Ritual groups of Jinghai

During our fieldwork on ritual associations on the Hebei plain, villagers in Bazhou county gave us leads to ritual groups in the Jinghai region just east and south, in Tianjin municipality.

Note that even by the 1990s Tianjin municipality (like Beijing) was largely rural, way beyond the city itself. It is an extremely fruitful area for fieldwork, where we sadly didn’t have enough time to study. I’ve already mentioned some groups in Wuqing county.

The whole Tianjin region is also notable for its large ritual percussion ensembles called “dharma-drumming associations” (faguhui), again Buddhist-transmitted; many of them also include a subsidiary shengguan repertoire, although their liturgical/ritual element is slight. [1] Apart from all the Buddhist and Daoist clerics before 1949 who performed folk ritual, senior villagers also recalled Buddhist nuns in the area who played shengguan wind ensemble as part of their liturgy.

Here there were many Daoist-transmitted associations, like Baiyangshu village in Fujunmiao district; and we also found a network of Heaven and Earth Teachings sectarian associations. We’ve found sectarian groups (Laofomen, Hunyuan, Hongyang, and so on) just about everywhere, as in the western area around Yixian, in Xushui, and in Xiongxian.

Here I introduce two ritual groups in Jinghai, those of Lesser Huangzhuang and Yuanmengkou, both richly deserving more fieldwork than our team could manage in 1994 and 1995.

Lesser Huangzhuang
The small village of Lesser Huangzhuang (1994 population around 800) in Ziya district, west Jinghai, was quite poor, but it was locally renowned both for its ritual association and its sheng workshop. In 1994 our team talked with the venerable Li Baoyan (b. c1915). His son Li Shulin (b. c1928, sic!—early marriages were still common) was the association leader, and his own son was head of the sheng workshop.

The association, called yinyuehui, was a “Daoist association” (laodaohui), or “Buddhist-transmitted Daoist teachings” (sengchuan daojiao) They worshipped Confucius, Laojun, and Sakyamuni Buddha—the latter, as an honoured foreign guest, in central position. According to an old ritual painting now lost, it was transmitted from Beijing; there were at least three or four generations before Li Baoyan. They played in the “southern” style.

XHZ Li Baoyan

Li Baoyan, 1994. Photo: Music Research Institute, Beijing.

Among a peasant population that was mostly semi-literate at best, though a few senior association members had received an old-style Confucian education in private school (sishu), Li Baoyan was of exceptional erudition. He had attended private school from the age of 12 to 15 sui, and, already a father, he began learning the village ritual from the age of 17, beginning with the guanzi, and going on to learn everything, including the vocal liturgy. Despite being classified as a middle peasant upon land reform, he joined the CCP in 1949, serving successively as village chief, district chief, commune chief, and village Party Secretary.

Meanwhile Li Baoyan was also leading the ritual association. Such a combination of political and ritual authority in village leaders was very common all over the Hebei plain (see e.g. my Plucking the winds, and articles under Gaoluo). Like many such groups, the association was active until the late 1950s, and restored after the famine before being forced into silence after the 1964 Four Cleanups.

The village had been making sheng since before the Japanese occupation. In the 1950s the business was collectivized; in 1968, while assistant chief of the village revolutionary committee, Li restarted the sheng workshop. Since the 1980s it had split into eight (!) household industries. They also mentioned the famous Wang family of sheng-repairers of Jingxian county quite far south in Hebei.

They revived the association again in the early 1980s, recruiting groups of youths in 1984 and 1992, with the support of the village committee, as usual; by 1994 had over twenty members, with a good range of ages.

Again, their ritual calendar was sparse, with only Releasing God Lanterns (fang shendeng) on 1st moon 15th and Releasing Ghost Lanterns (fang guideng) on 7th moon 15th. Formerly they also “paid homage at the temples to make offerings” (baimiao shanggong) on 3rd moon 3rd and 10th moon 15th. They still often performed funerals, which now lasted one or two days (before the day of the burial procession).

XHZ Dizang baodeng 1

They used to have a thick yankou volume, which they could recite “along with the Buddhist monks”, but now they had two main ritual manuals. The Complete Dizang Precious Lanterns (Dizang baodeng quanbu 地藏寶燈全部) was used for the funerary Communicating the Lanterns (guandeng 關燈) ritual; it was an old copy made by a villager before 1937 as the old one became too decrepit. Li Baoyan made four further copies in the 1980s, so each of the five liturgists had his own from which to recite.

XHZ zan 1

From Zazhi zanben quanbu: Qingling zan, Yangzhi jingshui, Caoxi shui, and Laojun zan.

XHZ zan 2

Texts from Crossing the Bridges ritual, and Qushui zan.

They also consulted a manual called Zazhi zanben quanbu 雜志讚本全部, beautifully copied by Li Baoyan from memory in 1984. The contents are listed below; though its items are given as hymns (zan), it seems more like a ritual manual, with recited and sung sections in various structures for the many segments of a ritual.

  • Tudi zan 土地讚  note in manual: funerary
  • Tudi zan 土地讚  note in manual: “joyous” [viz. for rituals for the living]
  • Songlu zan 送路讚                    
  • Menshen zan 門神讚
  • Sanguan zan 三官讚
  • Laoye zan 老爺讚
  • Songsui zan 送歲讚   note in manual: for fangdeng Releasing Lanterns
  • Songsui zan 送歲讚   note in manual: for chubin burial procession
  • Antan zan 安壇讚
  • Jizao zan 祭灶讚
  • Qingling zan 請靈讚
  • Yangzhi jingshui 楊枝淨水
  • Caoxi shui 漕溪水
  • Laojun zan 老君讚
  • Wangsheng zhou 網(往)生咒
  • San diancha 三點(奠)茶
  • Zhaoling zan 照靈讚
  • Zhaoqing tiaozi 召請条子   long segment, with Yixin fengqing/zhaoqing 一心奉請, Yixin zhaoqing 一心召請 texts (cf. the Li family Daoists in north Shanxi)
  • Anling zan 安靈讚   with Jishou guiyi 稽首皈依 texts, followed in same sequence by
  • Da Sanbao 大三寶
  • Qingling zan 請靈讚
  • Kulou zan 骷髏讚
  • Wenjing 聞經
  • Songling zan 送靈讚
  • Duqiao zan 渡橋讚
  • Heqiao zan 賀橋讚   long
  • Qushui zan 取水讚  note at end of text: before the soul, recite Yangzhi jingshui 楊枝淨水, Namo saduonan zhou 南無薩哆喃咒
  • Xinjing 心經
  • Shenbiao 伸表
  • Chenghuang zan 城隍讚 note in brackets at end: segue Jixiang zhou 吉祥咒
  • Fenxiang zan 焚香讚

 Li Baoyan also recalled Huayan Precious Litanies (Huayan baochan 華嚴寶懺) and morning and evening services (Zaowan gongke 早晚功課). They had even recorded their complete vocal liturgy on cassette for the next generation, as well as their shengguan music—unusually, here the two were separate, with no items of vocal liturgy accompanied by the melodic instruments. Again, Li had copied a new gongche score on the restoration around 1983.

Their many former paintings included a Heaven and Earth pantheon, with Guangong and Erlang in the upper row; Mile (Maitreya) Buddha of the future, the four great Tianwang Heavenly Kings, and Dharma Protector Hufa in the middle row; and the Ten Kings, Dizang, Tudi, and Ghost King Bodhisattva (Guiwang pusa) in the lower row. Now that the paintings had been lost, they wrote inscriptions for each god on pieces of card, as usual.

As ever, Li Baoyan gave us a list of Buddhist- and Daoist-transmitted associations nearby, including East, Middle, and West Chanfang, Zhangcun, and Tanjiazhuang, as well as other more distant groups.

Nearby in East Tantou district we found an active ritual association at Yuanmengkou village, belonging to the Heaven and Earth Teachings (Tiandi men) sect—properly Tiandi ruyi men 天地如意門. Continuing the work of Li Shiyu and Pu Wenqi, Thomas DuBois’ fine book has valuable material on the Tiandi men and Taishang men 太上門 sects in Cangzhou further south—paying rare and important attention both to current practice and the vicissitudes under Maoism. [2]

YMK paiwei

Non-sectarian ascriptive village associations also often had networks based on transmission from a common master, but the inter-village networks of the sectarian groups were more developed. They had taught several other villages nearby, such as those of Laojuntang and Diliubu just north, and still further north in Wuqing county. The Tiandi men sect from East Changtun nearby had paid a ritual visit to Yuanmengkou in 1993 to exchange knowledge and goodwill; and they were in touch with nearby Tanzhuangzi (listed in their transmission history, see below). There were also Taishang men and Laojun men 老君門 sects in the area (East Tantou town had both), differing mainly in minor details of their ritual texts.

Typically, the Yuanmengkou sectarians described it as a “charitable sect” (shanmen) for those in need, for “religious ritual” (foshi), existing to “serve the people”, no matter how poor—a claim that in some regions hadn’t always convinced the police. Though in principle, sects are voluntary, intra-village, in most Tiandi men villages the sect is virtually ascriptive, the association representing the whole village. So for our purposes, it is identical in most respects to the amateur associations we have found so far, with vocal liturgy and paraliturgical shengguan wind ensemble.

Differences were that unlike most transmissions from Daoist priests or Buddhist monks, this association had been transmitted from sectarians, and not from the north but from Shandong further south; and the senior generations (notably Ma Shaowen, aka Ma erye 馬二爺) had also practised healing and reciting incantations (zhouyu).

YMK heying 94

Yuanmengkou group, 1994. Photo: Music Research Institute, Beijing.

Li Junming (b. c1936), the huitou leader of the Yuanmengkou association when we visited in 1994 and 1995, recalled three generations before him. His generation had only learnt one third of the ritual manuals when their old masters starved to death in the famine of 1960. Having hidden their manuals, scores, and instruments through the Cultural Revolution, they restored in 1980 after two decades of inactivity, with the support of the three village brigades. In 1995 they had over twenty ritual performers, with several good youngsters. But Li Junming was distressed that they still couldn’t afford to organize New Year’s ritual observances, so their main activity, again, was performing for funerals. They no longer wore robes.

YMK jing

They had preserved dilapidated old ritual manuals, one dated 1890 (Guangxu 16th year), as well as an old gongche score and remnants of two more old decrepit scores, one recently copied into an exercise book.

YMK jing + gongche

Right: gongche score. Left: from transmission history (as in 2nd photo below, recto).

They also had precious old and new copies of their detailed transmission history, called Ruyi chuantong suyuan 如意傳統溯源. [3] The transmission of the Heaven and Earth Teachings is well attested, but this provides further local details, including

  • Founding ancestor: Dongjialin village, Shanghe county, Ji’nan, Shandong (in the late Ming)
  • Master Tan Qingzhen: Lixinzhuang village, Yucheng county, Dezhou, Shandong
  • Master Sun: Wangliu village, Pucheng
  • He Baoge, Master Bao: Renqiu county

Then the transmission within Jinghai itself:

  • Master Li Zhao: Wazitou village
  • Masters Zhang and Wang: Wanyingzhuang village
  • Master Tian: Tanjiazhuang (Tanzhuangzi)
  • Master Ma Shaowen: Yuanmengkou

YMK zupu 2YMK zupu 1

YMK zupu 4YMK zupu 3

As we found quite often with rural liturgists, Li Junming was illiterate, but could perform from the manual, keeping his place in it with unerring accuracy.

