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Table of Contents
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 87-93

Envision “Disability”: “Abnormal people” and “The wizards” in early ancient times

Department of History, Academy of Humanities, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai, China

Date of Submission21-Jan-2020
Date of Acceptance23-Jan-2020
Date of Web Publication29-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Shengping Li
Department of History, Academy of Humanities, Shanghai Normal University, Shanghai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_5_20

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As a natural phenomenon, people with disabilities were not stigmatized from the very beginning. In antiquity, some parts of their body being “different from those of normal persons,” they were considered to have a special ability to communicate with heaven, earth, and the Gods. As a result, people with disabilities were able to hold the position of “wizard,” which had a high status and important influence. However, with the division of labor in the human society, people with disabilities gradually lost the prerogative in labor production due to the limitation of their ability to work, which affected their social status and led to the social discrimination and “stigmatization” toward them gradually. Before this transformation happened, people's envision on people with disabilities, including a variety of images, was indicative of the social consciousness at that time.

Keywords: Disability, madness, medical history, wizards

How to cite this article:
Li S. Envision “Disability”: “Abnormal people” and “The wizards” in early ancient times. Chin Med Cult 2020;3:87-93

How to cite this URL:
Li S. Envision “Disability”: “Abnormal people” and “The wizards” in early ancient times. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Jan 24];3:87-93. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2020/3/2/87/288538

Disability is a natural and universal phenomenon in the history of human beings, where people have a less choice but to accept especially in ancient times. The phenomenon of “stigmatization” on people with disabilities does not arise from their physical difference, but is the by-product of the division of labor in the society, as well as the enhancement of human labor capacity and the enrichment of labor form to a certain extent, which was followed by the change of people's cognition with regard to the mystery of body – what is the essence of human body? In the nascent view about early ancestors, some people's bodies had the ability to communicate with heaven and ghost. For example, the body state of insane people with disheveled hair was regarded as a strange phenomenon, “different from normal people”, which has shown the special function that “heaven” or “god” endowed. Exactly, this state is similar to the ancient witches and wizards. There have been some researches that focus on the relationship between the “sorcerer”, “witch”, and people with disabilities. Some scholars have conducted some fundamental analysis on the identity and characteristics of ancient Chinese wizards, which is helpful for us to imagine about the historical world of “The wizard”.[1] In addition, scholars have discussed the characteristics of the lunatic which were different from the normal people in the pre-Qin period (before 220 BC).[2]

In the following section, I want to discuss the changing social status of disabled people in ancient times, and the emergence of the “stigmatized” for the disabled, on the basis of precedent researches, from the angle of two relations between “the mad” and “the wizard”. And, I would also like to discuss the “imagination about the body” on “disability” within the initial belief of ancient people.

  ”Different from Normal People” and “the Wizard” Top

Disability is a natural phenomenon in human development and evolution. Throughout human history, however, people with disabilities do not belong to the “vulnerable groups” and would be discriminated and stigmatized.[1] In the early history of China, people with disabilities often played a special role in social participation and enjoyed a relatively high position in the society because of their characteristics of being “different from normal people”. For example, the crazy state of people with mental illness is regarded as special function by people. These people can engage in sorcery and become “sorcerers,” so that they have a special social status and influence in the early society where people generally believe in ghosts and Gods.

Among the historical materials of the Shang dynasty (1600 BC–1046 BC), there are records of “crazy” people as “the wizard.” Oracle bone has the word “Ruo”(若) in it, for example:


Xin Mao □□ Zhen, I sacrifice Bin and Ruo.

辛卯卜 贞:祀宾、若?[3]

Xin Mao □□ Zhen, sacrifice Bin and Ruo.

