Subversive practices: traditions of talismanic healing in the making of modern China, c.1850–1949

Year of award: 2019


  • Luis Fernando Bernardi Junqueira

    University College London

Project summary

Throughout Chinese history, talismans have been central to healing for the majority of the population. From the Sui to the Qing dynasties (581–1644), talismans were imperially sponsored but they were then permanently rejected by the court. However, despite subsequent condemnation by the state, talismans remained pervasive in Chinese society until the mid-20th century. This can be seen in the publication of a wave of cheap almanacs and manuals of talismanic healing, as well as a dynamic economy revolving around these practices between the 1850s and 1940s. Paradoxically, this was precisely the period when the Chinese state began to marginalise talismans and other healing rituals in China’s public sphere. 

I will combine historical and ethnographic approaches to examine the marginalisation and survival of talismanic healing in Republican China (1912–1949). I will use textual and material artefacts to discover the place of talismanic healers in China's healthcare market in the 20th century.