Ritual groups around Bazhou, Hebei

Here’s another page in a budding series on Daoist and Buddhist ritual groups on the Hebei plain south of Beijing!

The elongated county of Bazhou lies just south of Langfang, Yongqing, and Gu’an.

Rather as I did for the southern suburbs of Beijing, here I introduce two main ritual groups:

  • the Daoist tradition of Zhangzhuang village is derived from a former Orthodox Unity temple;
  • the Gaoqiao village association nearby comes from a former Buddhist temple. [1]

First, since the Daoist traditions that I will discuss originate in a temple in Gu’an county, I may note that since the 1950s ritual practice in Gu’an (indeed, the county itself) appears much impoverished compared to nearby areas. [2] By the 1990s, Gu’an could apparently only boast (and they sure did!) the Qujiaying village association still practising—and they only performed shengguan ritual ensemble music, not vocal liturgy, with official networking replacing traditional contexts. [3]

Bazhou municipality (formerly Baxian county) just south, however, has remained lively for amateur ritual associations. In the area around Xin’an town in the east of the county, near Yongqing, elderly people recalled monks and priests from several of the town temples performing folk rituals, as well as household Daoists. Ritual associations on the Hebei plain are mainly village-based; few towns have or had such groups, but by the 1980s several Buddhist-transmitted groups had resumed activity in Xin’an, though they had only preserved shengguan wind ensemble without liturgy.

Indeed, Xin’an town was one of our first ports of call in 1989—we were led there by a slender, nay magical, clue in Yang Yinliu’s fine 1953 monograph on the shengguan music of the Zhihua temple in Beijing, where he noted an itinerant sheng mouth-organ tuner based in Xin’an. Sheng tuners (dianshengde 點笙的), generally itinerant, make a wonderful source in seeking village ritual associations, apart from their profound technical knowledge of the ancient system of scales and pitches; we met several wise sheng tuners on the Hebei plain. (Occupational Daoists we met elsewhere tuned their own sheng).

Before Liberation many Daoist priests and Buddhist monks performed rituals in the town. The Longquan si 龍泉寺 temple was connected with Beijing, and many monks had spent periods at the Haiguang si 海光寺 temple in Tianjin. We visited two folk associations descended from such temple groups: the Patriotic Street (Aiguo jie 爱国街!) yinyuehui (transmitted from first Daoist priests and then Buddhist monks) and the Buddhist-transmitted Guangming Street yinyuehui.

Xin'an Yingming drummer 1995Xin'an guanzi 1989
Above: old and young members of the Patriotic Street yinyuehui in Xin’an, on drum and guanzi, 1989.
Below: their scores for (left) shengguan wind ensemble (with the classic prelude Chuisi diao, aka Hesi pai 合四排 after its opening notes) and (right) large cymbals:

Xin'an Yingming scoreXin'an Yingming score 2

Xin'an guanzi 1989

Leading guanzi player of the Yingming Street yinyuehui, 1989.

The Chenghuang miao temple in Gu’an
In Zhangzhuang we learnt much from Li Duqi 李都岐 (b. c1920), a former Daoist priest at the Chenghuang miao temple in Gu’an county-town. His old home was in the Northgate quarter of Gu’an town; at the age of 10 sui he entered the Chenghuang miao, where there were over twenty priests. It had records going back several centuries, and (unlike The Complete Perfection temple of Liangshanpo), belonged to the Heavenly Masters Orthodox Unity branch. The distinction may make little difference, but this is an important reminder that Orthodox Unity Daoists could be temple-dwelling too“Orthodox Unity” is not synonymous with “household”!!!

