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Book: Spirituality and Wellbeing

Chapter: 4. Spirituality and Wellbeing in Traditional China: Food, Self-Sacrifice, and Spiritual Practice in a Chinese Buddhist Legend

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.35869


This chapter examines the interrelationship between bodily nourishment, spirituality and wellbeing in traditional China, using the well-known Legend of Princess Miaoshan as an example. The Miaoshan story engages several interrelated themes that lie at the heart of Chinese ideas of wellbeing and spirituality: filial piety, spiritual cultivation, body, gender, and sexuality. Miaoshan symbolizes cultural characteristics—motherhood, spiritual aspirations, physicality, social engagement—that go beyond conventional gender-related dichotomies in favour of general human concerns. The chapter discusses different interpretations and uses of the legend and its religious imagery by men and women, utilizing Caroline Bynum’s work on religious imagery in spiritual writings of the later middle ages in Europe. The legend’s vision of spiritual transformation, it is argued, shows a remarkable similarity to modern ideals of evolving personhood, for example in the person-centred approach of psychotherapist Carl Rogers or the dialectical relationship between personalisation and socialisation in the thought of Teilhard de Chardin. The chapter concludes by suggesting that wellbeing could be construed not as a state of being (‘well-being’) but rather as a fluid process of becoming in which the different actors constantly negotiate the meaning of wellbeing from personal, inter-personal or societal perspectives.

Chapter Contributors

  • Thomas Jansen ( - tjansen9212) 'University of Wales Trinity St David'