Ritual groups of Langfang

Here’s yet another page in my series on Daoist and Buddhist ritual groups on the Hebei plain south of Beijing.

I’ve noted the contrast between the occupational household Daoist bands of north Shanxi and the village-wide amateur ritual associations that are typical of the Hebei plain. Just southeast of the capital, on the way to BazhouLangfang municipality (formerly the county of Anci) is another lively area for ritual. Village associations here seem to feature elements of the ritual scene in suburban Beijing and Tianjin, with some occupational Daoist and Buddhist groups alongside the amateur associations that are common just further south and west.

These groups too had learned from temple clerics. By the 1990s, as around Xiongxian and the Baiyangdian lake, their rituals seemed to be dominated by shengguan­ wind ensemble, with vocal liturgy subsidiary, it may be partly that our early enquiries weren’t sufficiently focused on the latter. Unlike the particular case we found in Daxing, most ritual associations here, as south and west on the plain, maintained the amateur tradition of “practising good” by performing rituals as a social duty without reward, though some were beginning to accept modest fees. As usual, such amateur groups were active mainly in the home village and a very small radius.

Here I’ll introduce some of the associations around Langfang, using our notes from the 1990s—and as ever, updates are much to be desired.

1 Langfang and the Boxer connection
1.1 Junlu
1.2 The Zhougezhuang network
1.3 South Hancun
1.4 South Changdao
2 Yongqing
2.1 Middle Chakou
2.2 Greater Liangcun
2.3 North Wudaokou
3 Further leads: Wuqing, Xianghe

1 Langfang
Langfang is famed for its involvement in the 1900 Boxer uprisings. As a prequel to the game-changing “discovery” of Qujiaying, perhaps the first scholar to become aware of the village ritual associations south of Beijing was Xiao Xinghua. A scholar at the Music Research Institute in Beijing, working on the folk music of the Langfang region after the liberalizations of the late 1970s, Xiao forged contacts with some ritual groups there. Apart from his work on the 1984 Dictionary of Chinese Music he made much of the Boxer connection in a brief article on the “Boxer orchestra” of Junlu village (§1.1 below), which brought but one brief and critical response. [1]

The Boxer connection
Before the Cultural Revolution there was much detailed fieldwork, village by village, on the Boxer history of the whole region, albeit with an underlying agenda of portraying the Boxers as righteous, patriotic forerunners of the Communists.

Some villagers made a clear link between the Boxers and the village ritual associations. In Gaoluo, where Boxers carried out one of the most famous massacres of Catholics in May 1900, all agreed that “the yinyuehui wasn’t the same as the Boxers”; however, it was precisely the New Year’s ritual tent, still the domain of the ritual association today, which sparked the 1899 conflict. Among the original leaders of the dispute were members of the ritual association; as the Catholics threatened their worship, it was natural that the Boxers should now arise to support the village heritage against the foreign religion.

Anyway, some time before scholars became aware of such ritual associations, the 1986 film Holy Whip (Shenbian), directed by Zhang Zi’en, was being shot, evoking the Boxer uprising:

Through the Tianjin branch of the Chinese Musicians’ Association, Xiao Xinghua was asked to find a suitable village performing group for the scene (from 1.10.02) in which they accompany the Boxers while they go into battle to resist the incursion of the evil “Eight Countries Allied armies” as they advance from the port of Tianjin to rescue the beleaguered foreign legations in Beijing. Indeed, my presence in these villages often elicits jocular comparisons with the “foreign devils” of the missionaries and Allied Armies.

Langfang painting

Dai Ze, The great victory at Langfang (1975).

Even a conference in March 1984 on the progress of the instrumental music volumes of the Anthology for Hebei, with luminaries such as Lü Ji and Li Ling taking part, didn’t seem to alert central scholars to the importance of the ritual associations. Despite Xiao’s interest, until 1986 central scholars were still aware only of the Zhihua temple style in Beijing and the more popular songs-for-winds style just south of our area.

