Since Shangdai de shenhua yu wushu, Chen Mengjia's article on Shang mythology, some sinological works have proposed that the Chinese wu was an equivalent of the Siberian shaman. I examine first the issues in anthropological comparatism involved in this problem and provide up-to-date information on Siberian shamanism. It must be noted that the Chinese texts are by no means equivalent to modern anthropological data and that these texts did not originate directly from the wu themselves; they are rather a collection of opinions or stories on the wu. Detailed study of the nature and social status of the Chinese wu, either in oracular inscriptions or late Zhou received texts, shows a systematic association of the wu with non-auspicious or negative events, like funerals, death or natural catastrophes. A further analysis of the data reveals that the wu's activities in relation to natural phenomena were frequently presented in terms related to sexuality. This last point permits a comparison with Siberian shamans, whose activities are also linked to fecundity and sexuality, although the Chinese texts often associate the wu with sexual misbehaviour and blame them on moral grounds. They go as far as to treat them as dangerous sorcerers who must be weeded out. According to these data, the wu's social function is linked to the handling of misfortune, either directly or by being associated with ritually unacceptable behaviours. On the whole, my conclusion is that even the common point between wu and Siberian shaman (the link with sexuality) is not sufficient to allow for a translation of ‘wu’ by ‘shaman’, especially in view of the differences of social and historical context.
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 65(2), pp.350-378