They used the 40-character Orthodox Unity generational poem (beginning yi de shou zhen yuan 義德守真元: Koyanagi, no.33); Li Duqi was 22nd generation, hence the du component of his name, 22nd character in the poem. [4]

In the temple the young Li Duqi studied with his master (shiye), the chief ritual officiant (qingzhu 罄主, “master of the bronze bowl”), [5] for four years, but he found the discipline tough, and went off to spend half a year at the Baiyangdian lake further south on the plain. On returning home he was sent back to the temple again, and spent a further six years studying there (cf. the story of Tianjin Daoist Zhang Xiuhua: In search of the folk Daoists, Appendix 1). His master was Liu Shuhan (d.1962; with disciple-like devotion, Li recalled that he died on the 21st of the 6th moon, and was buried on the 23rd), who could play all the melodic instruments; he had taught a dozen Daoists at the Chenghuang miao, of whom only a couple still survived by the 1990s. Li Duqi had two “younger-brother” fellow-Daoists, Li Dutian and Li Duheng; they didn’t learn well, finding the temple rules too many and too complicated, so they went off to join the Liberation Army (hmm…).

Zhangzhuang Li Duqi

Li Duqi, 1993.

In his teens Li sometimes went to stay at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, where they were received by the cloister supervisor (jianyuan), but the Daoists “from the 24 counties” [in the Beijing vicinity?] didn’t need to register (guadan); indeed, Daoist priests could also register at Buddhist temples. They often went for seven or eight days around 9th moon 18th. “Irrespective of what branch you belonged to, when you arrived at the White Cloud Temple, even the abbot had to become a Longmen Daoist!” When 14 or 15 sui, Li had even helped rent out rooms at an inn in Beijing.

Already a fine liturgist and drum player, Li Duqi only learnt sheng and guanzi from the age of 18 sui. His master wanted him to take over as “master of the bronze bowl”. To learn the vocal liturgy, the young priests would imitate the master of the bowl, striking their thighs, one hand for the drum, the other for the bell; while reciting the gongche mnemonics of the shengguan wind music they would clap out the beats as they followed the master. They were themselves beaten if they went wrong (former priests and monks we met invariably recalled this, indeed some attributed it to their ability to recall the repertoire after long periods of inactivity), though Li got off lightly. His master wouldn’t let him write things down, making him memorize everything—thankfully for Zhangzhuang village later. This was not so much for Li’s sake as to preserve secrecy of transmission—the master of the bowl was even afraid the ritual would be transmitted to the Japanese. Li recalled a fellow-priest during the Japanese occupation going to talk with the local radio station, who offered them 100,000 yuan to record for them. When he came back and discussed it with Li’s master, he declared, “Not even if they gave us a million!”

The Hanzhuang ritual assocation, in Xiongxian further south, used to attend the Chenghuang miao temple fair before 1937, taking their own provisions. Their former leader Xie Yongxiang recalled it as a major fair, with Shifan ensembles and nine tea-tents. Before they went, the village association leaders (xiangtou, incense heads) had to  issue an announcement to the incense head of the fair so he could make arrangements for all the associations. They also had to write a wooden strip to hang at the main gate of the temple, reading: “XX village, XX association offers incense”.

Other temples practising folk ritual
Apart from the Guandi miao of Zhangzhuang, Li Duqi mentioned other “subsidiary temples” (fenmiao) of the Chenghuang miao in Gu’an—such as the “small temples” of the villages of South Taoli and Lihewu, and four temples in Gongcun district, including the Baiyi an 白衣庵, Laoye miao, and a “great temple” (dasi); the latter was originally staffed by a Buddhist monk, but after he died, a Daoist priest came. They all owned land (xianghuo di 香火地). The Daoists from all the subsidiary temples returned to the Chenghuang miao on 1st moon 15th and 2nd moon 19th to “do the assembly” (banhui). The temple fair for the sanxiao shengmu 三宵聖母 goddesses (also common around Xushui and Dingxing just west, if subsidiary there to Houtu) on 3rd moon 28th was also a major event. The Daoists had all studied for four or five years at the Chenghuang miao, learning both scriptures and shengguan, whereafter they were farmed out to small subsidiary temples.

Xie Yongxiang recalled: “There used to be over twenty Daoist priests at the Great Temple in Shali in Bazhou— could play shengguan as well as recite scriptures. When we went to the fair there we had to give them tea and gifts, because we are a Buddhist-transmitted association.”

