China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Special Religious Space Under the Power of the Ming Princes: Interest Interactions in Shanxi Prince Family Shrines

Friday, July 6
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Jacaranda II, First Floor

Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398, r. 1368-1398), the founder of the Ming Dynasty, established feudatories in his empire and bestowed “imperial princes” on his sons, in which three were enfeoffed in Shanxi. After his death, the successors considered the princes as a threat and promulgated many laws to limit them. Nevertheless, they remained influential in local society, like changing many local temples to their family shrines, which fully reflects the complexity of the society. In the literature, the studies on Ming princes focused on official documents, which would emphasize their negative aspects more (i.e. the criminal activities). The bias of official documents requires us to rethink the intricacies of the Ming society. Thus, this paper illustrates their activities in prince family shrines in Shanxi, through a re-exploration of the Imperial narrative and constraints imposed upon them. The chorographies and stone inscriptions gave us a vivid picture of their religious life. In Shanxi, the temples changed into prince family shrines including Buddhism, Taoism, and even popular religion. That is, the princes chose these temples, not because of their attributes, but more likely because of the political and economic interests. Through donation, ritual and religious activities, the princes actually found a way to build strategic networks with other elites without the legal restrictions from the court. In doing so, they changed the local power structure and influenced various aspects of society.

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