2012 New History
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Experiencing the “Lesser Arts”: The Mantic Arts and Practicianers in the Lives of Song Literati

Hsien-huei Liao

Department of History, National Chi Nan University

As potent ways of manipulating family fortune and prophesying individual fate, geomancy and prognostication became extremely popular during the Song, a time when social mobility was very dynamic. Men with skills in geomancy and prognostication were frequently consulted by the educated elite, who hoped to improve their status and ensure the perpetuation of their families. Through examining the close contacts between the educated elite and mantic experts, this article highlights the reciprocity that characterized their interactions. I argue that while diviners’ mantic knowledge helped alleviate the elite’s anxiety over the future, justify their achievements, and incite academic debate, the elite’s recognition of mantic knowledge also enabled diviners to obtain wealth, reputation, and social status. Motivated by these mutual benefits, mantic experts and educated elites tended to develop a tighter social network that in turn helped bridge the perceived social and cultural gap between them, and ultimately reshaped the cultural characteristics of each group.


Keywords: Song literati, lesser arts, divination, diviners, social networks