Along with regions like Fujian, Jiangxi, and south Jiangsu, Hunan is among the hotspots for research on Daoist ritual—which, as elsewhere, is part of a whole range of mutually related ritual and paraliturgical activity, including Buddhist ritual specialists, mediums, and so on.
Any such province represents a vast area, for which it is hard to encapsulate all the individual reports on particular villages or Daoist “altars”. As ever, most such studies, setting forth from sinological historiography, focus on documenting ancient ritual texts and artefacts; less common is detailed ethnography on how ritual life adapts in a constantly changing society—so we learn a lot more about ritual manuals and titles than about migration and motor-bikes. So this vast body of research, that should be of such significance for the anthropology of religion, still seems an autonomous zone fated to remain adrift from wider fields of enquiry,
Much of the scholarship on Hunan has received handsome long-term funding from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation in Taiwan, with early results published in Minsu quyi.
Outsiders like me may feel in need of an overview. Alain Arrault has edited a useful volume of articles:
- Interdisciplinary studies on the central region of Hunan, Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 19 (2010)
including thoughtful overviews from him and Georges Favraud, including discussions of the thorny issue of “Meishan culture”. Another major topic is statuary, on which there is detailed research by Alain and others (see e.g. here and here).
With Chen Zi’ai 陈子艾, Alain Arrault is co-editor of a substantial related collection derived from a 2006 conference,
- Xiangzhong zongjiao yu xiangtu shehui 湘中宗教与乡土社会,
still awaiting publication.
One of the most fruitful sites has been Yangyuan village in Lengshuijiang municipality. Apart from the fine work of Mark Meulenbeld, Lü Yongsheng 呂永昇 and Li Xinwu 李新吾 have published major works:
- Shidao heyi: Xiangzhong Meishan Yangyuan Zhangtande keyi yu chuancheng 師道合一：湘中梅山楊源張壇的科儀與傳承, Daojiao yishi congshu (Taipei: Xinwenfeng, 2015), and
- Jiazhu yu dizhu: Xiangzhong xiangcunde daojiao yishi yu keyi <家主>與<地主>——湘中鄉村的道教儀式與科儀 (Hong Kong: Keji daxue Huanan yanjiu zhongxin, 2015).
Further volumes are planned in the Daojiao yishi congshu series on the Daoism of the Yao people in Lanshan (on which note also the work of Zhao Shufeng 赵书峰)—the ethnic minorities in the western areas of Hunan also having rich ritual traditions.
Under the rubric of ethnomusicology—which should no longer be considered as a separate topic!—are more ethnographic articles by scholars like Qi Kun 齊琨, such as
- “Xianghuo shenghuo: guanyu Hunan Lengshuijiangshi Jinzhuxiang Yangyuancun shijiao yu daojiao zhiyizhede diaocha 香火生活: 關於湖南冷水江市金竹山鄉楊源村師教與道教執儀者的調查.” Zhongguo yinyuexue 2014.3: 75–85.
and ongoing work by Wu Fan.
A distinct topic is Hengshan in eastern Hunan (the southern Hengshan, not the northern one that has caused such confusion for the Li family Daoists!). Georges Favraud does detailed work on monastic Daoists there. But while the image of Hengshan and its deity is widespread throughout Hunan, its priests have little or no contact with the rituals of the household Daoists elsewhere in the province.
What I’d still like to see is a summary of all this fine work for the non-specialist, addressing groupings of ritual styles among all these bands—and incorporating them within the complex social context of all the periods in which they and their patrons have lived since 1900. For a wide-ranging 1956 survey of expressive culture in Hunan, see here; and for material on the ritual revival of the early 1960s, here.
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Meanwhile, as I often observe, studies of Daoist ritual in north China still lag far behind. If only we had such detail for provinces like Gansu, surely one of the most rewarding areas for such research (for preliminary clues, see my In search of the folk Daoists of north China, ch.6, and here).