The Culture Behind the Pantheon: Exclusive with RADII

Though often portrayed in Western media as a monolithic, atheistic monoculture, China has one of the most complex histories of religion and spirituality among the world’s civilizations. Understanding the histories, myths, and enduring spiritual and pop-cultural appeal of China’s long list of deities is essential to understanding the country as it exists today, says Xueting Christine Ni, who has a book on the subject out on Friday (June 1).

Ni, also somewhat of an authority on Chinese pop culture (she wrote about ghosts and ghouls for us around Halloween), has put together a “shortlist” of 60 beings — gods and goddesses, along with “spirits, immortals, heroes, elementals, sages, guardians and so forth” — showing the connective tissue of deep-seated spirituality connecting figures From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao as the book’s title has it, to Chinese society and culture.

Ahead of the book’s release, RADII caught up with Ni for a dive into China’s complex canon of mytho-historical legends, and to hear why she thinks getting a handle on them can help anyone hoping to understand the country’s role in the world today.


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Chinese Ghosts I

Tomorrow is Halloween or All Hallows Eve, the biggest festival featuring supernatural phenomenon in the West. The closest thing on the Chinese calendar took place this year about a month ago. That was Zhong Yuan, or Ghost Month, the biggest of three festivals of the dead. China has a rich history of ghosts and spirits, as many as 1520 have been compiled. To celebrate the global love of ghosties and ghoulies, I’ll be publishing a mini series of articles on the collection 33 ghosts I talked about over this year’s Ghost Month, to give you a flavour of Chinese ghosts and an idea of just how wide a range there is.


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