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Chinese Mysticism

China's "mantic Way": Knowledge Through Insight And Technics

The oldest, deepest element within Chinese mysticism is the society's diffuse mantic approach to both special knowledge and everyday life; one may call it the mantic way—enduring to the present. Archaeological work on ancient China has inspired deductions about the impact that mantic pursuits had upon politics, natural philosophy, religions, and technics. David Keightley has argued, via late-Shang royal divination records (around 1200 B.C.E.), that court decisions often were mantically "charged" in order to both detect and induce the influence of ancestors; thus, specialists, operating with divination materials, manipulated the rituals and linguistic processing of the charges not just to show how to act, but to verify that a ruler had acted correctly or had effective ancestral connections.

The mantic way infused all social levels and mundane contexts (court rites, tomb appurtenances and texts, household almanacs, manuals, and situational fortune-telling) and was a basic context for Chinese sciences. In this last regard, a trend developed from about 500 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. toward precision in the mantic arts (for example, numero-astral and calendric devices, and Yi jing numerate and correlative theoretics). Courts desired the best-trained and most effective practitioners with their impressive techniques. By Tang and Song times the arts were practiced widely, in urban areas and the countryside, and also became fairly regularized in state offices. Practitioners usually transmitted skills only within their own families. This alloy of intuitive, artisanal knowledge, precision technics, and protectiveness has cast an aura of "mystery" over arts that Westerners have found attractive, such as fengshui, medicine, and astrology. But it is more important to understand how arts and systems were both connected to and made sophisticated outside of the diffuse mantic way.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterChinese Mysticism - China's "mantic Way": Knowledge Through Insight And Technics, Self-cultivation As A Secular Pursuit: C. 400 B.c.e.–1600 C.e.