Gao Pian/Cao Biền was a Tang Dynasty official who was sent to the Red River delta in the 860s to put down disturbances caused by troops from the kingdom of Nanzhao. While he was there, he also made efforts to bring under his control local spirits and the geomantic powers of the land.

The Lĩnh Nam chích quái contains some very interesting information about one of the techniques Gao Pian reportedly used to defeat spirits. This information appears to come from a text compiled by a Tang Dynasty official, Zeng Gun, who served in the region with Gao Pian, the Record of Jiao Region (Jiaozhou ji).

When Gao Pian wanted to suppress what this text calls “potent traces” (靈跡, linh tích) he would cut open a 17 year-old unwed girl and take our her innards. He would then stuff the body with angelica herb (芷草, chỉ thảo), clothe it in robes and sit it on a stool. Following this, Gao Pian would offer a sacrifice of buffalo, and wait for the body to move. Once it did, he would cut off the head of the corpse.

By using this technique, Gao Pian was able to deceive spirits. It was apparently a means to lure the spirit into the corpse of the girl and then kill it when it accepted sacrificial meat.

Were 17 year-old unwed girls really sacrificed like this? Or did Gao Pian somehow make models of people who were said to be the corpses of 17 year-old unwed girls and perform rituals in which spirits were symbolically killed?

Whatever the case may be, it’s a fascinating ethnographic detail.