In Niutuo district, Yanggezhuang and Shanggezhuang villages had “Longmen” [Complete Perfection] Daoist temples with priests whose ritual and shengguan Li described as “the same” as those of the Chenghuang miao. The abbot (dangjiade) of the Shanggezhuang temple (a Yaowang miao to the Medicine King, according to a local source) [6] had studied at the Chenghuang miao in Gu’an; the priests, in turn, had taught the “Daoist association” (laodao hui) of Shanggezhuang village (cf. the Liangshanpo Daoists).

Li Duqi also recalled several local Buddhist temples whose priests could play shengguan wind ensemble music for rituals. The Wenshen miao in the Southgate quarter of Gu’an had two Buddhist monks, a master and disciple, whose shengguan music was similar to that of the Daoist Chenghuang miao. There were six or seven Buddhist monks in the temple at Lesser Shafa south of Gu’an town.

Villagers recalled seeing groups of Daoist priests and Buddhist nuns competing at funerals (duipeng 對棚) in Wen’an county-town. Once, the Chenghuang miao Daoists had taken part in a grand funeral in Dacheng county where there were four competing ritual groups (“four tents of scriptures” sipeng jing 四棚經).

But if the few isolated local Daoists (or indeed Buddhists) in the small subsidiary temples were to do ritual business in the area with a full quorum for both vocal liturgy and shengguan, then they were either going to have to combine with their fellows in other temples, or teach a group of local laymen. And this was nothing new to the 20th century.

Back in Bazhou, the village of Zhangzhuang is a short hop west of Bazhou town. Its Daoist-transmitted (laodao jing 老道經) ritual association makes an interesting comparison with the equally fine Buddhist-transmitted association of Gaoqiao nearby.

As we saw, the Guandi miao temple of Zhangzhuang was a subsidiary temple of the Chenghuang miao in Gu’an, which sent a Daoist to take charge of it. Before the 1940s this was Guo Weicheng, Daoist name Shuyuan 蜀元 (shu was indeed the generation senior to Li Duqi’s du generation), known as Sanduo 三多. It was he who first taught ritual and shengguan to the Zhangzhuang villagers. The village association also had a master called Liu Guoyue, who died early in the 1940s—he taught the associations of Beizhou and Caojiawu in Yongqing too. The Daoists never took fees for teaching villagers, and (unlike the later transmissions in Daxing just north) the village association doesn’t seem to have charged for its rituals either.

Li Duqi was sent to the Guandi miao temple in Zhangzhuang late in 1947, to take over (jiemiao) from the dying priest there. Li found the village with its own already active ritual association. After Liberation, he “returned to the laity” in 1951 or 1952, and the temple became derelict, but he stayed on at Zhangzhuang as a peasant. During the desperate hardships from 1959 he returned to his old home in Gu’an, but he couldn’t survive on the land there either, and came back to Zhangzhuang in 1962—the villagers there were good to him. But the association had to disband that year—so until 1990 people could only hire shawm bands for funerals, and through the Cultural Revolution they couldn’t even do that.

One of the association’s old scores of the shengguan music was burnt in the Cultural Revolution, but another was hidden by a committed member, the guanzi player Zhang Shuchun (c1910–94). Li Duqi was not attacked too much in the Cultural Revolution; “clerics (chujiaren) don’t make enemies of people”, and villagers couldn’t face giving him too hard a time. But he must have kept on the move, as he returned again to Zhangzhuang in 1989. By then, villager Zhang Fengtao (b. c1944) was keen to restore the association, aware of all the other ritual associations in the area that had been restoring since the early 1980s. Though not a former member, his uncle had been a ritual specialist; he and his older brother were doing well from the economic reforms, the village itself was now quite prosperous, and the villagers were keen. One day Li Duqi was drinking with Zhang Fengtao when they discussed the idea of restoring the association. Li Duqi wasn’t worried about having been attacked in the Cultural Revolution, but he still wasn’t convinced that this stuff (wanyir 玩意儿) was much use any more. (Their position was still somewhat sensitive by 1993, and though active in the nearby countryside, they were wary of attracting too much official attention by performing funerals in the town.) Anyway, what could they do, now that their scriptures were all lost?

