In medieval China, talismans (fu) and sacred diagrams (tu) were ubiquitous elements in religious texts. Since they were composed of divine illegible esoteric patterns, meaning was not produced by the markings talismans and diagrams bore; it was, rather, displaced onto the objects themselves, whether they were two-dimensionally represented in scriptures and ritual manuals or externalized and materialized onto physical supports. In this respect, the objecthood and palpable materiality of talismans and diagrams made them shorthand tokens for direct access to the supernatural. Drawing on emblematic yet understudied scriptures of medieval Daoism and esoteric Buddhist, the present study considers talismans and diagrams as paratextual objects, bringing to light the fact that they not only passively frame the reading of a text but in many instances also constitute the primary and determining level of “text” that is read. In this way, sources in which talismans and diagrams featured prominently were approached first and foremost through their material aspects, namely paratexts. What is more, the talismans and diagrams that appeared in texts were often meant to be externalized and materialized, in some cases onto the bodies of adepts or visualized in their mind’s eye, thereby conflating paratextuality, materiality, and corporeality. In a pair of striking examples, practitioners are instructed to embody and become actual ritual objects, blurring the boundaries between text, object, and body in one single divine locus.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| December 01 2019
Paratextuality, Materiality, and Corporeality in Medieval Chinese Religions: Talismans (fu) and Diagrams (tu)
Search for other works by this author on:
Journal of Medieval Worlds (2019) 1 (4): 11–40.
Dominic Steavu; Paratextuality, Materiality, and Corporeality in Medieval Chinese Religions: Talismans (fu) and Diagrams (tu). Journal of Medieval Worlds 1 December 2019; 1 (4): 11–40. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jmw.2019.1.4.11
Download citation file: