A Prolific Spirit: Peng Dingqiu’s (1645-1719) Posthumous Career on the Spirit Altar, 1720-1889

Paper: A Prolific Spirit: Peng Dingqiu’s (1645-1719) Posthumous Career on the Spirit Altar, 1720-1889
Presenter: Daniel Burton-Rose
Abstract: In this paper, I articulate the concept of a posthumous oeuvre delivered on spirit altars by an apotheosized literati-official. Peng Dingqiu (1645-1719) was a double optimi (er yuan) from one of the most eminent family lineages of scholar-officials in Qing Suzhou. An enthusiastic devotee of the Daoist deity and patron of the civil examination system Wenchang, for over forty years Dingqiu maintained a spirit-writing altar in Suzhou and Beijing. Works received on this altar were included in the major mid- and late Qing anthologies of Wenchang devotion assembled by high officials such as Zhu Gui (1731-1807).

Immediately upon his passing in 1719, Dingqiu returned as a celestial official to other spirit-writing altars in the Jiangnan area. There, he bestowed the same sort of moral exhortations he had previously received from apotheosized Confucians on his own altar. The printing networks of Dingqiu’s posthumous oeuvre spanned as far afield as Sichuan and Beijing.

I argue that Dingqiu’s own examination success was amplified by that of his grandson Peng Qifeng (1701-1784; jinshi 1727), who also obtained the double optimi distinction. Combined with Dingqiu’s advocacy of spirit-writing, the immense “grandfather-grandson optimi” prestige obtained by Dingqiu and Qifeng caused the Suzhou Pengs in general and Peng Dingqiu in particular to be revered in spirit-writing milieus through the late nineteenth century. In comparing Peng Dingqiu’s posthumous oeuvre to that which he wrote while living, I demonstrate the dramatic expansion of the intended audience of morality books from the early to late Qing.

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