Poo Mu-chou

Professor, Chinese University of Hong Kong


Mu-chou Poo (PhD in Egyptology, Johns Hopkins 1984), is Professor of History at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Director of Centre for the Comparative Study of Antiquity, CUHK. He had worked as a Research Fellow at Academia Sinica, Taipei, from 1984-2009, and taught at various places, including Columbia, UCLA, and Grinnell College. Research interests include religion and society in ancient Egypt and China. Major publications include Burial and the Idea of Life and Death: Essay on Ancient Chinese Religion (Taipei, 1993); Wine and Wine Offering in the Religion of Ancient Egypt (London, 1995); In Search of Personal Welfare: A View of Ancient Chinese Religion (Albany, 1998); Enemies of Civilization: Attitudes toward Foreigners in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China (Albany, 2005). (Ed.) Rethinking Ghosts in World Religions (Leiden: Brill, 2009). (Ed. With H. A. Drake and Lisa Raphals) Old Society, New Belief, Religious Transformation of China and Rome, ca. 1st-6th Centuries (Oxford University Press, 2017), Daily Life in Ancient China (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Priests chant scriptures during a ceremony at a temple in Hong Kong on 21 August 2021, marking the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Bertha Wang/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [1 of 3]: The idea of the netherworld

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. First, he explores the traditional conception of the netherworld. Was it a physical place, shaped in the earthly world’s image and likeness?
Can the Covid-19 pandemic let us rethink how we treat foreigners, and whether and how our attitude toward foreigners reflects our character and our values as a person, a community, or a nation? A look at the attitude toward foreigners in an earlier time may give us some perspective on our current situation. This is an old map of Asia created by Willem Bleau and published in Amsterdam, ca. 1650. (iStock)

Us and them: Lessons from ancient China about demonising 'enemies'

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the notion of ethnic groups and accentuated the distinction between "us" and "them". What was it like in ancient China? How did the Chinese people look at the world around them and were the "outsiders" friends or enemies? While admitting that human society does not always act in its best interest, historian Prof Poo reminds us to differentiate between rhetoric and reality, to value good neighbourliness, and to be aware that groups are vulnerable to political manipulation.
Although one might not have the experience of seeing a twenty feet tall black ghost that flies, one could have in mind all the concepts that could construct such an image. (iStock)

The Chinese ghost stories we tell ourselves

The word "ghost" (gui) is commonly found in the Chinese lexicon. Professor Poo Mu-chou draws links between history, culture and one’s personal experience to interpret the way humans conjure ghosts up in their own image and likeness in a bid to understand the inexplicable.