Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
To Become a God

To Become a God

Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China

Michael J. Puett

ISBN 9780674016439

Publication date: 05/01/2004

Evidence from Shang oracle bones to memorials submitted to Western Han emperors attests to a long-lasting debate in early China over the proper relationship between humans and gods. One pole of the debate saw the human and divine realms as separate and agonistic and encouraged divination to determine the will of the gods and sacrifices to appease and influence them. The opposite pole saw the two realms as related and claimed that humans could achieve divinity and thus control the cosmos. This wide-ranging book reconstructs this debate and places within their contemporary contexts the rival claims concerning the nature of the cosmos and the spirits, the proper demarcation between the human and the divine realms, and the types of power that humans and spirits can exercise.

It is often claimed that the worldview of early China was unproblematically monistic and that hence China had avoided the tensions between gods and humans found in the West. By treating the issues of cosmology, sacrifice, and self-divinization in a historical and comparative framework that attends to the contemporary significance of specific arguments, Michael J. Puett shows that the basic cosmological assumptions of ancient China were the subject of far more debate than is generally thought.


  • In explicating the unfolding notions of spirit and cosmos in ancient China, Puett engages extensively with the greatest authorities in the field… To this ambitious tour de force through the ‘world of thought in ancient China,’ Puett adds the comparative perspective of anthropologists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marshall Sahlins, and such diverse others as Mircea Eliade and Max Weber. Puett thus puts China solidly in a global comparative context.

    —Chinese Historical Review


  • Michael J. Puett is Professor of Chinese History at Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • Harvard University Asia Center