Still, the association restarted in 1990, restoring “in a single week”. Eight village men took responsibility for the restoration of the association, clubbing together to buy new instruments and Daoist costumes and hats. Although there was a fine core of at least eight members in their late fifties who had entered the association (ruhui) as youngsters in 1945, and Zhang Shuchun also had a fine memory, Li Duqi was asked to teach the shengguan to the younger recruits. As we saw, Zhang Shuchun had managed to preserve one of their old gongche scores, and very fine it is too, a compendium of melodies plainly derived from the classic tradition of the Beijing temples.

Zhangzhuang score

Zhangzhuang score: on left, prelude of Cuizhulian suite.

But they were keen to relearn their vocal liturgy too, so Li now had to recite as much as possible from memory, getting people to write down the texts as he chanted and sang them, phrase by phrase, over several years. It took him a whole year to recall the yankou, and he also gradually pieced The Song of the Skeleton together. As everywhere, there were characters to which they could only approximate, not knowing the correct way to write them, only the sounds.

By 1993 the yinyuehui had twenty-seven members, with several youngsters aged from 17 to 28. The building where the association met and stored its artefacts was on the old site of the Guandi miao; in the grounds was a stone stele said to record the temple’s history since the 12th century. The building was exceptionally clean. Its inner room had an altar with recent paintings of the Three Pure Ones (sanqing) deities, an offerings table, and a veil.

Zhangzhuang altar

Zhangzhuang altar group

They met every evening to rehearse the scriptures and the shengguan; the younger members were keen to learn, studying the Daoist texts recalled by Li Duqi. On a blackboard were written the gongche solfeggio symbols of the shengguan melodies they were currently relearning. They prided themselves on being the only real Daoist ritual association in the area, with their master still guiding them. Though there were only (sic) twenty-seven ritual performers, the amateur association represented the whole village, as usual in central Hebei: here they said about 80% of the villagers were “in the association” (zaihui), expressed by token donations of tea or cigarettes at the New Year’s rituals. When we visited them again in 1995, they were keen that we should video their Chasing Round the Quarters and Crossing the Bridges rituals, but we never managed to do so.

Like many villages in the region, they now only observed two main calendrical rituals:

  • 1st moon 15th, Releasing the Lanterns (fangdeng): one must first sing and play Jinran shendengthen the following processional pieces are flexible.
  • 7th moon 15th: one should do Releasing the River Lanterns (fang hedeng), but as there is no water here, they just hang paper lanterns. They also perform yankou, as for funerals (see below), with minor textual differences. This is also an occasion for an association feast, including meat; these feasts are at the members’ expense. [7]

They also referred to other calendrical rituals formerly observed:

  • 2nd moon 15th: set up a tent for Laojun and Pusa, and hold a vegetarian feast (chizhai).
  • 2nd moon 19th: set up a tent for the birthday of Nanhai dashi (Guanyin); repertoire including Dengzan / Jinran shendeng and shengguan pieces.
  • 9th moon 15th: set up a tent for Laoye (Guandi); repertoire including Shenzan, hymns with shengguan accompaniment, and a few shengguan suites.

Like most of the household Daoists we met, Li Duqi never mentioned the jiao Offering ritual; nor had he heard of fenxiang division of incense, despite the network of subsidiary temples (fenyuan, xiayuan).

The Chenghuang miao temple priests used to recite morning and evening altar scriptures (zaowan tanjing 早晚壇經), but they were not recited outside the temples. Now their main texts, restored from memory by Li Duqi, were the Dapan mengzhen 大判盟真, for the yankou, [8] and the “scriptures to rescue from suffering” (Jiuku jing)—the latter, as he explained, mainly for the “sea assembly” (haihui, “sea” denoting universality), helping eliminate calamity for the dead (cf. the common hymn Penglai haihui).

As to funerals, Li Duqi recalled that richer families used to store the corpse for half a year, burying it only after the autumn; sometimes it was kept for over three years. After the chief Daoist received the announcement (tiaozi 條子), he sent it round all the subsidiary temples, summoning his fellow priests to take part—another reminder that there might not be enough Daoists in a single temple to stage a proper ritual.

