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Calling the Spirits, Today's China

By:Lawyer Zhang Tao – Shanghai Ganus LawDate:2018-03-08

There are a million and one ways to find the perfect one; similarly there are a million and one ways to find your destined book. It could be classics, books recommended by teachers and friends, a random book you find in a bookstore, or books by an author you like. Living in the information age, sharing books through Weibo, Weixin, will similarly encourage one to be interested in a certain book.

[Calling the Spirits] is a book only to be known by me through major reposts online. At first I thought this was a book about the supernatural.

Hence with curiosity and slight fear, I flipped open the pages. Of course, I read it during the day, and mostly on the crowded train. Why? Because I am a scary cat. I remembered a black and white photo of Cixi in our textbook, and every time when I come across this photo when I do my revisions, I will quickly flip the page over in fear. If truly God exits, so must the Devil.


Without further ado, I felt an unknown lure towards finishing the book; histories, sociology, and political science; even psychology and theology that I have learned are inadequate to comment on this book solely. Additionally, when the author passed away, numerous newspapers, journals, and academia posted their condolences in remembrance. Hence I will quote the author’s words on the back of the book.

Before that, I would like to share with you some of the superstitions I have personally experienced.

Pipe piper (also known as Pai Hua Zi in Mandarin): abductors will use a hallucinating drug that will cause children to leave with them without struggle. In the North, we call beggars “Jiao Hua Zi”, coincidentally pipe pipers always hace a similar , maybe that’s why they are called Pai Hua Zi. When I was young, adults will always use Pai Hua Zi to scare us (almost like how Westerners use the boogeyman to scare children). Especially in summer, to prevent us from playing by the streams or running afar, they will repeat “there are many Pai Hua Zi outside, they’ll abduct you immediately after tapping your head!”

Curse notes: when I was in primary school, a practical joke of curse notes were greatly widespread, and it is most often written or accompanied with paper notes. The content will read something like this “those who read it has to copy this note 10 times, then throw it at 10 different locations, otherwise the Devil will find you within 10 days”. Of course, there were many who believed in it and followed instructions. Hence it spread like wildfire, although it did not cause terror within us, it simply felt non-auspicious.

() cans: mostly during () year or () month, suddenly every household started believing in the saying “daughters need to buy cans for their mothers, plus a pair of red socks…” sometimes, it even changed to mother-in-laws buying lucky charms for their daughter-in-laws; or sisters buying red underwear for their brothers. I believe these are simply marketing tricks to sell products. But there were many who believed.

Others: such as nephews born in January (Lunar Calendar) will harm their uncles, wear pig first before wearing cat and the Grim Reaper will not find you, weasel spirits and willow sprits taking over your body, etc.

I wonder whether you have heard of any superstitions when you grow up?


When we were researching on the 18th Century Chinese society, we have to consider that people at that time believed that evil surrounds them, and their survival is much threatened by the invisible evil. However my main point here is to use the supernatural to reveal the ugly society, not the other way round whereby the supernatural causes fear within society. In pretty Modern Chinese history, fears of the supernatural portrayed a very sad image of our society, where we see all sorts of an-eye-for-an-eye hostility everywhere.

If the government were to wipe out the supernatural, civilians would gain a great opportunity to use it against their enemies. A powerful weapon that every one regardless of their morals, can use against others. This much sought after power once bestowed to civilians will cause widespread chaos within society. This power gives a way out for those to owe debts and acts as a shield for them; it is a license to those who wants to reap benefits from others; it gives the jealous benefits they imagined; it gives power to the evils; and satisfaction for abusers. (It somehow reminded me of Cultural Revolution)

I wonder if what we are experiencing is a form of retribution due to overpopulation, stratification, and the overall downfall of societal morals? People question meritocracy in such a complex society, outdated and irresponsible laws only worsens this situation, nobody can expect a fair damages reward. In such a world, the supernatural is an illusion of power, a reward. Although calling the spirits (almost like Witch Hunting in the middle ages) has not happened in China before, majority still believe people can steal others’ spirit to call upon the infernal powers through special techniques. This is both a spine-chilling and exciting illusion. On the opposite end, real power exists – people can accuse someone to gain power through vast accusations. In allowing people to accuse the supernatural, it reflects how powerless they were previously. For these powerless, the ability to “clean up” the society provides them with vast opportunities.

Modern China history is filled with examples of giving illusionary power for societal progress. I still remember talking to an old Red Guard in Beijing in 1982. At that time, he was working in a low-paying job. He stated with emotion that Mao Tze Dong’s Cultural Revolution was a golden era for powerless and useless people like him. Mao’s call for the youths to participate in revolution gave people like him satisfaction by taking orders from the top. He complained that in today’s society everything requires exams and certificates, and that he had no more hope to change his life or climb up the societal ladder now.


The author stated “my book is also about China today, but can the Chinese understand?”



Ganus’Value:I would look for the legal basis for your point of view, even if I disagree with it.
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