The glyph of the “Ruo”(若), is like a person's body shaking drastically, arms waving in the air, and hair sticking up. Mr. Zhang Guangzhi (1931–2001) speculated that “si bin”(祀宾) and “Ruo” were two respective divinations, representing two rituals. If this judgment was correct, “then 'Bin' and 'Ruo' were particularly important in the witchcraft of the Shang dynasty”. He further explained that the word “Ruo” in the oracle bones and bronze inscriptions is like a man kneeling or standing and raising his hands at the same time, with his hair divided into three locks. Luo Zhenyu (1866–1940) interpreted the meaning of the word “Ruo” which “is like a person raising his hand and kneeling, like a person obeying when answering other people's questions, so 'Ruo' should be interpreted as obedience”. But, I want to ask a question: why compliant people's hair is shaking? It makes me confused. If we refer to the ceremonial figures in the patterns on the bronze vessels of the Eastern Zhou dynasty [Figure 1], the word “Ruo” is more like a person kneeling or standing with two hands shaking, and the headwear also swings violently, as if he was holding a ritual. That is what the sorcerer was doing.[4] Chen Mengjia, a famous modern historian, in his article ”A Study on Wang Ruo Yue”, said that “Wang Ruo Yue” in bronze inscriptions may also have something to do with it.[5] In addition, the word “Ruo”若 [Figure 2][6] resembles the figure of a person who swings his arms and shakes his body violently.
Figure 1: Ceremonial figures in the patterns on the bronze vessel

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Figure 2: The word Ruo (若)

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Some scholars believe that the ancient Chinese wizard has been closely related to “The HU wizard” (胡巫 the wizard in the northern grassland minority areas). “Shaman” is just one kind of “Hu Wu”. Shamans, who speak Gutong, are considered as a group of agitated and crazy people. “Shamando is composed of people who wish to be witches after physical disability, mental derangement, and illness, especially women. Nervousness, madness, and dedication are the attributes of such a man.”[7] “The 'difference' is just not the normal case”, said Liu Xi (刘熙), a scholar at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty, in Shi Ming (《释名》The Interpretation of the Name). Thus, it can be seen that in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, most wizards were the people with mental disabilities and other characteristics that were “different from normal people”. Therefore, these mentally disabled people naturally had special social status and social influence in the society.

Hence, how do the lunatics, in the beliefs of the people of the early countries, relate to the profession of the witch? In Li Ji (《礼记》The Book of Rites), a pre-Qin dynasty Confucian classic, it was recorded that during the pre-Qin dynasty, “the wizard” burned himself as a sacrifice to pray for rain. In this story, facing the long drought, the wizards (”fool women”愚妇人) would burn to sacrifice themselves to the death to pray for the rain. However, according to the research from Shizhao Yangping (柿沼阳平), the “fool woman” who was a sacrifice did not have the meaning of disability.[8] Then, why should we choose the “fool woman” who is not really with the characteristics of disability to be the “witch”? The reason should be that the state reflected in “the fool woman” 's body, in the early popular belief in the form of a sense, has some mysterious and unique function. This was the naive understanding of “body” and “madness” by early ancestors.

In the early ancient people's thoughts, there were many “imagination” about the “body”, such as the exotic world in Shan Hai Jing (《山海经》The Book of Mountains and Seas), including the imagination of the exotic body. For example, when the Analects recorded Guan Zhong's merits, Confucius (孔子) said, “If there were no Guan Zhong (管仲), we would have been still disheveled and dressed in  Barbarian More Details clothes”. It means living like a wild man. This is the description of the appearance of somebody who is “different from normal people” to explain the evolution of civilization. In this, it also includes people's understanding of the relationship between body, social form, and its running state. “Madness” is one of the manifestations of this “physical imagination”. It is just that this “madness” may sometimes be an expression of a certain mental temperament, rather than an actual one.