Conversely, for less wealthy families, Li commented significantly, “villages which had a yinyuehui didn’t need to spend money on inviting Daoists.” He also considered that a yinyuehui funeral was more or less the same nowadays as he could recall it; it was only a two-day event. He gave us a fine prescriptive account for a funeral as performed by a village yinyuehui. To remind you, duikou 對口 refers to vocal singing accompanied by shengguan.

Li Duqi’s prescription for a funeral
Day 1

  • baizao 拜灶 Homage to the Stove. Before going to the soul hall, pay homage to the kitchen god, singing Jianzhai 兼齋 (?) with shengguan wind accompaniment (duikou). Recite a four-phrase jizi 偈子 in unison, sing another duikou piece.
  • anling 安靈 Settling the Soul, aka ruguan 入棺 Encoffining. Sung text duikou, then recite a few lines of scripture, Shiwang gong 十王功; then percussion Changsanpai 長三牌, then percussion four-phrase jizi.
  • canling 參靈 Visiting the Soul. Can be done once or as many times as the patron requests. Sing the unaccompanied Tan wangling 嘆(探?)亡靈 in unison.
  • zhaowang 招亡 Summoning the deceased [Ancestors]. A relative bears a god tablet (paiwei) to the earth god Tudi, the association proceeds behind, playing small pieces. They go to the entrance of the village, towards the ancestral graves. The chief celebrant (qingzhu) of the association stands in the centre and takes the feast tablet (zhaiban 齋板), inscribed with Yifeng chaozou jiuchongtian 壹封朝奏九重天 (opening line of a Han Yu poem), the association standing on both sides before him. First perform a duikou piece, recite a few phrases of jizi, and recite Qing xianling 請先靈 text. Then return to the soul hall, putting the offerings on the altar table.
  • qushui 取水 Fetching Water. The kin take a god tablet (or painting) to the dragon king (Longwang), proceeding to the village well with the association playing behind, Shendeng zan and reciting a section (zhe 折) of scripture, sing duikou hymns Longwang zan and Qushui zan. Put water in a wine flask with red cloth tied at top with rope with red end. Take it back to the resting-place of the association (xiachu 下處, like jingtang scripture hall), until it is needed in the yankou.
  • paofang 跑方 Chasing Round the Quarters (or another canling instead). Five tables with the tablets (paiwei) of the wufang (wulao) tianzun 五方(五老)天尊. Seated before the coffin, the association recites scriptures and plays shengguan. A kin member takes the soul tablet; the biaobai 表白 (one of the liturgists) takes the “pennant to lead the soul” (yinhun fan 引魂幡), and leads the kin to the “arena of the quarters” (fangchang 方場). First they pay homage to the Central quarter, then EWSN; while the biaobai leads the kin west, the shengguan group goes east, and so on. The shengguan group plays the duikou pieces Shendeng zan or Cuizhulian 翠竹簾 throughout, while the texts change.


  • guandeng 觀燈 Beholding the Lanterns. No longer performed (cf. Yanggao, my book, p.250 and index).
  • fang yankou 放焰口. A dharma platform (fatai) is built, a table on top of four other tables, the association sitting in front of the platform. First the chief liturgists recite the Tudi jing 土地經, and sing Liuju zan 六句讚 duikou, then a shengguan suite (daqu 大曲). On the platform the chief liturgists offer incense and recite the Ten Kings scripture (Shiwang jing)—”not the same as the Shiwang juan, which is what the Laofomen sect recited!”. Shengguan accompanies the three verses of Cuizhulian. Grains and water are scattered for the hungry ghosts. They used to hang out the Ten Kings paintings, but since they have been lost, they just hang that of the Ghost King. Same as for 7th moon 15th, except for minor differences in text.

