Annotated bibliography on violence in Chinese culture

Violence in Chinese culture: bibliography by Barend J. ter Haar

(revised 6-9-2022)

0. Preliminary comments

*This bibliography is connected to a larger and undoubtedly very long term research project of mine on the role of violence as a structuring factor in Chinese history. In my "Rethinking 'Violence'“ (2000) I argue that the place of violence has been much larger than is often assumed and that our view of the (small) role of violence is influenced by undue generalizations from the decreasing role (at least until the Qing period) of  violence in constructing an identity for literate male social elites. In "China's Inner Demons: The Political Impact of the Demonological Paradigm" (2002) I have argued that the so-called demonological paradigm and its use of violence in dealing with demons and the demonized other played a substantial role in Chinese history and even in post-1949 history. Some aspects of the issue of violence in Chinese religious culture are briefly touched upon in my "Yongzheng and his abbots" (2009),"Violence in Chinese Religious Culture" (2012) and "A word for violence: the Chinese term bao 暴"(2020). In addition I discuss the role of violence in punishment of moral transgressions in "Divine violence to uphold moral values: The casebook of an Emperor Guan temple in Hunan province in 1851-1852" (2013). In my more recent Religious Culture and Violence in Traditional China (2019) I summarize and further elaborate my earlier research on this topic.

* Although this survey includes some cross-references, this is not an index and the user of this material should use his or her own research imagination in checking out the references. This survey can be used as a first step, but please do not think of it as the final step in terms of bibliographical research.

* On many of the topics briever, but still relevant discussions can also be found in secondary studies that primarily deals with other topics. This bibliography only covers such discussions when I am aware of them and consider them to be of special importance.

* Please keep in mind that the following references are not necessarily complete and that all comments are based on my own reading or (often superficial) glancing through. None of my judgements should be considered definitive. Crossreferences are kept to a minimum to save space. There is much Chinese and Japanese research that has not yet been included.

* I use a very broad definition of violence as both the licit and illicit (culturally sanctioned and non-sanctioned) use of / threat with concrete / symbolic corporeal / physical violence. Thus, my use of the term is strictly Western European and certainly reflects late twentieth century conceptions and values relating to "violence." I use the term as a hypothetical category, thereby setting up an analytical tension between my imposed meanings and different Chinese phenomena that can be argued to correspond to them. There is no direct Chinese equivalent for this term in the meaning(s) that I have given to it. The investigation of the Chinese terminology for violence would certainly be a worthwhile study in itself. Ultimately every definition of "violence" will be limited in time and space, social and educational group, gender and even age.

*To prevent any misunderstanding, it is nowhere my intention to claim that China is unique in its attitude towards violence broadly defined. A useful antidote to such assumptions is the book by James Hevia (below() on the violence perpetrated by the West in China and against the Chinese in the last decades of the Qing dynasty. See James Louis Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-century China (Durham: Duke University Press, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2003).

1. Useful bibliographies and introductions

 2. Violence as an intrinsic part of Chinese culture
(see also sections 5 and 16.)
3. Warfare, military technology
Although formally a distinction may be made between regular warfare and rebellions (banditry etc.), I would submit that in terms of military and social history they are hardly distinct from each other. My separation below is entirely one of convenience. The frequency of rebellions of all sorts, often larger scale than international wars in traditional Europe, and their violent suppression should also put the lie to the misconception that China was such a peaceful place. No more (and no less) than elsewhere, really.

 4. Collective violence, riots, rebellions (traditional China)
Useful Western surveys of the secondary literature are: Some other studies:  Protest and peasant rebellions in Chinese marxist historiography (under construction) 5. Traditional analysis (wen and wu)
see also section 2.
More extended discussions on wen and wu.

Traditional attitudes towards warfare and/or violence
Concepts of just war

(and the belief that Confucianism somehow is pro-peace) 6. Crime, punishment (including death penalty) and torture

Some general works Crime [involving violent acts]
Punishment (including death penalty) and torture
[Also see Antony and Buoye quoted above]

On torture and punishment in historical China, also see:
  • Chinese torture/supplices chinois, wonderful French language website by Jérôme Bourgon

  • On torture and punishment in China today, see the websites of:
  • Amnesty International
  • Human Rights Watch  (including their report on "ORGAN PROCUREMENT AND JUDICIAL EXECUTION IN CHINA", 1994).
  • Falun Gong (for the Amnesty International report on the Falun Gong)
  • 7. Sacrifice

    sacrifice in general human sacrifice
    (see also sections 8 and 18) on different forms of sacrificing parts or all of the body, to be distinguished from suicide or self-sacrifice as such)

    8. Cannibalism
    (see also sections 13 and 18 on the issue of self-mutilation to express filial or daughter-in-law piety, and by monks and lay people to express religious devotion)
    Cannibalism in general "Killing people to serve demons (sharen jigui ·Ù¤H²½°­)"
    9. Suicide
    (also see section 18 on Buddhist inspired suicide)
    This section purports to include references to suicide in modern as well as pre-modern China.
    10. Exorcism and healing
    (a conceptual problem in organizing this bibliography is the fact that we may want to differentiate between the exorcism of demons causing non-medical distress and demons who cause medical distress. Since this differentiation is teleological and derives from Western school-medicine, this section includes a variety of works on medical history, in so far as they seem to touch upon the issue of violent and demonological healing.)
    Exorcist violence
    On the general issue of possession mediums, see my bibliography on Chinese shamanism. In the context of healing 11. Its linguistic and visual representation 12.The depiction of violence in literature/ folktales / fairy tales 13. Violence in post-1949 China
    (including contemporary cannibalism)
    I have not included general accounts of post-1949 history unless they specifically and explicitly treat the issue of violence. Much more factual information can therefore be found for instance in historical accounts of the Great Leap Forwards, different political campaigns, or the Cultural Revolution, as well as local studies.


    Historical remembrance of (recent) traumatic (violent) events (under construction)
    Taiwan 14. Games, sports and hunts
    General Martial arts 15. Violent subgroups/ subcultures, feuds
    (see also sections 10, 16 and 17)
    Feuds and vengeance 16. The state monopoly on violence
    (the establishment of a state monopoly is commonly presumed - most certainly incorrectly - to have happened in a definitive way with the establishment of an imperial-bureacratic regime by the First Emperor of Qin. As a result systematic reserch that thematizes this issue is virtually absent. It should includes feuding and vengeance, lynch justice, control of military, etc.) 17. Festivals, carnival and conflict/resistance/conflict etc.
    (whereas descriptive work on festivals is readily available, the nexus between festivals and conflict / resistance has not been very well-researched) 18. Buddhism, Daoism and violence/war
    (self-mutilation, suicide, other forms of violence) 19. Abuse (within the family, of children,  violence related to sexual relationships)
    Also see section 9. in Suicide for studies of female suicide.
    women and children:
    violence related to sexual relationships 20. Tattoo 21.  Theory and background
    Cannibalism: Violence and religious culture