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From Fight to Fire: the Localization of a Zoroastrian God into Daoism

Mon, June 22, 4:05 to 6:00pm, South Building, Floor: 7th Floor, S719


It is widely believed that Zoroastrianism was only practiced by foreigners in China and that its presence therefore died out after the Yuan period. This paper uses non-traditional sources, including archaeological evidence, mythological fiction, and calendars, to argue that some Zoroastrian gods were incorporated into Daoism after the Yuan, and that the worship of Zoroastrian gods among the Chinese has therefore persisted to the present day. The paper consists of three parts. The first part examines the images and name of a local Fire God, whose stories are preserved in a Daoist mythological fiction written in the mid-Ming period, and identifies this God with the Zoroastrian God of War. By exploring a Persian calendar and some Chinese texts, the second part argues that the adoption of the Persian calendar was a major channel for the Chinese to incorporate Zoroastrian gods into the Chinese pantheon, and also explains the complex process by which the Zoroastrian War God transformed into the Chinese Fire God. The third part looks at the rituals practiced by local Chinese in worshiping the Fire God, with a stress on both Chinese and Zoroastrian elements in the practices. This paper unveils some unnoticed links between “Chinese” and “foreign” religions, sheds more light on the interactions between local and alien cultures, and raises the question of whether the categorization of “Chinese” and “foreign” religions is appropriate.