Day 2 

  • canling 參靈 scripture and shengguan same as Day 1, but different pieces, different texts.
  • canling 參靈 ditto
  • diancha 奠茶 Libations of Tea. Offering three cups of pure tea to the deceased. For the first, tutti sing Yizhu fanhun xiang 一柱返魂香, led by the master of the bowl, alternating with shengguan and percussion. While the offerings of tea are made, play three different pieces, like Jinran shendeng, Cuizhulian, and Liuju zan.
  • songlu 送路 Escorting to the Road. On a long and slow procession, the family goes to burn paper outside the village. The association plays lively “small pieces” (xiaoqu 小曲) on a Ritual Tour of the Streets (zhuanjie 轉街), following the paper offerings: cart, horse, gold and silver casket, and so on. After the paper offerings have been burned, they play the percussion piece Changsan pai. They continue to play small pieces on the way back, escorting the family back to the soul hall. In some places this ritual is done on Day 1—it differs by district.
  • duqiao 渡橋 Crossing the Bridges. The master of the bowl leads the way as a male kin takes the “banner to lead the soul” and crosses the Bridge of No Return (naihe qiao), made out of tables or carts. On tables at either end of the bridge are images of Niutou and Mamian 牛頭馬面. On both sides of the bridge the association plays Jintong yinlu 金童引路; the master of the bowl recites a few phrases of scripture as the percussion plays, and the kin and qingzhu ascend the bridge. The latter recites another four-phrase jizi and the shengguan group plays another suite, very slow. After descending the bridge, return to the soul hall. All this takes around two hours—if necessary you can abbreviate the shengguan, but not the scriptures.
  • songqian 送前 Escorting Afore. Recite scripture, burn paper memorials (biao), play Liuju zan.
  • chubin 出殯 Burial Procession. Raising the coffin (qiguan 起棺), percussion only; more percussion after the coffin has been placed in the palanquin (zhao 罩) and is lifted. On procession, the association leads, playing small pieces with percussion interludes. Escort the coffin to the entrance of the village, association standing to the side as the coffin passes, playing a lively percussion piece.

diancha Libations to Tea: including brief allusions to the “three dreams”; for a “standard” version, see Min Zhiting, Quanzhen zhenyun puji, pp.282–5. Cf. the western area, where the dreams are treated more expansively.
Yizhu fanhun xiang: cf. Min Zhiting, Quanzhen zhengyun puji, pp.188–91, Min Zhiting, Daojiao yifan, pp.159, 166, 179; and for south Hebei, Yuan Jingfang, Julu Daojiao yinyue, pp.203–5.
For zhaowang, qushui, paofang, and duqiao, see the indexes of my In search of the folk Daoists and Daoist priests of the Li family.

Nearby, in Zhongkou district just south of Xin’an town, is the fine Buddhist-transmitted (heshang jing 和尚經) association of Gaoqiao village. In 1993 and 1995 visits we talked mainly with Shang Xuezhi (b. c1949) and the huitou association leader Hao Shan (b. c1938), as well as the leading vocal liturgist (zhengnian) Hao Guanghua (b. c1933).

This was a large village (with 784 households and a population of over 4,000 in 1993) but, like Zhangzhuang, it was quite prosperous. The association members were doing well from their sheng workshop, which supplied instruments to ritual associations and shawm bands over a wide area of Hebei, as well as to Beijing instrument shops. The workshop was mainly run by Shang Xuezhi and his three brothers with four of their sons, all of whom played shengguan in the association. Again, they were able to run off a long list of active ritual associations all over the area. Indeed, the Shang family sheng workshop went back at least four generations.

Gaoqiao 1993

The ritual association was quite a small group, and (unusually) they only reckoned around sixty households as “in the association”, but they had a good range of ages, and were traditional and enterprising, as well as musically outstanding. Shang Lishan (b. c1963) was among the finest guanzi players we have heard in Hebei (playlist #8, commentary here), playing with his eyes firmly closed, like other guanzi and sheng players trained in the strict ritual tradition.

Again, the Gaoqiao ritual specialists can recall four generations, but tradition was that the association was much older. The account (as often) is a little blurred, but their elders had said that the villagers had learned ritual and shengguan from a priest called Guangda 廣達 in the village Jinlong si 金龍寺 temple; there were four or five monks there who could play shengguan. The temple, a subsidiary temple (fenmiao) of the Longxing si 隆興寺 (known as Dawang miao 大王廟) in Zhengding county (just north of Shijiazhuang, quite far southwest), had acquired its ritual from there in the Kangxi era (1662–1722) (or was it then that the villagers had acquired it from the Jinlong si?!). The cover of the association’s yankou manual bears the legend:

[1922] 3rd moon, reprinted by abbot Yiding of the Longxing si in Zhengding fu of Zhili.

