Burning Money: The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld by C. Fred Blake

By C. Fred Blake

For 1000 years around the size and breadth of China and past, humans have burned paper replicas of important things-most frequently money-for the spirits of deceased kin, ancestors, and myriads of demons and divinities. even though often denigrated as wasteful and vulgar and every now and then prohibited by way of governing elites, at the present time this venerable customized is as well known as ever. Burning funds explores the cultural good judgment of this universal perform whereas addressing greater anthropological questions about the nature of worth. the center of the paintings integrates chinese language and Western notion and analytics to advance a theoretical framework that the writer calls a materialist aesthetics. This contains attention of ways the burning of paper cash meshes with different customs in China and worldwide.

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My point in all this is that the comparatively simple material corpus of paper money in Qianzhou and Zunyi places no necessary limits on the complexity or elaboration of its exegesis in cosmological or liturgical terms. In both Qianzhou and Zunyi we have only elementary elaborations of materials that make up the ensembles of paper monies, but each of these elementary forms is amenable to the elaborate exegesis of spirit masters. Every place has one or more versions of this elementary form of paper money.

She explained that the basic unit of offering is made from three leaves of paper in three sheaves, that is, nine leaves. For higher divines such as the Jade Emperor, the sheaves of three are folded in half with the yáng-side facing out. For the Ghost Festival a whole stack is separated into five sheaves and put into an addressed envelope (bāo). More arcane is the meaning of the perforations, which in this particular paper are aligned in three columns and seven rows. 1 The nun went on to explain how the perforations are like a rosary, counted to prevent the catalog of human misfortunes, all of which left me with the impression that the simplicity and plainness of the paper money in this locale in no way limits its liturgical complexity.

Increasingly there are small and medium-scale industrial firms machine-manufacturing increased types and amounts of paper monies, some of which is advertised directly to retailers and consumers online. Not only is a complete inventory of Chinese paper monies impossible, as already noted, but beyond a local system, a particular manufacturing firm or retail outlet, even trying to discern an agreedupon, formal taxonomy of paper monies is frustrated by the fact that labels use terms that are sometimes literary, other times of a local or regional vernacular, and still other times the same terms as used for the real thing.

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