The other child: symbols of life and death in medieval China

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


In early medieval and medieval Chinese narratives children appear as transformed objects, divine assistants, servants or messengers of underworld administrators or medical deities. The less supervision and thus the greater independence from adults a child had, the creepier and more potentially dangerous he was. Some of these child figures were assis- tants or messengers between a person’s body and the universe, and adult men who encountered them felt the need to kill them. Such children are here called “other children”; they were uncanny boys who evoked feelings of mistrust, and even disgust or fear in adults confronted with them. This article, which is mostly based on zhiguai narratives from the third to the tenth century C.E., focuses on children and youth who derive from the supernatural realm. It starts out with a brief introduction about well-explored supernatural assistants, which leads into a discussion on how children are externalized and visualized coming from adult bo- dies. The article concludes by examining children who appear outside the confines of human enclosure and who share a mischievous nature. Far from promising a finished analysis about otherworldly children in medieval China, this article aims to raise awareness and curiosity about child figures in texts.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • children, Medieval China, Tang dynasty, magical medicine, mythology, popular religion, visualization, the human body, China, History
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFantômes dans l’Extrême-Orient d’hier et d’aujourd’hui
EditorsMarie Laureillard, Vincent Durand-Dastès
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherPresses de l'Inalco
Number of pages147
ISBN (Electronic)978-2-858312-610
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch