Daoists of Guangling, Shanxi

Apart from my work on the Li family Daoists in Yanggao, Chen Yu 陈瑜 led me towards other Daoist ritual groups in north Shanxi—notably Shuozhou. We gained leads to most other counties in the region, but Guangling and Lingqiu counties were a blank area on our map of Daoist ritual activity. Lingqiu still remains to be explored, but Chen Yu’s visit to Guangling in May 2015 made a late yet valuable addition to our surveys. [1]

Several household ritual groups were active in the county until the 1950s. Though it may be that only one is still performing today, Chen Yu’s preliminary material is interesting, not least because it may bear on the Hengshan connection—which is fictional in other places we’ve visited.

The leader of the present group is Du Zhimin 杜至民 (b. c1952) from Sanzhuang 三庄村 village, part of the county-town.

Again, Du Zhimin related an interesting story about their “founding ancestor”:

In the transition from late Ming to early Qing [17th century], Yu Xiaonan 蔚筱南 was an official [a high-ranking chengxiang 丞相 minister, he claimed] from Yuzhou 蔚州 [including the present Guangling county], who patriotically retired home after the Manchu Qing takeover. A junior colleague of his, the Libu shangshu 禮部尚書 minister Wei Shaoshu 魏紹書 was sent to Weizhou on three-year leave to persuade him to return to office, but he refused, and died in resolute poverty. Wei Shaoshu invited distinguished Daoist priests from a wide area (Hengshan, Sichuan, and the White Cloud Temple in Beijing) to perform a grand mortuary ritual for him. One of the Hengshan priests set up home there after the ritual, and it was from him that Du Zhimin’s ancestor learned ritual practice.

A glance at historical sources hasn’t yet turned up the names of either Yu Xiaonan or Wei Shaoshu, and their high offices may have become embroidered over time, but it is detailed enough to be worth considering.

Du Zhimin claimed that such a tradition must be learned from temple priests. His father Du Pingxiao 杜平孝 was the last to “go to the temple to learn”—in his case, the Nanxuan miao 南玄廟 at the Southgate of Guangling town.

Du Zhimin knows that the zhi 至 in his name makes him part of the zhi generation in their Daoist lineage—apparently the 21st character in the Longmen Complete Perfection poem. He began learning from the age of 6 sui [1958], and (with unfortunate timing) was taking part in funeral rituals fully by 1966.

Liu and Du

Liu Wenyun (right) and Du Zhimin. Photo: Chen Yu, 2015.

The main vocal liturgist of the group is Liu Wenyun 刘文运 (b.c1949), seventh generation of Daoists in his lineage, based in Northgate village 北关村. His grandfather had lived first in the Bazha miao 八腊廟 temple in Westgate and then in the Laoye miao 老爺廟 in North Daoyan 北道雁 village nearby.

Liu Wenyun’s father (b.1911) also “learned from young in the temple”. Wenyun himself learned ritual within the family, but when an uncle of his (also a household Daoist) was killed in a Cultural Revolution struggle meeting, he went to live in town, taking his ritual equipment and manuals with him. Since the 1980s he has worked with Du Zhimin. In 2008, exceptionally, he received the registers (shoulu 授箓) at Longhushan, taking the daohao title Liu Sanyun 刘三运.

Wei Guipin 魏桂品 (b.c1944) is the fourth generation of Daoists in his lineage, based in Zuotuan 作疃 village just west of the county-town. They have always worked with the Du and Liu families. His sons take part in the band too; in a common pattern, one of them runs a funeral shop in the county-town.

Guangling heying

The Guangling Daoists. Photo: Chen Yu, 2015.


Guangling manuals

Manuals of Liu Wenyun. Photo: Chen Yu, 2015.

Chen Yu saw the following manuals in Liu Wenyun’s collection (Chen Yu, pp.98–9):

  • Lingbao hongyi jilian chaozhen shishi quanbu 靈寶洪儀済煉朝真施食全部
  • Daojiao lingbao jiuku wangsheng deng 道教靈寶救苦往生燈
  • Taishang beidou zhenjing 太上北斗真經
  • Shisi baohao jing 十四寶號經
  • Lingbao taiqing dongxuan sanguang jing quanji 靈寶泰清洞玄三光經全集
  • Qijing xieshen 起經謝神
  • Daojiao xietu quanke 道教謝土全科
  • Wenchang dadong xianjing 文昌大洞仙經
  • Sanshi yinguo jing 三世因果經
  • Caishen jixiang jing 財神吉祥經
  • Guandi jing 關帝經
  • Guhun tang 孤魂堂
  • Daojiao wenbiaodie 道教文表牒

Further work is needed to ascertain which manuals from this eclectic collection belong to the local tradition, and which (if any) came from Liu’ s time at Longhushan.

The Guangling Daoists appear to classify their rituals in a similar way to their Yanggao colleagues: scriptures for mortuary rituals, temple rituals, and “for well-being” (ping’an).

A rather complete funeral sequence (Chen Yu, p.71) goes like this:

Day 1

  • Raising the Scriptures (qijing 起經)
  • Fetching Water (qushui 取水)
  • Escorting to the Road (songlu 送路)
  • Inviting the Soul (qingling 請靈)


  • Communicating the Lanterns (guandeng 觀燈)

Day 2

  • Delivering the Litanies (songchan 送懺) (four visits)


  • Ambulating Incense (xingxiang 行香)
  • Opening the Sacrifice ( kaiji 開祭)


  • Delivering the Litanies (three visits)
  • Invitation (zhaoqing 召請)


  • yankou 焰口 (Hongyi shishi 洪儀施食)

Day 3 (am)

  • burial (fayin 發引)

Again, most of these rituals and texts are close to those of Yanggao, and can be pursued in my book on the Li family Daoists, as well as in my In search of the folk Daoists of north China.

As to temple rituals, Chen Yu attended an inauguration (kaiguang 开光) of the new statues of the goddess Bixia 碧霞 at the Liushen miao 六神庙 temple in Libuzi 李堡子 village on the outskirts of Yuxian county-town in Hebei (just east of Guangling), with Du Zhimin’s band performing the rituals. Here is an outline of the sequence as Chen Yu observed it (for more details of items within ritual segments, see her pp.136–41):

Day 1

  • Delivering the Litanies (songchan 送懺) (three visits). Items from the morning service, including the Eight Great Holy Mantras (Ba da shenzhou 八大神咒) and jing scriptures; within the second visit, a shengguan suite.


  • Fetching Water (qushui 取水)
  • kitchen visit
  • ritual at scripture hall (jingtang 經堂), including Stepping the Cosmos and Pacing the Dipper (tagang budou 踏罡步斗).


  • Lantern Ritual (dengyi 燈儀) and Raising the Scriptures (qijing 起經), including scripture Shiyiyao jing 十一耀經 (my book, p.380), offering lanterns with holy mantras to the Stellar Lords (xingjun 星君), and “little pieces” and suite on shengguan.

Day 2

  • Delivering the Litanies (three visits)


  • Audience Ritual (chaoke 朝科)


  • Delivering the Litanies (four visits): reciting jing scriptures.
Guangling kaiguang

Guangling Daoists at Liushen miao, May 2015. Photo: Chen Yu.

Ritual soundscape
The Li family Daoists in nearby Yanggao preserve a rather full corpus of jing 經 scriptures (my book, pp.211–13, 377–82), but in recent decades they have rarely been performed; here in Guangling (and in Shuozhou) they seem to be better preserved.

Apart from Liu Wenyun leading the vocal liturgy, Du Zhimin’s colleagues also perform the shengguan melodic instrumental music—an intrinsic part of northern ritual, as I keep reiterating!

The classic orchestration of northern shengguan consists of the four instruments sheng-guan-di-luo. In Yanggao the ten-gong yunluo and later the dizi flute have fallen out of use, but here, as in Tianzhen county just north, they still use both.

Chen Yu was able to clarify an enigma in the early research of Chen Kexiu on the Daoist shengguan of north Shanxi. Chen had mentioned an early gongche solfeggio score of ritual shengguan melodic instrumental music, inscribed with the name of Wei Guipin, called Lingbao quben 靈寶曲本. It’s unclear how Chen Kexiu came across it—he was unable to provide further details. Thanks to Chen Yu’s visit, we now know that Wei Guipin is part of the Guangling Daoist band; the score seems to predate him.

Du Zhimin learned the shengguan melodies in the traditional way, with gongche solfeggio. He spoke of eight “great suites” (datao 大套), overlapping with the six suites of Yanggao, but similarly attenuated in current performance. The titles of their percussion items are also similar to those of Yanggao and elsewhere in north Shanxi.

Yet again we are expanding our ritual vocabulary for local Daoist ritual in north China. This looks like a rather well-preserved temple-derived tradition. But here’s another headache for us in the saga of Orthodox Unity and Complete Perfection.

In this case I tended to think that Chen Yu is right to accept their own portrayal as Orthodox Unity Daoists. True, their costumes and hats suggest that they are Complete Perfection (like the Daoists of Tianzhen county further north, or Shuozhou to the west)—however, they seem to have bought these costumes and hats recently from the White Cloud Temple in Beijing, unable to find a set based on their Orthodox Unity heritage.

Actually, even if the origin of their tradition (unlike that of Yanggao!) was indeed Hengshan, that still won’t suffice to prove that it is a Complete Perfection tradition. One would need to know more about the presence of both branches on the mountain in imperial times—they often did, and do, coexist on such Daoist mountains. For what it’s worth, the various groups of household Daoists in Hunyuan county-town and nearby, away from the mountain, were Orthodox Unity—but that has recently become a confusing story too, because since our 1992 visits the Jiao family there have largely converted to “standard” Complete Perfection ritual practice derived from the White Cloud Temple in Beijing. Conversely, the zhi character in Du Zhimin’s name would confirm that they belonged to the Longmen Complete Perfection lineage. By now you may be wanting to concur with me that it doesn’t matter a lot!

In sum, Chen Yu’s brief visits in 2015 provide us with most promising material. As with Changwu and other sites of In search of the folk Daoists, it invites more detailed fieldwork.

For me at least, Guangling may be a bridge—a staging post between the ritual traditions of Beijing and Hebei to the east, Yanggao just northwest, and Wutaishan further south. But we constantly need to add pieces into the jigsaw.


[1] Chen Yu, Jinbei minjian daojiao keyi yinyue yanjiu, pp.68–72, 98–9, 136–41, 180–81. I much appreciate her sharing notes and photos, and our discussions.