Emily NgJun 22, 2021
A Time of Lost Gods
Mediumship, Madness, and the Ghost after Mao
University of California Press 2020
If China’s Mao era is seen by many as a time of great upheaval and chaos, there are also people and places for whom things appear quite different. Writing from one such place in A Time of Lost Gods: Mediumship, Madness, and the Ghost after Mao (U California Press, 2020), Emily Ng foregrounds the perspective of a rural population in Henan province whose cosmological visions frame the Mao period as a time of relative calm, when a powerful sovereign brought order to both human and sprit realms.
Throughout this book, cosmological disturbance, ghosts and psychiatric disorder become lenses through which to understand the upheaval of capital flows, cross-country migrations and intergenerational strife which have coloured social, economic and political relationships in China since Mao. Ng’s extensive fieldwork with spirit mediums themselves, ordinary villagers who consult them and patients in a local hospital is complemented by cosmically ambitious insights into society and history which make this beautifully written book an invaluable resource for understanding China’s past and present, and eras of historical disturbance more generally, through a highly compelling new lens.
Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.