cut Case
  • In August, the case of beggars cutting the corners of maids’ clothes
  • October conscious monk case

The Spatial Span of the Soul Calling Case: From South to North, East to West

  • Started in Zhejiang and Jiangsu
  • Rapidly spread from Jiangnan to Shandong, Huguang, Beijing, Anhui, Henan, Shaanxi and Fujian

background of soul

  • social background
    • During the heyday of the Qing Dynasty, the population surged
    • Unbalanced regional development and uneven distribution of resources
    • Population movement, increase in homelessness
    • Manchu-Han relations did not improve
  • social psychology
    • Folk: Panic caused by inability to resist invisible threats (natural and man-made disasters), so fear of witchcraft; distrust of strangers, especially monks and Taoists who are closely related to spells
    • Bureaucracy: coping with appraisals, expectations for promotion
    • Ruler: Han threat to Manchu; ruler’s dissatisfaction with bureaucracy; ruler’s maintenance of monarchical authority and fear of civil rebellion

Responses of various social classes to soul calling

Attitude to Soul Calling (Witchcraft)

  • Civilians: believe in. The education level is not high, and they generally believe in mysterious magic power. For example, the book cites the example of parents conjuring their children’s (positive) spirits
  • Bureaucracy: contempt. Highly educated, do not easily believe in witchcraft
  • Monarch: Ambiguous. Monopolize the relationship between the monarch and the gods and prevent the folk god-building movement; distrust the bureaucracy, and need to use this excuse to rectify the officials

Reactions and Influences

  • vagabond
    • Main victim, misunderstood and beaten by civilians
    • Arrested by the government, tortured to extract confessions, resulting in countless unjust, false and wrongful convictions
  • civilian
    • Abuse of power : In the environment of purging the soul, it provides ordinary people with a good means to settle old grievances or use power for personal gain. It is like a weapon thrown on the street, and everyone can use it – report others as demons first, for the purpose of revenge
    • Collective panic : Anyone who sees monks or beggars is inferred as guilty, beaten or even escorted to the government
  • bureaucracy
    • The pursuit of more and more layers : it is better to kill a thousand by mistake than to let one go – the unfavorable clearing will be sanctioned by the Beijing officials, the higher officials have the responsibility to impeach their subordinates for their dereliction of duty, and the impeachment will affect the higher officials’ actions against them. impression……
    • Constant upward echoing: In order for the “criminal” to confess to conform to the emperor’s conjecture about the ghost, the officials had to torture the confession – even though it was clear to them that there was no demon head
  • monarch
    • Panic : vigilance against rumors of ghosts, fear of threatening the monarchy
    • Strict control : carry out a nationwide campaign to clean up the soul, which will last for several months
    • Remediation : Use the operation called Soul Clearing to observe the reactions of various provinces, and evaluate the prestige of Hongli in the hearts of officials of various provinces.
    • Backlash : Due to the institutional limitations of being responsible and lacking error correction, the information passed on is either true or false, affecting Hongli’s judgment on reality
    • Difficult to end : After the farce continued for several months and expanded to the whole country, it was difficult for Hongli to end. In order to maintain the prestige of the monarch, he could not admit his mistake; ordinary officials did not dare to raise objections under the high pressure of suppression.

the end of the soul

Liu Tongxun, the grand scholar and the prince’s grandfather, was an honest official, dared to give advice, and was highly respected by the emperor. In the autumn, he accompanies Hongli in Chengde to deal with the case. Two days after Hongli returned to Beijing, he issued a decree to stop the clearing of the soul-calling case. Obviously, Liu Tongxun’s direct remonstrance played a role.

Stopping the crackdown is not simply taking back the order. Since the emperor had invested so much personal prestige and moral authority in the case, a more ceremonial ending was necessary – the reason why the Soul Call case spread across provinces was because officials in Jiangsu and Zhejiang did not report the situation in a timely manner, and local officials neglected Duty

From the beginning to the end, the court did not admit that the soul-calling case itself was untenable. On the contrary, it always insists that the demon head does exist and that its impunity is due to the dereliction of duty by the provinces.

One of the key roles is the governor of Shandong, Funihan, who used Soul Call to hype for three months, but was finally demoted by Hongli to the post of the political envoy of Shanxi (Zhu Critic: dismissed and retained), which is obviously the release of Funihan, which is also the same as Release of Hongli’s own mistakes .


Calling a soul is actually an unwarranted political crime , and the plaintiff of the soul-calling case is Hongli from beginning to end, and the purpose of his initiation is also to serve himself-either to consolidate the centralization, or to take the opportunity to test the obedience of officials, or It was an attempt to restore the status of the Manchus…

Observe how Hongli has historically dealt with threats

  • To Literati: Literary Prison
  • To the military attache: the crime of treason
  • Against the Bureaucracy: The Soul Calling Case

Unlike those treason cases that may cause mass riots, Hongli can control the scope and rhythm of events as he pleases when dealing with the Literary Prison, and the same is true when he initiates encirclement and suppression of the soul. When officials arrest the demon head, dereliction of duty is inevitable, because the demon head does not exist, so Hongli can put his anger on the official.

As he pushes the Soul Call, we can see how autocratic power overrides the law; at the same time, how the bureaucracy influences the sovereign by manipulating the communication system.

Related reading:

refer to:

This article is reprinted from: https://aaronnick.github.io/posts/soulstealers/
This site is for inclusion only, and the copyright belongs to the original author.

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