For example, “fool” can be the evaluation of people's spiritual quality. Xun Zi (荀子), a book written during the pre-Qin period, mentions that “it is foolish to regard the right as wrong and the wrong as right.” Later, in the Qing dynasty, Wang Xianqian (1843–1917) explained, “it is foolish to confuse the right with the wrong”.[9] Another example is the form of “craziness,” which can also indicate the expression of people's mental state in a nondisability context. As recorded in Lun Yu (《论语》Analects of Confucius), Lu Jieyu, a recluse in the state of Chu during the Spring and Autumn periods, was called “crazy Jieyu”,[10] which was an expression of the temperament and character of WeiZi who pretended to be crazy but did not become an official. There are many similar cases. For example, historian Sima Qian in the Han dynasty in his book, Shi Ji (《史记》Historical Records), someone with disheveled hair pretended to be crazy, and then became a slave.[11] For another example, in the historical book of the Han dynasty, it was recorded that “Kuai Tong (蒯通) pretended to be crazy and worked as a wizard to avoid disaster”.[12] “Craziness” is similar to “stupid woman” in its expression, which links people's mental qualities with their physical conditions. In this period of history, the expression of such words does not mean discrimination and is not a “stigmatization” for people with disabilities.

In the Confucian classics of the pre-Qin dynasty, it also explains the transformation of the mental state of this “crazy”. In the Analects, Confucius mentioned about “the ancient people have three diseases”, that is, the three virtues possessed by the ancient people, which had gradually disappeared in later generations. Modern scholar Yang Bojun translated it as: “the crazy people in ancient times speak out freely, and now the crazy people are free and loose. The ancient virtue reserved by people also had some principles that cannot be violated, but now just angry and unreasonable. The fool used to be forthright, but now the fool is just a fraud”.[13] Here, “crazy” has a diversity of expressions, showing the comparative mental state, as well as the connection of the state relationship between “body” and “spirit”. “The spirit is a thing, and the soul is changing, so we can know the situation of the ghost and God.”[14] “Crazy” people can easily be associated with some mysterious force.

This association between “body” and “spirit” is the cognition of the state “different from normal people”. Only by showing some unique inner temperament can it have nongeneral special effects in public communication and people's beliefs. One of the most representatives of these phenomena is the presence of mental disorders, or “lunatics”, in early societies, as “witches” who held positions of high status and great influence. American scholar Young Katharine once explained the significance of “body” in the process of “writing culture and history” in the book “Folklore in the Body” on the basis of the basic theoretical framework of “body carving”. “Culture is written on the body, and our beliefs about the body, our perceptions about the body, and the characteristics that give it, whether original or symbolic, are constructed by our culture. The body is always being invented”. Of course, this theory was first proposed by Michel Foucault.[15] The social consciousness that this “body” carries is one of the foundations of early social beliefs.

  ”People With Disabilities” and “wizard” Top

The historical world of “the wizards”

”The Wizard” is an important carrier of early folk beliefs. Here, we need to explain the word “witch” first. “Wizard” can be regarded as the abbreviation of “wizard” and “python”. Zhou Li (《周礼》The Rites of Zhou) is a book about the etiquette of the Zhou dynasty, and it says, “whoever helps god is to be in charge of three great things: man, ghost and god.” Jia Gongyan, a scholar who lived around the middle of the 7th century, explained: “wizards of men are called python (巫) and wizards of women are called witch (觋)”.[16] The wizard can include male and female, but “python” can only be described as male. Therefore, we can unify the name of “python” and “witch” as “witch.”[17]

In the early Chinese society, the idea of ghosts and gods was a very important social consciousness, which had a key influence on the national politics and people's life at that time. Li Ji (《礼记》The Book of Rites) says:

  • Under the Xia dynasty, it was the way to give honor to the nature conferred on men; they served the manes of the departed, and respected spiritual beings, keeping them at a distance, while they brought the people near, and made them loyal.
  • Under the Yin dynasty, they honored spiritual beings and led the people on to serve them; they put first the service of their manes and last the usages of ceremony; first punishments, and then rewards; giving honor (to the people), but not showing affection for them.
  • Under the Zhou dynasty, they honored the ceremonial usages and set a high value on bestowing (favors); they served the manes and respected spiritual beings, yet keeping them at a distance; they brought the people near, and made them loyal; in rewarding and punishing, they used the various distinctions and arrangements of rank, showing affection (for the people), but not giving them honor.[18]

With the refinement of social division of labor, there emerged the idea of separation of human and God. In the ideology of the rulers, the rethinking about the real world led them to change the political strategy. At this time, officials were set up to manage people and Gods, thus achieving the political goal of “Juedi Tiantong” (let the people fall to the earth, let the Gods rise to the sky).