1.1 Junlu
In 1991 we learned that no less than fifteen of the thirty villages in Yangshuiwu district, south of Langfang city, still had practising associations. We visited Junlu (then population 800), chatting with the association huitou leader Li Shangqin (b. c1912), a fine dizi flute player—he was the third generation in his family to serve as huitou, and they now practised regularly at his house. Their gongche score was copied by one Yang Mingzhong.

The Junlu association was originally taught by the Buddhist monk Tanjiaozi 探交子, from the village Sanguan miao temple. Li Shangqin was among seven villagers who in 1934 (he said “Kangde era, 1st year”—the Manchu kingdom reign-period) went to stay at the Sanjiao si temple in Shenyang (Liaoning), quite far northeast; [2] they were invited by the abbot (dangjia) there, Nengqu 能趣 (Jiesan 戒三, secular name Yan Zhiyuan 嚴志遠), who came from Yangliuqing near their home village. Li Shangqin and Han Cunzhi (also b. c1912) remained at the Shenyang temple for the whole eight years of the Japanese occupation. Though they took part in yankou rituals there, they appear to have only played the paraliturgical shengguan music. Both were still active in the village association when we visited!

Junlu 1991.2

In the village, although they used to wear Buddhist robes, we heard of no extant tradition of vocal liturgy, and their rituals were now basic. Apart from funerals (here called paowaichan 跑外禪), they still held the Spreading Lanterns Ritual (san dengke 散燈科 ) procession for the New Year’s rituals on the evening of 1st moon 15th. To “guarantee well-being” (bao ping’an, most universal purpose of all kinds of ritual in China) lotus-leaf lanterns were put out at all the dark places and wells, for dead souls. Our visit coincided with this ritual: the association played a lengthy shengguan suite on procession through the lanes, led by the respected community ritual leader, here called pubei 鋪備/鋪排 (cf. §1.4)—a post common among temple groups in old Beijing (Chang Renchun, Hongbai xishi, p.309).

Junlu 1991

They performed the ritual again on 7th moon 15th for the Yulan ghost festival—which used to include a yankou.

Nearby the district town of Yangshuiwu was also said to have a ritual association. Further Buddhist-transmitted groups on the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) list include East Zhangwu to the southeast (nominated as a “Boxer yinyuehui” (sic)!), and East Jianta near Langfang city (the latter article giving further leads).

1.2 The Zhougezhuang network
Also in 1991 we visited Zhougezhuang, in the eastern suburbs of Langfang city. [3] This Daoist-transmitted association claimed to have learned, before living memory, from priests of the Lianhua an 蓮花庵 temple in Yuanping county in the south suburbs of Beijing.

Early in the 20th century, Zhougezhuang villager Ma Zhichun 馬智春 (known as Ma laoye) served as a priest at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing; when he came back to the village in 1947 after the debacle of the murder of Abbot An [4] he brought back many ritual manuals and gongche scores. For the remaining dozen years of his life he taught his home association, as well as those of Wangma and Dongbiaofa further south. Also part of this same tradition was Guxian just west of Langfang city, whose association had also studied with Ma Zhichun after originally learning from the Liangshanpo temple in Daxing. The four village groups still went on procession together for Qingming on 4th moon 5th to commemorate their common ritual ancestor (xianshi 先師) Ma Zhichun.

Lan Wang (b. c1919) learnt shengguan in the village from the age of 16 sui. In the 1940s, Ma Liqing, his master there, had taken him to the Chenghuang miao temple in Tianjin, where he worked as a folk Daoist for five or six years, returning home in 1949. Lan Wang was illiterate, and (like the Junlu villagers above) had presumably taken part mainly as instrumentalist, not vocal liturgist; but like several illiterate villagers we met, he could read the gongche solfeggio characters! Elsewhere too we met several elderly villagers who had spent periods in Tianjin temples before Liberation.

Zhougezhuang 2

Their former scriptures, including Dacheng jing 大成經, Dafa jing 大法經, and Sancheng 三乘 (again, the cheng characters need confirming), would appear to be of sectarian origin (cf. Ekou in Shanxi), but we had no chance to enquire further, and none of these groups appeared to have restored their liturgical practice since the 1980s’ revival. Thus they now only performed shengguan for funerals and a limited range of calendrical events, reduced (as in Junlu) to Releasing the Lanterns Ritual (fangdeng ke) around 1st moon 15th and Releasing the Lotus Lanterns (fang hedeng) on 7th moon 15th.

