Shamanism and the Origins of States: Spirit, Power, and Gender in East Asia

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Sarah Milledge Nelson’s bold thesis is that the development of states in East Asia—China, Japan, Korea—was an outgrowth of the leadership in smaller communities guided by shamans. Using a mixture of historical documents, mythology, archaeological data, and ethnographic studies of contemporary shamans, she builds a case for shamans being the driving force behind the blossoming of complex societies. More interesting, shamans in East Asia are generally women, who used their access to the spirit world to take leadership roles. This work challenges traditional interpretations growth of Asian states, which is overlaid with later Confucian notions of gender roles. Written at a level accessible for undergraduates, this concise work will be fascinating reading for those interested in East Asian archaeology, politics, and society; in gender roles, and in shamanism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this book Sarah Milledge Nelson suggests that shamanism was a significant building block for state formation in East Asia, and that women, who often had the shamanistic access to the spirit world, played an important role in this process. She shows how this would have been the case, by systematically going through archaeological, historical and ethnographic records of various regions of East Asia and surrounding areas, from Palaeolithic through early historic times, unravelling and rewinding various strands of mythological, ideological, documentary, and simply anthropological. Very convincingly, [Nelson] demonstrates the fun and value of an alternative approach to East Asian archaeology." —Fumiko Ikawa-Smith, McGill University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598741339
  • Publisher: Left Coast Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 303
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Milledge Nelson is John Evans Professor of Archaeology at the University of Denver. She is a specialist in cultural development, the origins of agriculture, and gender in the ancient world. Recent books include The Archaeology of Korea (1993), The Archaeology of Northeast China (ed.)(1995), Handbook of Gender and Archaeology (2005), and two editions of the textbook Gender in Archaeology (1997/2004), which won the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures     xi
Preface and Acknowledgments     xv
Orientation to Shamanism and the Origin of States: Spirit, Power, and Gender in East Asia     1
What Is Shamanism?     3
Who Were the Wu?     5
State Formation     6
Archaeology     7
Texts     8
Organization of the Book     9
Niuheliang, China     14
Landscapes, Legends, and Skyscapes     19
Landscapes     19
Myths and Legends     31
Skyscapes     38
Interaction between Earth and Heaven     42
Conclusion     46
The Puyang Burial, China     47
What is a Shaman?     51
The Archaeology of Religion, Magic, and Ritual     54
Shamans in Ethnology     57
Shamans in History     61
Other Beliefs and Rituals in East Asia     63
Practices of Shamans     67
Material Culture of Shamans     68
Current Shamanism in East Asia     71
Variability of Shamanisms in Ancient East Asia     72
Conclusion     74
Yoshinogari, Japan     76
Power, Leadership, and Gender     81
Shamanism and Power     81
Leadership Strategies     84
Theories of Leadership     85
Obtaining Power     86
Qualities of a Leader     92
Ideologies of Leadership     93
Women as Shamans and Leaders     95
Conclusion     99
Anyang, China, Tomb No. 5-Lady Hao     100
Shamans in the East Asian Neolithic     105
Neolithic Chronology     109
Possible Evidence of Neolithic Shamans     112
Conclusion     138
Kamegoaka, Japan     140
Shamanism in Early Chinese States     143
Evidence of Xia     146
Evidence of Shang     151
Means of Reaching the Spirits     156
Critiquing the Shaman Hypothesis     162
Warring States     163
Conclusion     166
Sanxingdui, China     168
Shamanism in Korea     171
Paleolithic and Neolithic     172
Bronze Age     174
The Han Commanderies     179
The Korean Three Kingdoms     181
Current Shamanism in Korea     190
Conclusion     191
Hwangnam Daecheong, Korea-Burial of a Ruling Queen?     192
Shamanism in the Japanese Islands     199
Kami     200
Japanese Archaeology     200
Early Japanese History     207
Shamanism in Present-Day Japan     208
Ryukyu Islands     210
Conclusion     212
Haniwa, Japan     213
Retying the Knots: Leadership, Ideology, Cultural Patterns, Gender, and Shamans in East Asia     217
Times, Trends, and Gender     218
Context and the Cultural Mosaic of East Asia     224
Other Gender Issues     228
Present-Day Shamanism in East Asia     229
Conclusion     230
References     233
Index     265
About the Author     283
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