The earliest historical work mentioned above, Shang Shu (《尚书》Classic of History), said: “Then he commissioned Zhong(重) and Li(黎) to make an end of the communications between earth and heaven; the descents (of spirits) ceased.” Sun Xingyan (1753–1818), a scholar in Qing dynasty, interpreted this:

  • The emperor ordered “Zhong” to be in charge of God's affairs, and “Li” to be in charge of civil affairs, separating the previous system and each doing his own duty, which separated people from God's world.[19]

The king ordered “Zhong” to be in charge of the God of heaven, and “Li” to be in charge of civil affairs, separating the old system to its own function, which separated people from God's world.2 Modern scholar Yuan Ke(袁珂) thinks: “according to legend, at some time in ancient times, such a 'world of ghosts and gods' is connected with the world of people, and no doubt anyone can communicate with ghosts and gods.” So, what is the medium that connects the two after the separate administration of the state over the world of man and God? And what are the characteristics of this medium? From the historical materials of the pre-Qin period, we can see that the group of “wizard” played an important role in the communication of heaven and earth and human and God.

In ancient Chinese society, “shamans” were generally regarded as people with very high social status. They had an important influence in the daily life as well as in the political and religious affairs of the country. Especially in the Shang dynasty, from national politics to people's daily life, the work of wizards was very popular, so the “witch” naturally enjoyed a special and high status in the society. Modern scholar Chen Mengjia put forward the opinion that “the king is not only the political leader, but also the leader of all wizards” based on the textual research of the Shang dynasty.[20] Zhang Guangzhi, a famous anthropologist at Harvard University, also emphasized: “That wizard had important position in the Shang dynasty royal family, is a recognized fact in the Shang dynasty history research,” “Shang dynasty not only had a wizard, but the wizard occupied a very high place in the society”,[21] thus revealing the fact that the “wizard” was in the special position in the Shang dynasty society. Even if there are some scholars who think that we should not overestimate the wizard in the position and role of Shang dynasty society, others still insist on your point of view: Shang dynasty wizard has a unique and critical role because many unearthed literatures and the literatures handed down from ancient times present the images of wizards in the Shang dynasty.

The Shang dynasty was so obsessed with witchcraft that it caused its rulers to become obsessed with it and eventually led to the decline of the state. However, the following Zhou dynasty, although reflected on the practice of the Shang dynasty, still did not completely ban the witchcraft. Hong Fan of Shang Shu (《尚书·洪范》) is an important document about the political reform between the Shang and Zhou dynasties. According to the historical records of the Song Weizi family written by Sima Qian, the article Hong Fan recorded that King Wu of the Zhou dynasty had visited Ji Zi (箕子) in the 13th year (the 2nd year after he defeated the Shang dynasty, 1044 BC). The strategy of “principles (of its method in doing so) that should be set forth in due order” presented by Ji Zi included the methods of “examination of doubts” and “various verifications”,[22] the methods and principles for the interpretation of witchcraft and the signs of witchcraft. The state attaches so much importance to witchcraft that it is natural for the witches to have a high position in the society of the state. However, “wizards have a lower status since the Shang dynasty”.3 The Zhou dynasty was no longer so obsessed with witchcraft as the Shang dynasty, and witchcraft was no longer valued as much as the Shang dynasty. For example, in the book Zhou Li (《周礼》Rites of Zhou), which reflects the official system of the Zhou dynasty, the officials who manage witchcraft are only ranked in the positions of middle officials.[23]

Before the Han dynasty, the group of wizards probably included the witch officials in the state government and the folk sorcerers who used “witchcraft” as their prowess. At that time, people also believed that these wizards had the special ability to communicate with ghosts and Gods. In the book Guo Yu (《国语》National Language), which described the history of the Spring and Autumn periods, an official of the state of Chu in the Spring and Autumn periods is quoted as saying: “Those who are spiritual, attentive, and respectful of justice, are often wise enough to let heaven and earth do their part. Their sages and wisdom stand out; their bright eyes give them insight; their acute hearing gives them direction”.[24] These all emphasize the special function and important social influence of “the wizard”.