The Zhougezhuang and Guxian groups used to wear Daoist robes, but had cavalierly adopted Buddhist ones since the 1980s; both villages, like most of those we met, had an amateur tradition, but were now beginning to accept modest fees. [5]

This was yet another village where they used to play guanzi with an extra thumb-hole to enable them to play pieces in the more distant scales. As Lan Wang observed, after they stopped using the second hole, three pipes on their old seventeen-reed sheng became redundant.

We didn’t visit the nearby Daoist-transmitted association of Aigezhuang, but this brief ICH introduction claims a history of thirteen generations. These photos come from the site:

Aigezhuang 1

Aigezhuang 2

1.3 South Hancun
In 1993 Qiao Jianzhong and Zhang Zhentao visited South Hancun further west of Langfang city. Since 1985 the village had run a crafts factory, with eighty workers; a privately-run one was also operating, making repro antique furniture.

The ritual association had eighteen members, playing in the “southern” style, adding a haidi small shawm and wengzi (longtou huhu) bowed fiddle.


S. Hancun 1993
South Hancun association, 1993. Photo: MRI.The founder of the association was Gao Longxi (c1899–1963), originally from North Fangshui village in Tangxian quite far southwest. Ordained in the Guangji si temple in Beijing, he came to the Nanhai Guanyin temple (or Fengyuan miao 豐元廟) in the south of their village in 1945. Eighteen young village men studied with him, nicknamed “the eighteen arhats”. Hou Dianxing (b. c1924), not part of the group, used to eavesdrop, and when they found he was musical they got his father to let him study too; he began formally when 19 sui, “graduating” (chutu) four years later, the year of his marriage.

Gao even provided all the instruments. Though he transmitted the more popular “southern” style, he enjoined them that the ritual was a serious business, not for fun.

S. Hancun 1993 heying

They wore Buddhist costumes, with jiasha cassocks over black inner robes—red for the chief liturgist, garish pink for the others. Their hats were black, with the chief liturgist sometimes donning the “five-Buddha hat” (wufo guan).

By 1993 this group was still cohesive, because all but three of the original eighteen students survived, and some of their sons had learned too; there were now over twenty performers. Here again (cf. §1.2) the guanshi ritual organizer was called pupai.

They used to perform rituals in the village for 1st moon 15th and 7th moon 15th, but had not done so since Gao Longxi died in 1963. So their main activity was performing funerals, including Chasing Round the Quarters (paofang), Crossing the Bridges (duqiao), and chanling 禪靈.

But our team found no ritual manuals, nor a score—though they recited oral gongche mnemonics.

1.4 South Changdao
Nearby, the South Changdao association was Daoist-transmitted, but no specific details of transmission emerged. There were four generations among the eighteen members in 1993, though the only surviving member of the “first generation”, at 83 sui, was no longer active.

S. Changdao 1993

South Changdao association, 1993. Photo: MRI.

They now wore recently-made red costumes with black hats. They played in the classical “northern” style of shengguan. Their score, undated but handed down since at least 1941, contained some ritual texts interspersed in the gongche notation.

S. Changdao text 1

S. Changdao text 2

S. Changdao text 3

2 Yongqing county
Still part of Langfang municipality is Yongqing county further south. Villagers in Zhangzhuang (Bazhou) had told us that Daoist priest Liu Guoyue (d. early 1940s) at the Guandi miao temple in Zhangzhuang had also taught several associations in Caojiawu district in Yongqing.

2.1 Middle Chakou
My colleagues Xue Yibing and Zhang Zhentao visited this village in 1993, chatting mainly with the leader Gai Yude (b. c1935). The association then had only around a dozen members. They originally used the more solemn classical style, but at some stage they had converted to the “southern” style, adding small shawm and bowed fiddles.

They too used to have a nine-hole guanzi and a seventeen-pipe sheng with wooden bowl. Gai Yude had learned from 14 sui on a nine-hole guanzi from the nunnery (guzi miao) at Shafa; though he still used one, pieces in the scales that required the fingering later fell out of use as ritual practice became diluted.