 Yiding turns out to have been an important local figurehead in the Boxer movement of 1900, [9] reminding us that the Boxers were active throughout the whole region of the ritual associations on the Hebei plain. The manual was printed at the Yongsheng zhai printing shop in the Qianmenwai quarter of Beijing; indeed, though Gaoqiao had a clear link with the Longxing si temple, this edition seems to have been widely distributed, being reproduced for the 1986 Beijing yankou recordings (In search of the folk Daoists, Appendix 1); it was even used by the Li family Daoists in north Shanxi (Daoist priests of the Li family, pp.225–6, 377).

BJ yankou manual

The association also has a fine gongche score for the shengguan wind music, whose repertoire belongs to the most exalted temple tradition.

Gaoqiao score

Gaoqiao score, opening of majestic Zhoujintang suite.

The Jinlong si was destroyed, along with the other temples in the village, in Communist anti-superstition campaigns of 1945–46, but the association remained active. After the crises from 1958, in 1962–63 they were still performing Chasing Round the Quarters and Crossing the Bridges rituals, but they had to stop in 1964. They restarted (with shengguan) as early as 1979, but had only just resumed reciting the scriptures in 1992. They performed as a social duty within the village, and took a modest, flexible reward for funerals elsewhere—though they were reluctant to perform much outside the village, as they were busy with the sheng workshop.

Interestingly, they spoke of two types of funerals: ban foshi 辦佛事 including vocal liturgy in costume, or zuopeng 坐棚 (“seated in the tent”) with only shengguan and in plain clothes. Vocal liturgists and instrumentalists are known respectively as “civil and martial monks” (wenseng, wuseng, like the more common wenchang/wentan and wuchang/wutan; as in Laishui, “civil to the east, martial to the west”, wendong wuxi), and wear different costumes. For Raising the Soul (tiling), they don a separate set of costumes. All their costumes were newly made. With a group of seven liturgists they performed sections of the yankou for us—rather well, if they had restored it only recently. Again, their calendrical contexts were now limited to Releasing the Lanterns rituals on 1st moon 15th and 7th moon 15th.

Gaoqiao ritual 2

Gaoqiao ritual

Photos: Xue Yibing.

In this area, two ritual groups still often perform at the same funeral (duipeng “facing in the tent”). The Gaoqiao group has “faced in the tent” with the North Wudaokou association (see below), and they often duipeng with the Zhangzhuang Daoists—“first Buddhists then Daoists” (xianseng houdao), as in Daxing.

 Other nearby groups
In February 1989 we visited members of the former North Yanjiawu association in west Baxian. Though they had been inactive since the Japanese invasion, they preserved a beautiful gongche score, undated but clearly ancient; the preface to another score, copied recently by Fan Guangyin (b. c1915), states that a Buddhist monk from the Qianfo si temple just north of the village had taught the villagers after they nursed him back to health.

Yanjiawu score 1989

North Yanjiawu score, Jinzi jing and opening of Wusheng fo.

Yanjiawu guanzi case 89

Case for guanzi oboe.

The Zhangzhuang and Gaoqiao villagers gave us leads to several other nearby village associations (including some of those in Jinghai county to the east). Majiabao [10] village in Bazhou had an “old association”. In 1995 we chatted with villagers at the house of the huitou Han Shutian (b. c1925) there, including his son, then village Party Secretary. They could recall at least five generations, and considered themselves the earliest association in the region. Li Duqi had told us this group belonged to the Laofomen sect, though the subject wasn’t broached on our brief visit with them.

Majiabao score

Yan guo yanlou and Qi Yan Hui, classic temple melodies.

Majiabao text+faqi

Ritual texts and percussion mnemonics at end of score.

