Fantasy Daoist ritual

The Pardon, 1991

The Pardon ritual led by Li Qing (2nd from left), Yanggao 1991 (my film, from 48.34).

As a change from my literary party game, here’s an arcane spinoff from the game of picking a fantasy world football team, or chamber orchestra.

Let’s choose our all-time most amazing group of Daoist ritual specialists, including both liturgists and instrumentalists. Of course, the list of candidates is endless, so I’d seek to refine the search by selecting those known mainly for their ritual performance, rather than for compiling vast compendia of manuals.

Thus the list could include early luminaries like Kou Qianzhi 寇謙之 (365–448) (who might speak a dialect similar to that of Li Qing, except that they lived over 1500 years apart), Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456–536), and Du Guangting 杜光庭 (850–933) (see their entries under Fabrizio Pregadio ed., Encyclopaedia of Taoism).

Churlishly fast-forwarding a millenium, among modern Daoists we could include Chen Rongsheng  陳榮盛 (1927–2014) from Tainan, [1] Zhang Minggui  張明貴 (1931–2016) of the White Cloud Temple in Shaanbei, and our very own Li Qing 李清 (1926–99); among a host of great drum masters one might recruit An Laixu 安来緖 (1895–1977) from Xi’an and Zhou Zufu 周祖馥 (1915–97) from Suzhou.

Above: left, Kou Qianzhi; right, Tao Hongjing;
below: left, Zhang Minggui; right, An Laixu.

For once, we can leave historical change to one side: it remains to be seen how effective Pelé and Messi would be together as a forward line-up, or Saint Cecilia and Bach (in the orchestra, or indeed in the football team; cf. the Monty Python Philosophers’ football). A more basic difference is that—more than football or the WAM canon—the performance of Daoist ritual is always specific to a small locality. Even if their ritual manuals may have a lot in common, household Daoists from different places can hardly work together. Never mind Daoists from ShanghaiFujian, and Hunan; even within north Shanxi, the whole ritual performance of the Li family in Yanggao is significantly different from that of groups in Hunyuan or Shuozhou counties very nearby.

Fun game, though. See also Strictly north Shanxi Daoist ritual.

Chen Rongsheng

Chen Rongsheng.

[1] Until quite recently, much of our knowledge of modern Daoist ritual (despite its great diversity) was based on the tradition of Chen Rongsheng, meticulously documented by Kristofer Schipper and John Lagerwey. Here’s a tribute, with precious clips of Master Chen’s ritual practice:

Links to lengthier ritual sequences here. See also Michael Saso’s YouTube channel for early clips of his Master Chuang.

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