Gai Yude had copied a gongche score—which, as he observed, was no longer needed once they had memorized the repertoire. Some of the younger members consulted a recent cipher-notation version.

They too were now accepting modest fees for funerals of 15 yuan a day each. Sometimes if the host was satisfied he would give more—a few days previously a hotel boss had taken out an extra several hundred yuan extra for his parent’s funeral. The association also sometimes expanded into an opera band.

2.2 Greater Liangcun
I visited this village, just east of Middle Chakou, in 1995 in the company of Wang Shenshen.

The association leader Wang Honghua (b. c1930) had learned from the age of 16 or 17 sui. The association was Daoist-transmitted, going back at least four generations. The tradition was that they had learned from Meng Shouzhong 孟守忠, a Daoist priest in the village’s Sanguan miao temple; we can put more credit in Wang’s story that the association had some 200 years’ history than in the legend that it went back to the Tianqi era of the Qing—questionable since this was a late Ming reign-period (1621–7).

They had only restored in 1990, copying a gongche score borrowed from another former Daoist in an old people’s home in nearby Gu’an—where they had a relative working who made the connection. The score concludes with five ritual texts, but they had still not restored their liturgy. They bought new instruments from the Beijing Instrument Factory and Gaoqiao in Bazhou. Their old costumes were burned after the 1964 Four Cleanups, but they had bought new costumes and hats.

Zheng Tianlu (b. c1938) had learned guanzi from 7 sui—he didn’t learn to read the score, playing by ear. He was now village chief, and the brigade supported the association.

Again, apart from doing funerals, their only calendrical rituals were 1st moon 15th and 7th moon 15th.

Nearby the Jianchang association was said to be Buddhist-transmitted.

2.3 North Wudaokou
Further southeast in North Wudaokou, by the Yongding canal, Xue Yibing and Zhang Zhentao found an active Buddhist-transmitted “charitable” ritual association (yinyue shanhui) in 1993. The village was still quite insular, with rather little economic contact with the outside world.

The association had thirteen members, including several in their twenties who had been learning since 1983. Two senior members claimed that the association had already been active for several generations before they learnt in 1947. Their elder Xing Xianming (c1913–91) had also claimed that the village learned more recently from Xinli village just north in Bieguzhuang district; the latter association, in turn, had learned from the Buddhist monk Guo Zeng 郭增, who had come to Xinli in 1928 to look after the village Guandi miao temple, and now taught the Xinli villagers in exchange for a supply of opium (cf. Daguang in North Xinzhuang).

Again, it appeared that some of the villagers had spent time as folk Daoists in Tianjin: they recalled that at the Niangniang miao temple there, the shengguan piece Daobing ji 刀兵記 (a curious title, to be sure, but attested in several temple traditions) was a kind of test piece if an association was to be recognized as a yinyuehui.

The association was inactive under Maoism, but the huitou leader Gao Fuming (b. c1919) had revived the association, perhaps as early as 1975; former village Party Secretary, he was a great enthusiast.

Wudaokou manuals

Photo: MRI, 1993.

The association managed to preserve three major early ritual manuals:

  • Yuqie yankou, dated 1929, 1st moon 15th;
  • Zanian ben, same date, with the name North Wudaokou village;
  • Yuqie yankou, dated 1930, 9th moon 9th, with the name North Wudaokou yinyue shanhui.

As in several villages in Hebei and Shanxi, they spoke of reciting the Dacheng jing 大乘 (晟?) 經 scriptures, a complex term to unravel (cf. §1.2 above). They had a gongche score; an older one was buried with Gao Fulin (older brother of Gao Fuming) on his own request—another distressingly common theme, as if political destruction wasn’t bad enough; musicians often had their precious old guanzi oboe buried with them too.

N. Wudaokou 1993

As in Gaoqiao, they distinguished liturgical and paraliturgical funerals: “When we dress up it’s ‘monk scriptures’ (heshang jing), when we don’t it’s a yinyuehui”.

