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Title: Fortune and the body : physiognomy in Ming China
Author: Wang, Xing
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis explores the cosmology of physiognomy - a method of telling fortune by inspecting the body and the material world - and its social reception in China in the Ming period. This is accomplished through the analysis of extant manuals as well as stories of fortune-tellers' practices. I focus on the Ming dynasty, because of their richness of historical evidence and the distinctive features of physiognomy developed in these periods, but also take materials about the Song inherited in the Ming in my analysis. The manuals and the anecdotal evidence on its social practices and practitioners show that during the Song and Ming period Chinese physiognomy became more systematic. Chinese Physiognomists also inspected the material world beyond the human body, and used the human body as a paradigm for the inspections in which the whole material world is seen as 'homological' to the body. One of the most representative examples of using this body paradigm to examine material objects is the physiognomy of written characters. In the manuals that deals specifically with the human body, the body is seen as a bridge between society and the cosmos. In this cosmology the human body represents the 'totality' of human existence and social life. Because social life is expressed on the body, someone's fortune can be predicted by examining the body. Different numerological as well as cosmological systems after the Song were subsumed into physiognomy and the body and the cosmos came to be linked in the manuals in a more sophisticated way than before. However, fortune is not seen as totally fixed. Moral cultivation can alter the body and thereby change someone's fortune. The body is seen in physiognomy as both physical and moral. As a technique, physiognomy is not only systematically theorized in the manuals but also highly socialized. Physiognomy was practiced by very diverse groups of people across various religious and social communities including Buddhist monks, Daoist priests, local literati, and so on. Although a popular technique, which was also linked to many different kinds of medical and religious traditions, physiognomy was still contested, and people with different social backgrounds and personal experiences held different views on it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Chinese religion ; divination ; physiognomy ; Chinese philosophy