Their old collection of ritual manuals had been lost, but from some of the titles they recalled (we wrote Sitang yuanjun 四堂圓君, Tanbi 嘆比, and Yinyangshi 陰陽世, but they couldn’t suggest the right characters any more than we could), I suspect Li Duqi may have been right. The Laofomen connection was quite common just further west and south (e.g. Xiongxian, Houshan). [11]

After ceasing activity in 1956, the Majiabao association were presumably resuming by 1981 when they recopied their old gongche score, but had recently sought tuition from Zhangzhuang, since they had a family relation with Zhang Shuchun there. Li Duqi said Majiabao had learnt the laodao jing from them, for two years, “after a fashion—actually, it takes at least five years to learn this set of ritual.” Like Zhangzhuang, they had Daoist costumes.

Just north, I discuss the ritual groups of Yongqing county under Langfang.


In this whole area south of Beijing, Daoist and Buddhist ritual traditions were always complementary. Again we find amateur associations deriving from a ritual network of temples before Liberation. Just looking at the maps which go with these articles, we can see how very extensive this network was. And I’m mainly marking the villages we visited where associations were still active in the 1990s—until the 1950s, most villages would have had such groups, providing ritual services.

As we move south and east from Houshan, vocal liturgy tends to become subsidiary to the magnificent “holy pieces” of the classic shengguan wind ensemble deriving from the temples of old Beijing—notably the lengthy suites (daqu) whose most majestic form is to be found around Xiongxian county (next stop in this series),

And as this series of articles on local ritual expands from north Shanxi to Hebei, it’s becoming something of an alternative, grass-roots, history of 20th-century north China through successive social and political vicissitudes.

[1] This article is based on my In search of the folk Daoists of north China, pp.145–58, in turn based on our notes from visits from 1989 to 1995. For more sources, see here.
[2] For Gu’an before Liberation, local scholar Zhao Fuxing (Gu’an minsu jilu, pp.35–56, in Overmyer and Fan eds., Huabei nongcun minjian wenhua yanjiu congshu) offers dour material on temples (as he writes, the list he cites of 159 temples from the 1942 county gazetteer is by no means complete) and village groups, but little on actual ritual practice, either before or after Liberation, and so hardly touches on my material here.
[3] Zhao Fuxing also mentions a former yinyuehui in Greater Yangwu, and the “hailstone association” (bingbao hui) in Greater Yidian village (just in Gaobeidian [Xincheng] county—where we also found slim pickings, by the way) is surely in the same tradition. Qi Yi’s project visited them in 2016, to find them impressively still performing rituals: see here.
[4] As Koyanagi’s list shows, there were different poems for each of the many branches of both Orthodox Unity and Complete Perfection.
[5] A term that I heard only here, denoting the chief liturgist responsible for sounding the bronze bowl. Li explained that the qingzhu was the No.2 in the temple after the cloister supervisor, who was responsible for finances, food, and visitors, while the abbot (fangzhang) wasn’t responsible for any practical business, only for “large matters”. Cf. the complex division of duties in major metropolitan Complete Perfection temples: Min Zhiting, Daojiao yifan (1995 edn), pp.12–25.
[6] Zhao Fuxing, in Gu’an minsu jilu, pp.69–78—an article that (even on p.74, describing the six priests there until the 1950s) sadly fails to mention ritual practice or the village association. See also ibid., pp.38, 49, 55. He does observe, however (p.69), that it was an exceptionally thriving temple, being restored in 1935 and 1942, at a period when temples in the whole area were in decline.
[7] Such feasts were a common aspect of the practice of the Hebei associations: Zhang Zhentao, Yinyuehui, pp.169–72.
[8] My only clue to this at present is a funerary mengzhen ritual in Fujian, Dean, “Funerals in Fujian” (1988), pp. 42, 61; and manuals, pp.45, 52.
[9] See Yihetuan shiliao (1980) vol.1: 404–5.
[10] I may be wrong, but here I’ve stuck with the standard putonghua rendition bao, rather than bu, the common pronunciation further west.
[11] Cf. my In search of the folk Daoists, index. The Laofomen seems largely absent from the county listings in Zhao Jiazhu, Zhongguo huidaomen shiliao jicheng, but features in a long list for Xiongxian, ibid. 114–15.