Several “Disabilities” and “The Wizard”

In fact, in early ancient societies, people who were disabled as witches had not only “crazy” disabilities, but also many other types of disabilities. Like Xun Zi (《荀子》Xuncius), a Confucian classic: “hunchbacked sorcerers, lame sorcerers, they are responsible for witchcraft”.[25] Here, people with disabilities and wizards are directly related: the physical characteristics of disabled people become important professional requirements of “wizards”. The phenomenon of “humpback”, “cripple”, “chicken breast”, and other types of disabilities occurred at the same time with “wizards”, which also indicated that the disabled of these types were relatively common among “wizards”.

In the 1970s, a relic of the Wei Shi family in the middle period of the western Zhou Dynasty, the “wall plate,” was unearthed in the Zhuang Bai Brigade, Fu feng, Shaanxi province. There is a long inscription on it. Contemporary scholar Tang Lan (1901–1979) studied this and found that the inscription contained the word “Wang (尪)”. In addition, Mr. Tang explained, “Wang (尢) was written as Wang (尪) in ancient Chinese. Always called Wu (巫), respectively, said a woman called Wu (巫), a man called Wang (尪). The book of Historical records ·Fen Shan Shu (《史记·封禅书》): “the owner of the witchcraft ancestral hall of the Qin dynasty, Wu Bao, Zu Lei, etc.,” and the historian Sima Zhen of the Tang dynasty, he said in his book So Yin: “Wu Bao, Zu Lei, are the names of the two deities.” the state of Qin Dynasty was established on the territory of the Western Zhou Dynasty.”[26] Here is the character that was shown directly equivalent to the “wizard.” This makes it possible to observe the special correlation between the “witch” and “disability.”

In pre-Qin dynasty oracle-bone inscriptions, “immolation” was often responsible for praying for rain, that is, in the times of drought, the activity of burning people to offer sacrifices to the God of heaven in order to pray for rain. There are many such records in pre-Qin historical materials, such as Mo Zi (《墨子》Mocius) and Lv Shi Chun Qiu (《吕氏春秋》The Spring and Autumn of Lv Buwei) Even Tang, the first king of the Shang dynasty, wanted to burn himself to death to pray for rain. “The Zuo's Spring and Autumn Period, 21 years of Lord Xi” records: It was dry in this summer, and the man wanted to burn the Hunchback Wizard. Here are a few examples in which “Wu” and “Hunchback Wizard” were used together. However, the “Wu” and “Hunchback(尪) Wizard” here isn't quite what we normally understand. In Lv Shi Spring and Autumn, explained, Wang (尪) is interpreted as the dwarf.[27] Mr. Qiu Xigui explains further: Wang's body is bulbous, belly bulge, the body appears particularly thick and short.[28] That's what chicken breast means. According to Mr. Li Ling, “Wu” (巫) is often a hunchbacked old woman, whereas “Wang” (尪) is short, with a protruding chest and a cripple facing up. “Wang” is a disabled person with polio, including men, so “crippled wang (尪)” is also known as “python”.[29]

In the book Zhou Li, which records the etiquette rules of the Zhou dynasty, “in the large-scale sacrificial activities held in the country, the king will also participate, and the blind will climb on the high sacrificial platform and play the elegant sacrificial music”. That is to say, in the national high-level sacrificial activities, the blind undertook the main task of playing music, which can be seen as its important influence in national politics and culture.

