Ontology with Chinese characteristics: Homology as a mode of identification

William Matthews


This article describes the cosmological and ontological assumptions of diviners in contemporary China with a view to contributing to current anthropological debates on ontology. Ethnographic examples demonstrate that divination based on the cosmology of the Yi Jing  assumes a monist ontology characterized by continuity of physicality and interiority. This argument is supported by discussions of cosmogony and the separability of the person. The correlative character of Yi Jing  cosmology assumes that resemblances between entities and phenomena are based on shared intrinsic characteristics rather than analogies. In relation to Philippe Descola’s (2013) proposal of four modes of identification, this system posits continuity of physicality and interiority on a cosmic scale. It therefore constitutes a mode of identification—here labeled “Homologism,” unaccounted for by this model—in which it logically displaces Totemism as the structural counterpoint to Analogism.


Descola, China, Yi Jing, cosmology, ontology, divination, analogy, homology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.020