Misbehaving mediums

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Wang Chong (Wang Ch’ung) (25—100 C.E.)

Wang Chong (Chinese: 王充; pinyin: Wáng Chōng; Wade–Giles: Wang Ch'ung; 27 – c. 97 AD), courtesy name Zhongren (仲任), was a Chinese astronomer, meteorologist, naturalist, philosopher, and writer active during the Han Dynasty. He developed a rational, secular, naturalistic and mechanistic account of the world and of human beings and gave a materialistic explanation of the origin of the universe. His main work was the Lunheng (論衡, "Critical Essays"). This book contained many theories involving early sciences of astronomy and meteorology, and Wang Chong was even the first in Chinese history to mention the use of the square-pallet chain pump, which became common in irrigation and public works in China thereafter. Wang also accurately described the process of the water cycle.


The Lunheng, also known by numerous English translations, is a wide-ranging Chinese classic text by Wang Chong (27- c. 100). First published in 80, it contains critical essays on natural science and Chinese mythology, philosophy, and literature.

The title Lunheng combines lun or "discuss; talk about; discourse; decide on; determine; mention; regard; consider" and heng "crosswise; balance beam; weigh; measure; judge; appreciate". English translations of the title include "Disquisitions" (Alfred Forke), "Critical Essays" (Feng Yu-lan), "The Balanced Inquiries" (Wing-tsit Chan), or "Discourses Weighed in the Balance" (Joseph Needham).


The sign in the original tweet says:

Běn miào jìnzhǐ wàiláizhě zài miào lǐ qǐ jī (qǐ tóng/tiào tóng), rú yǒu wéijìnzhě, hòuguǒ zìfù.


"This temple prohibits outsiders from engaging in shamanistic trance (shamanistic possession / dancing) in the temple. Anyone who violates the rules will be responsible for the consequences."

The term tóngjī 童乩 and its derivatives / cognates are very important in the religious practices of southeast China.

Tongji (Chinese: 童乩; pinyin: tóngjī; Wade–Giles: t'ung-chi; lit. 'youth diviner'; Tâi-lô: tâng-ki) or Jitong (Chinese: 乩童; pinyin: jītóng; Wade–Giles: chi-t'ung; lit. 'divining youth') is a Chinese folk religious practitioner, usually translated as a "spirit medium", "oracle", or "shaman".

This word compounds tong "child; youth; boy servant" and ji "to divine" (cf. fuji 扶乩 "divination; planchette writing"). Regional variants include Hokkien tâng-ki 童乩 and Cantonese gei-tung 乩童 or san-daa 神打.

A tongji or jitong is a person believed to have been chosen by a particular shen "god; spirit" as the earthly vehicle for divine expression. The Chinese differentiate a wu "shaman; healer; spirit medium" who gains control of forces in the spirit world versus a tongji who appears to be entirely under the control of forces in the spirit world.






    1. (Hakka, Min Nan) spirit medium







    1. spirit medium



The questions, then, are whether what is now pronounced as tóng in MSM and written as 童 in Hanzi originally meant "child" and whether it was originally from Austroasiatic, Sinitic, or some other language family. Similar questions may be asked for jī 乩 (method of divination often involving planchette writing).


Selected readings

[h.t. Geoff Wade]



  1. Chris Button said,

    July 3, 2022 @ 9:37 pm

    Personally, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the link of tong in tongji with Mon.

    However, I probably wouldn’t try to relate the earlier “servant, slave” sense (from whence “child”) of 童 with the tong of tongji either. It’s probably more likely to be a loan graph.

  2. ~flow said,

    July 5, 2022 @ 12:16 am

    Seeing as 疑 and 乩 have quite similar reconstructed readings (basically ngi and gi), and the former has often been used from early on to gloss the latter—how likely is it they share a common origin?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    July 5, 2022 @ 12:46 pm

    From Patrice Fava:

    I hope some of you will discuss the distinction between dangki and wu. In the additional sources you could mention Schipper’s chapter « Les maîtres des dieux » (Le corps taoïste), but also John Lagerwey, Ken Dean, papers in chinese by Tian Yan, some of my descriptions in Les portes du ciel about several Hunanese mediums, wu and oracles, my film Mazu la déesse de la mer (with the pilgrimage to Beigang), etc., etc. Recently, Professor Zhu Yueli told me that when he participated with Zhong Jingwen in the Miaofengshan pilgrimage, he also sees mediums. In Shandong they are still very active. They have different names in the different provinces. Possession is still an unexplored subject.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    July 5, 2022 @ 1:12 pm

    Dear M. Fava — You will, I hope, please excuse the fact that I am not already familiar with your work, but I was sufficiently intrigued by what you wrote that I attempted to learn more. Unfortunately I was unable to locate an online copy of your film Mazu, la déesse de la mer. On attempting to learn more, I looked at your entry in faguowenhua.com. Unfortunately the latter, while speaking tantalisingly of "This film", gives no clue as to the film to which it refers, nor where it can be found or viewed. Can you assist, please ?

  5. Chris Button said,

    July 5, 2022 @ 1:43 pm

    I hope some of you will discuss the distinction between dangki and wu

    I wonder if the convincing external origin of 巫 has any bearing on the possibility of a loan here too, albeit from Austroasiatic rather than Indo-European?

    The credibility does depend on how Old Chinese is reconstructed though. Baxter & Sagart reconstruct 巫 as *C.m(r)[o].

    Inspired by Pulleyblank, I would go with *maːɣ, which then very nicely supports Prof. Mair's proposal for an association with Old Persian *maguš.

  6. Chris Button said,

    July 5, 2022 @ 10:11 pm

    @ ~flow

    I would doubt that 疑 is any more than a gloss since the reconstructed rhymes are somewhat similar but nonetheless clearly distinct.

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