Cases of disabled persons holding important positions in early ancient countries are relatively common, which also reflects their higher social status in early period where productivity and social division of labor are not yet developed. For example, “The Classic of Rites”, another classic about etiquette culture, records: “For the same reason, there are the officials of prayer in the ancestral temple; the three ducal ministers in the court; and the three classes of old men in the college. In front of the king there were the sorcerers, and behind him the recorders; the diviners by the tortoise-shell and by the stalks, the blind musicians and their helpers were all on his left and right. He himself was in the center. His mind had nothing to do, but to maintain what was entirely correct”.[30] The “Gu You (瞽侑)” here refers to the blind, who, along with wizards and officials in charge of historical books, are often located around the emperor. Judged from their position in the palace, the blind and the sorcerer stood on either side of the king. From this, it can be inferred that they should be similar in their work and status. In this way, we can further guess that they all have special status.

  The Understanding of “people With Disability” in Early Ancient Times Top

The “stigmatization” of “disability” and the emergence of social discrimination is a process, and it is not a social phenomenon accompanied by the fact of human physical disabilities. For example, the “body” image of “saint” was full of rich imagination. Through Righteousness of The White Tiger Hall, a Confucian classic written in the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 79), said: “All saints have an unusual appearance: Yu (禹) has three ears. Gao Tao (臯陶) has a horse's mouth…… Tang (汤) has three arms……Zhou Gong's hunchback. The reason why saints grow so unique is that they are as inspired as immortals, which is probably because they were born from heaven.”[31] The “abnormal appearance” of a saint is the specific imagination and description of a certain spiritual character and physical form. Qu Yuan (屈原 c. 340–c. 278 BC), a poet of the Warring States period, wrote in his poetry anthology of Chu: “there are tall men in the east, one kilometer's high”. “Tall people” are not real, but poets use an exaggerated way to describe people they are not familiar with. In fact, it is the “physical imagination” of people for certain regions.

Shan Hai Jing (《山海经》The Classic of Mountains and Seas) is a collection of myths known as the “encyclopedia of the ancient world”, covering many aspects such as mythology, geography, religion, history, folklore, flora and fauna, medicine, and astronomy. There are a lot of images of “exotic people abroad”. “Alien” first appeared in “The Classic Areas Overseas” section. The so-called “alien” is very similar to the “abnormal person” mentioned above, so the “normal person” is naturally what the writer of the text thinks. What they considered “strange” was the loss or redundancy of features and body parts or a body that combined with the animal's body shape.

In fact, nowadays, these phenomena seem to be a kind of physical disability, but for the early ancient people, these are their “physical imagination” toward the people in a strange world. Through explaining The Classic of Mountains and Seas, Guo Pu, a scholar of the East Jin dynasty (AD 276–AD 324), said: “People think that a thing/person is 'abnormal', but they don't know the cause of the abnormal. Why? Things are not 'exceptional' in themselves, just because humans distinct about the nature of things subjectively. It's not that things have changed.”[32] This is to emphasize that the oral and textual “alien” images are the simple “body imagination” of the ancient early people for “exotic” people.

Yuan Ke, a famous mythologist in modern China, divided these “aliens” in The Classic of Mountains and Seas into two categories: “abnormal endowment” and “abnormal body shape”. And, in many cases, people with abnormal bodies have unusual gifts, whereas people with extraordinary gifts have abnormal body shapes.[33] There are many descriptions of “abnormal endowment” in The Classic of Mountains and Seas, such as:

  • The kingdom of jiexiong (结胸) lies to its southwest. Its people are all pigeon chested (The Classic Areas Overseas: the South)
  • The kingdom of guanxiong (贯胸) lies to its east. Its people all have see-through holes in their chests (The Classic Areas Overseas: the South)
  • The kingdom of jiaojing (交胫) lies to its east. Its people all have their legs crossed (The Classic Areas Overseas: the South)
  • The kingdom of sanshou (三首) lies to its east. Its people all have one body with three heads (The Classic Areas Overseas: the South)
  • The kingdom of Yibi (一臂) lies to its north. Its people all have only one arm, one eye, and one nostril (The Classic Areas Overseas: the West)
  • The kingdom of Qigong (奇肱) lies to its north. Its people all have one arm and three eyes (The Classic Areas Overseas: the West)
  • There is the kingdom of Little people (小人) (The Classic of the Great Wilderness: the East).