Li Baoyan had already told us that Yuanmengkou was quite different from Lesser Huangzhuang in both their ritual texts and the vocal style of their liturgy. Yuanmengkou too distinguished lesser and greater zan hymns, but here the former were only accompanied by ritual percussion, while in Lesser Huangzhuang were accompanied on the melodic instruments too. Their funeral sequence is summarized below. Again this is a much simplified sequence; here, unusually, the dead were now cremated, and these rituals took place on the day after that, concluding about 4–5pm.

Funeral sequence of Tiandimen sect, Yuanmengkou

  • small hymn (recited, not sung)
    large accompanied “hymn” [1] Mituo zan 彌陀讚
  •  Putuo 普陀, sung


  • small accompanied hymn Lingtai sibao 靈台思寶
    large accompanied “hymn”, Tan hongchen 嘆紅塵
    large “hymn” Rulai fabao chuan 如來法寶船, to the melody Meihuayin 梅花引, in the house of the deceased
    small hymn Wangling gaoqi 亡靈高祈
    Note: the latter two hymns are mainly used for chaodu 超度 and jingwuzi 淨屋子 Cleansing the Room
  • diancha 奠茶 Libations of Tea
    three offerings each of wine, tea, incense), to the melody Sanfan 三番
    recitation (shuowen) Yizhu zhenxiang 一柱真香
    accompanied song to the melody Jinzi jing 金字經


  • songlu 送路 Escorting to the Road
    go to the soul tent, sing the small hymn Wangling gaoqi
    large hymn to the Skeleton Kulou, sung and played
  • zhuanjie 轉街 Ritual Tour of the Streets: small hymn Mingtu luyuan 冥途路遠
  • duqiao 度橋 Crossing the Bridges: shaoqiao 燒橋 Burning the Bridges; small hymn
  • qingling 請靈 Inviting the Soul
    small hymn Wangling gaoqi
    recitation (7-word quatrain)

 The Crossing the Bridges segment above was itself very lengthy; they gave us a detailed account (brilliantly edited in my companion Zhang Zhentao’s notes), with complex interplay of vocal liturgy, percussion, and shengguan items. Their two ritual paintings of Wang lingguan and Dizang wang, painted six or seven years earlier by someone at art school in Tianjin, were hung at both ends of the bridges.

YMK guiwang 95YMK god 95

All this might leads us to Cangzhou municipality further south. The Qing-dynasty inquisitor Huang Yupian also listed many scriptures he confiscated there in the 1830s; DuBois’ book takes the story up to modern times.

As ever, such research requires a blend of fieldwork, textual study, local history for both imperial and modern eras, and an understanding of folk religion and the ritual soundscape.


[1] See e.g. Guo Zhongping 郭忠萍, Fagu yishu chutan 法鼓艺术初探 (1991); Zhongguo minzu minjian wudao jicheng, Tianjin juan, pp.47–91.
[2] DuBois, The sacred village (2005), esp. ch.7. See also Zhao Jiazhu, Zhongguo huidaomen shiliao jicheng, p.45 (for a good local list of Tianjin sects, see ibid., pp.41–2; and for the sects in Hebei, see the provincial survey in ibid., pp.47–54). For Pu Wenqi’s work, see e.g. http://www.cssn.cn/zjx/zjx_zjyj/qtzjyj/201310/t20131029_755412.shtml, http://www.iqh.net.cn/info.asp?column_id=11726. For sects in north China, note also the work of Cao Xinyu.
[3] Reproduced in Zhongguo yinyue nianjian 中国音乐年鉴 1995: 208–11. Copies of these manuals and scores are kept in the Music Research Institute, Beijing. Curiously, the sect in Cangzhou seems to have no written scriptures (DuBois, pp.165–6).
[4] Where I put “hymn” in quotes, the text is not in the standard 4–4–7–5–4–5 hymn structure.