Their large diaogua paintings of the Ten Kings (Yanwang jun) were burned in the Cultural Revolution. Another painting looks like a lineage genealogy, though alas we got no documentation:

N. WDK hanging

In the 1960s the village had started a collective musical instrument factory. After the reforms it was taken on by an individual, but it was now collectively owned again, under the name of Yongming instrument factory, a subsidiary of the Tianjin factory (again, cf. Gaoqiao).

3 Further leads
In July 1987, while I was studying with Yuan Jingfang, we made a little fieldtrip to Xianghe county, [6] just further northeast. We didn’t find any liturgical groups (possibly we weren’t quite looking for them), but the accomplished wind bands there (known as guyue ban, common term for shawm bands) were playing a classical “northern” shengguan repertoire derived from the temples alongside their more popular items. Ma Deshun, senior leader of one such band, had learned Na tian’e 拿天鵝 (a major and ancient suite in the Beijing temple repertoire) while in his teens from his cousin (some 45 years his senior), who in turn had studied in his youth with the leader of the shengguan ensemble of a temple subsidiary to the Longfu si temple in Beijing, perhaps in the late 19th century.

Xianghe 1987

Tricks with yunluo gong-frame, Xianghe 1987.

Southeast of Langfang city, in Wuqing county (Tianjin municipality), the Huanghuadian village association was taught around 1928–29 by the Buddhist monk Puji 普濟 from the nearby Jinhua temple 金華寺; he had been ordained in Beijing. Members also recalled studying with the monks Xinkui 新奎 and Yuanliu 圓六 from the temple. [7]

Further south in Jinghai (part of Tianjin municipality, another extensive fieldsite for ritual activity) we found ritual associations with strong sectarian connections.

* * *

Gradually we’re filling in some of the gaps on the ritual map of the Hebei plain. In Langfang, apart from the Boxer connection, we found a typical spread of Buddhist- and Daoist-transmitted ritual associations with connections to former temples of Beijing and Tianjin. I still find it unfortunate that the whole Hebei plain has remained a fieldwork site mainly for musicologists: it’s a rich field for scholars of folk religion, as you can see from my articles under local ritual.

[1] See the simplistic Han Jule, Wang Xuewu, and Xiao Xinghua, “Langfang Junlu cun yihetuan yuedui yu yuequ de diaocha”, Zhongguo yinyue 1984/1, pp.54–7, and the apt retort Feng Ling, “Guanyu yihetuan yuedui ji yuequ de wenti”, Zhongguo yinyue 1985/4, p.70. Later articles by Xiao Xinghua and Cao Guojin, and Yang Zhenwang, in Wang Guangyuan (ed.), Yihe tuan Langfang dajie [The great Langfang victory of the Boxers] (Beijing: Zhongguo wenshi cbs, 1992) are somewhat more detailed.
[2] For some leads to Shenyang temple ritual, see here.
[3] Apart from our 1991 notes, I have consulted Li Xin 李莘, “Jizhong yinyuehui fengyu: Anci diqu Zhougezhuang, Guxian cun yinyuehui” [Asides on the yinyuehui of central Hebei: the yinyuehui of Zhougezhuang and Guxian villages, Anci region], Zhongguo yinyuexue 1996/4: 132–41.
[4] See e.g. Goossaert, The Taoists of Peking, pp.177–81.
[5] Cf. sectarian associations in nearby Cangzhou: DuBois, The sacred village, pp.178–9.
[6] The Xianghe vol. of Overmyer and Fan Lizhu (eds), Huabei nongcun minjian wenhua yanjiu congshu 华北农村民间文化研究丛书 largely concerns folklore and popular huahui performing groups. The 1936 Xianghe county gazetteer has a rare mention of specific funeral rituals, including yankou, Smashing the Hells, Beholding the Lanterns, and Crossing the Bridges: see the convenient collection Zhongguo difang zhi minsu ziliao huibian, Huabei juan 中国地方志民俗资料汇编, 华北卷, p.285.
[7] Xue Yibing and Wu Ben, “Qujiaying ‘yinyuehui’ de diaocha yu yanjiu”, Zhongguo yinyuexue 1987/2, pp.86–7.