A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
By Brian Griffith
ISBN-10: 1935259148, paperback $15.98
ASIN: B007R4F8BS, Kindle $9.32
A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization is a book filled with myths, legends, and centuries old tales of Chinese Women and Goddesses who have shaped Chinese culture into what it is today. Author Brian Griffith has spent years asking questions and researching various cultures and religions, and he presents an interesting and entertaining look at the subject.
He begins the book with a short telling of how he, a simple Texas kid, was shaped by the works of Joseph Campbell and others who tied myth, religion, and history together in literature. Griffith spent time in Africa and India, and was fascinated by ancient traditions which honored the female energies, which honored the givers of life. He became especially interested in the Chinese traditions because, as he says, “It seemed that the age of the Goddess never died”.
Throughout the book he shares poetry and tales from throughout history that illustrate the power and reverence of the female. He says that it’s impossible to go anywhere in China without discovering a new story. He writes, “[…] China’s countryside is haunted by thousands of local deities.” Some are based on legends of real people, like Ti Ying who challenged the Han Emperor in 167 BCE, asking for mercy for prisoners, and winning a legal ban on torture. With some Goddesses, their origins are unclear and it’s possible their stories are myth. Griffith writes: “China’s popular culture is filled with partly real and partly fictional heroes, who often resembled Robin Hood or Spartacus, and sometimes people became Gods or Goddesses.”
Griffith tells how under warlord dynasties like the Mongols, social realms grew separate, into the male being more public and the female becoming private. Despite this, female Goddesses were still honored and worshipped, and their stories were often the catalyst for women moving forward, working for change and equality. The most popular deity in China is Kuan Yin. Although the roots of this Goddess are in Buddhism, she is now celebrated in several religions, including Daoism and Confucianism. She has been a patron deity for many women’s suffrage groups, including those against foot binding and arranged marriage.
The final chapter of this book centers on modern age Goddess Religions. He mentions several important women who fought in the early 1900’s against the oppressions of the Industrial Revolution, like Deng Yingchao. She reportedly drew crowds of over 100,000, and spoke out against colonial powers and later became a chairman of the All China Democratic Women’s Federation. Griffith touches on stories like 1936’s news report of the “Indentured Worker” by Xia Yan, which is a realistic accounting of a day in the life of a textile worker. The report raised national concerns over the working conditions in these factories, but may not have been based on one person, but rather a montage of several working girls of the time. Real or not, many of these women and their stories “made a national impact on the course of a social revolution,” according to Griffith.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s a look into a culture of a nation that is often closed off to Westerners, and as a female, I could appreciate the rich history of these women and Goddesses. The book is well written, but not overly scholarly. The average reader can enjoy this volume, filled with entertaining and educational information on both well known and obscure icons in Chinese history.