What recourse did you have in Ming China if your very excellent local official was leaving your area and moving on to a new jurisdiction? You could try to block his path, you could wail and tear your hair out – or you could house an image of him in a temple, make offerings before it, and create a ‘living shrine.’
In Shrines to Living Men in the Ming Political Cosmos
(Harvard University Asia Center, 2018), Sarah Schneewind
explores every angle of this practice, covering everything from what living shrines looked like and how many there were, to how they functioned as both expressions of gratitude and (more importantly) ways through which Ming subjects could speak out publicly. Beautifully written and elegantly built, this book not only tells you everything you never knew you wanted to know about living shrines, it makes reading about them a joy.
Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a PhD candidate at Harvard University in the History and East Asian Languages program. She is interested in translation, Manchu books, and anything with a kesike.