Witch-hunts in Chinese history

Sep 2018
There exists a vast amount of research on European witch-hunts , their nature and death toll.

We do know that beliefs in witch craft has existed throughout Chinese history (and even persists today in some rural areas).
Is there any research and information on how widespread and deadly witch hunts were in Chinese history? Were lynching's of "witches" by peasants common? Did laws against witchcraft exist? And how strongly were they applied?


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Lucian Boia, a Romanian historian, in The End of the West? Towards the World of Tomorrow (2013) suggests that stuff like the witch trials were common in the West and not elsewhere because people had more freedom in the West during that period and that resulted in them sometimes disagreeing with authorities, while in other parts of the world people were either more docile or lived under stricter rules, which resulted in them not being so confrontational.

I've read 20 books by him and that was one of the worst ones. It's a sort of essay, so he doesn't provide data or sources for that theory. Furthermore, he has a bit of a pro-West bias (he's apologetic about various things). I'm highly skeptical of this theory, but I'm still mentioning it because I've heard it in other places and it might be relevant to the thread.


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
Republika Srpska
Perhaps the most famous example of a Chinese witch hunt comes from the time of Emperor Wu of Han whose empress Chen Jiao was accused of witchcraft and lost her position.
Sep 2012
Davis mentions it very briefly, under the term gudu 蠱毒, associated specifically with ritual murder (sharen jigui 殺人祭鬼) which appears to have begun in the Song dynasty. Looks like there was some kind of official crackdown against it, although I'm afraid I don't know the full extent. Barend ter Haar has a monograph on the topic, but I don't have a copy, because Brill.
May 2009
Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768 Is a good book on the subject.

Magic and sorcery in general were always frowned upon, at least by the authorities. Any religious sect that fell outside the Buddhist/Taoist/Confucianist establishment was considered unwholesome and perverse, and their rituals and practices were sorcery. But this didnt stop small cults to folk deities from existing all over China throughout history. Some cults were believed to worship demons with blood sacrifices. There are stories of panics being created just from rumors of demonic cults operating in such-and-such an area.

The pre-modern Chinese were also big believers in demonic possession, so if a person or a place was believed to be possessed that could also cause problems. Only a proper exorcism could fix the situation. Exorcists were usually Taoist priests, but Buddhist monks and assorted other "ritual masters" could do the job too.

One type of witch/sorcerer that was very feared was the people who made gu poisons. These were lethal potions made from insect and animal venoms and they could cause all sorts of harm. Making them was a serious crime.
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Sep 2018
Thank you all for the answers.

Do we have any concrete information about massive killing of witches by either the people or the authorities, similar to 15-17th century Europe?
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Aug 2018
Southern Indiana
Interesting topic, accusations of witchcraft and executions of said witches were not uncommon in some Native American tribes, I don't have anything to add regarding the Chinese though.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
What we are talking about is the killing of women. Just in case it's not clear, there are no such things as witches; only women accused of having non existent supernatural powers.