China’s Phantom Ruler and the Ancient Cult He Created

By Matthew Bossons, February 16, 2016

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Tales from the Chinese Crypt is a regular web column exploring bizarre and creepy stories from across China.

This edition of 'Tales from the Chinese Crypt' will explore the strange and often creepy world of cult worship – specifically, the Cult of Jiang Ziwen.

Jiang Ziwen was a tyrannical and arrogant leader who ruled over Moling county, now modern-day Nanjing, during the Eastern Han Dynasty. His death came prematurely, following a violent encounter with a group of marauding bandits

Aside from declarations of Jiang’s brutal nature, noted in numerous online sources, not much additional information seems available to expand upon his ruthless rule. A Wikipedia entry on Jiang claims the ruler developed a deep adoration for wine and women during his time, although this article boasts only one citation and is thus difficult to rely on.    

The story of Jiang becomes most interesting after his death, which local legend claims was a restless one. Legend has it that after his death, a phantom Jiang returned to haunt Moling county, looking to recoup the power he so greatly cherished in life. 

The ghost allegedly ordered Moling’s inhabitants to worship him as the tudi, or deity, of the area – a demand that appears to have been met, according to Tekijät Richard von Glahn’s The Sinister Way: The Divine and the Demonic in Chinese Religious Culture.

Although the cult of Jiang Ziwen has received little scholarly attention, researchers believe the area around Mount Zhong (also known as Mount Jiang), east of Nanjing, was the epicenter of the cult during the Six Dynasties Period, from the third to sixth centuries.

Mount Zhong, also sometimes referred to as Mount Jiang and the Purple Mountian, located in Jiangsu province

Archeological evidence discovered in the Nanking area in the early 1930s, in the form of shrine ruins and two stone tablets, seems to support the cult claims. In fact, all the sources we accessed in writing this story agree the Jiang cult did exist – where disagreement arises is over how widespread and influential the group really was. 

According to some scholars, Jiang was never an official tudi, simply a powerful unofficial one. Others suggest his influence stretched far beyond the confines of Jiangsu province, possibly reaching as far as southern China. In 1948, Miyakawa Hisayuki published Rikucho shukyoshi, in which he claims Jiang became a war god for emperors and warriors in the southern reaches of the Middle Kingdom. He claimed the cult spread south due to frequent wars taking place between the northern and southern portions of the country. 

Regardless the range of the Jiang-based faith, there is little doubt the tyrant received considerable attention in death – arguably far more so than in life (returning as a ghost often has that effect). 

The legend of Jiang, by our assessment, would make a brilliant plot for an Indiana Jones film. It has all the necessary trappings: an ancient dead guy, a ghost, a primeval cult and artifacts recovered in the lead up to WWII. Take note Hollywood, it can’t be any worse of an idea than the crystal skull adventure. 

Enjoy this story? Click here for more Tales from the Chinese Crypt.

[Cover image via ListVerse, Mount Zhong image via Wikipedia.]

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