Rural Wandering Martial Arts Networks and Invulnerability Rituals in Modern China
Stanford University, US
Yupeng Jiao is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for East Asian Studies, Stanford University. He received his doctorate in Modern Chinese History from University of California, San Diego. His research interests include rural martial arts groups in China, Chinese popular religion, and legal history in modern China.
The flourishing of rural martial arts groups in modern China was largely facilitated by popular beliefs in invulnerability rituals. Invulnerability rituals, defined as the ability to defend oneself from physical harms through religious rituals, played a significant role in uniting various martial arts groups during the Boxer Uprising, which was well-known for targeting Christian missionaries. Through the teachings of cross-regional networks of wandering martial arts masters, invulnerability rituals were initially used for the purpose of defending rural communities against bandits by local self-defense martial arts groups. After learning invulnerability rituals, people could tame demonic power by summoning the presence of martial gods. Those wandering martial arts masters, who preached the effectiveness of practicing invulnerability rituals, were careerist teachers who first promoted the use of protective martial arts (invulnerability rituals) against bandits and then expanded the use of invulnerability rituals in resolving all local disputes, including but not limited to lineage conflicts and competition for natural resources. These martial arts groups then became one of the most destabilizing social actors, threatening the security of people’s livelihood. Eventually, during the early People’s Republic, martial arts groups and invulnerability rituals disappeared as a result of the Communist Party’s nationwide campaigns against alleged counterrevolutionaries.