Society and Identity
There have been many discussions regarding who a “wu” was – “shaman,” “spirit-medium,” and “sorcerer” are the most common English translations – and what he or she did in traditional China. The term was used loosely during the Song. Those who were called wu were usually involved with healing ritual of some sort, sometimes but not always related to spirit possession. Those who were called wu did not necessarily consider themselves so; those who called themselves wu did not always do the same things. Many sources do not specify whether the wu was a man or a woman. In most Song cases where we know it was a woman, her actions were not markedly different from those of a male wu, other than a few occasions in which female wu are described as sexually involved with spirits.
After raising the questions of who was a wu, who was a female wu, and what wu meant in Song contexts, I analyze the narratives that associate wu with women’s spirit and sexual possession. By comparing narratives of female wu, female transcendents, and women considered “enchanted” (mei) by spirits, I examine the construction of knowledge about female sexuality and women’s mystic experiences. There was a fine line between the divine and the demonic, and the devotion and authenticity of divine women were frequently questioned. I argue that women’s identities were determined in these narratives due less to their actions than to the availability of these conceptual frameworks.