Dragon kings and thunder gods: Rainmaking, magic, and ritual in medieval Chinese religion

Joshua Capitanio, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation demonstrates that the application of ritual methods to ensure timely rainfall was an important element of religious Practice in China from antiquity through the medieval period. Drawing on a broad range of sources, I show how rainmaking ritual, performed by kings, emperors, priests, and ritual specialists, continued to develop from its roots in the earliest recorded forms of Chinese religion. As religious beliefs underwent significant change in ancient and medieval China, the importance of rainmaking persisted, even as its techniques were re-imagined by successive generations of ritual practitioners, particularly within the developing traditions of Buddhism and Daoism. Thus, this study provides an opportunity to observe the evolution of a particular ritual practice across a broad span of time and a wide spectrum of religious beliefs and social contexts. Furthermore, this study shows that activities such as rainmaking, in which practitioners attempt, through the use of various ritual forms, to harness extra-human or supernatural forces for the purpose of effecting, some sort of beneficial change, constituted a fundamental aspect of Chinese religion. While such practices are often deemed by scholars as belonging to the category of "magic," I argue against such a designation in this dissertation.

Subject Area

Asian literature|Religious history|History|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Capitanio, Joshua, "Dragon kings and thunder gods: Rainmaking, magic, and ritual in medieval Chinese religion" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3309404.