2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The Conferment of Noble Titles on Mountains, Rivers, Lakes and Seas, and Their Official Cult in the Tang Dynasty

Yi Zhu

Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore

The sacrifices offered to mountains, rivers, lakes and seas were an important part of the state rituals in traditional China. In the Tang Dynasty, official sacrifices to these deities became more methodical than during preceding dynasties. Most noticeably, the court began to bestow noble titles upon these natural deities in the reign period of Empress Wu. The impact of political factors and changes in the conception of monarchical power accounted for this change. The Tang rulers were often confronted with violent political change, and so they yearned for the blessings and protection of such deities. At the same time, they tried to express the idea that monarchical power was higher than the powers of natural deities through ritual performance. This led to changes in the official sacrifices to these deities, and led to the expansion of monarchical power in the spirit world. The conferment of noble titles on nature deities reflected the close and complicated relationship between the cult of those deities and the political sphere, or the conception of monarchical power in the Tang Dynasty. Although this practice was partly embodied in the official sacrificial system, they ran parallel in most cases, constituting an official cult of the deities of mountains, rivers, lakes and seas that survived until the first years of the Ming Dynasty.


Key words: Tang dynasty; cult of mountains, rivers, lakes and seas; sacrifices to mountains, rivers, lakes and seas; noble titles