”Intersecting shin bone”, two legs are mutually coiled inward, Mr. Gao You explained: “intersecting feet of intersecting people”, is suspected today as polio or limb spasm. “Three heads,” “three bodies,” “odd brachial”, and so on, all refer to the body or incomplete or redundant deformity. “Little people” refers to the short stature; Mr. Yuan Ke thought that the titles of these “little people” were all the pronunciations of “Zhu Ru侏儒”, in fact, all referring to short people.

A description of “abnormal body shape” such as:

  • The kingdom of Yuminyu (羽民) lies to its southeast. Its people all have long heads and feathers on their bodies (The Classic Areas Overseas: the South).
  • The kingdom of Huantou (讙头) lies to its south. Its people all have a human face, a bird's wings, and a bird's beak (The Classic Areas Overseas: the South).
  • The kingdom of Xuanyuan (轩辕) lies to the edge of Mount Qiongshan.……Its people all have a human face, a snake's body, and a tail which is surrounded on their heads (the Classic Areas Overseas: The West).

There are also physical deformities. ZhuangZi·ZeYang, a Taoist classic, says “There is the creature called a snail;……On the left horn of the snail there is a kingdom which is called Provocation, and on the right horn another which is called Stupidity”.[34] It is also the expression of a specific image of a person or group by the abnormal form of the body. And, these imagined “aliens” were aided by physical phenomena, later described as “disabilities”. As Foucault once pointed out, “all these absurd images are actually the academic factors that constitute some mysterious mystery.”[35] In this primitive “body imagination”, people's understanding of the image of “body” is further expanded, and starts from a simple “alien” imagination, gradually adding the image of morality and quality.

  Conclusion Top

The “stigmatization” and discrimination phenomenon of “disability” is not primary, but a process of “being constructed”. In the early ancient society, the productivity was relatively low and the social division of labor was not yet detailed. Some “crazy” people, because of their special physical and mental state, were often considered to have some special functions of communication among heaven, earth, ghosts, and gods. Therefore, with such a kind of “endowment”, they were able to hold the special and important social position of “witch” in the era when “witchcraft” was popular. This process reflects the simple “body imagination” of the early social groups. At the same time, some other types of disabled people, due to their special “physical” status, play important roles at the social and national levels. With the increase of people's understanding of their own bodies, the continuous development of social productivity, and the refinement of social division of labor, people's imagination of the body began to add more moral judgment factors. Driven by these factors, these physical differences gradually become an “abnormal” phenomenon, and people's understanding of “alien” began to be mixed with discriminatory accusations and stigmatization. It must bestated. It must be stated, of course, that with the emergence of “discrimination” against people with disabilities, it actually presupposes that people with disabilities have begun to become a social group, with which the state regulates and rescues them.[36] This is very worthy of our dialectical thinking. The analysis of this development process is of great significance for us to rethink the process of “Being cast as disable” and their social status and influence in early ancient countries.

(This paper was presented and discussed at the Disabilities in the Ancient World academic conference hosted by the Center for Ancient Studies, University of Pennsylvania in February 2019.)

End Notes

  1. American sociologist Erving Goffman explained “stigma” in 1963, and making the word an academic concept. He explicitly equates stigma with a trait that makes an individual different from the average person (e.g., body dysmorphia, mental illness, and deviant behavior).
  2. As for the significance and influence of “JueDi TianTong,” some scholars regard it as the separation of civil and religious affairs. For example, Mr. Zhang Guangzhi's hypothesis of “the origin of two civilizations” holds that Chinese civilization is “shamanistic civilization,” one of the world's two ancient civilization systems, and it is a kind of “continuous civilization,” that is, the civilization era has great continuity with the barbarism era. Li Ling challenged this view, pointing out that the main thrust of the story of “Juedi Tiantong” is not to explain the origin of witchcraft, but to explain the origin of the official, especially the historical officer.
  3. For example, Rao Zongyi (1917–2018) argues that many scholars overestimate the political status and cultural contribution of wizards in the ancient Chinese society.

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