Ritual groups of Liaoning


Daoist and Buddhist ritual on Qianshan. Source: Zhongguo minzu minjian qiyuequ jicheng, Liaoning juan.

Most of my vignettes on ritual life around north China have involved travelling south and west from Beijing—but the whole network of ritual groups also spreads out to the north and east. This introduction to Liaoning province, apart from my brief trip in 1992, is based largely on work from regional scholars.

Northeast China is a vast region, comprising the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang. As one goes further north towards Siberia the population becomes sparse. Many inhabitants had migrated from Henan, Shandong, and east Hebei (which are also lacunae in my coverage). The modern history of the region—Manchukuo, the Japanese occupation and industrialization of Liaoning, political campaigns—should make an important aspect of such study, rarely highlighted in Chinese material (as ever, the county gazetteers will make a starting point).

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I was reminded of this topic by my post on Qing court music, where I mentioned Ling Qizhen 凌其阵, yet another of those fine scholars grouped in the Music Research Institute of Beijing in the early 1950s. On moving from Beijing to take up a post in Shenyang, he wasted no time in visiting ritual specialists there. His brief 1958 article—based on fieldwork in 1954, soon after the Zhihua temple visits,

  •  “Shenyang diqu de fanyin chutan” 瀋陽地區番樂的初探 [Preliminary study of Buddhist music in the Shenyang region], in Minzu yinyue yanjiu lunwenji 3, pp.69–74.

focuses on the shengguan wind ensemble, revealing a network extending from the temples of Beijing. As with the Zhihua temple study, he didn’t attempt to cover vocal liturgy.

Ling Qizhen talked with Zhang Daxiang 章達祥 (Buddhist name Xiantong 鮮通) from the North Wanshou si 北萬壽寺 temple, a Chan temple whose shengguan music belonged to the style named after the monk Zhiwu 智悟. Ling doesn’t clarify if the temple monks were still active by 1954; ritual practice had perhaps already been curtailed, and the monks laicized (again as in Beijing), though Zhang was still living in the temple (Ling describes him as “abbot”) and the Zhiwu style seems to have been alive. Anyway, the article mainly describes the ritual scene on the eve of Liberation—when, as in Beijing, they performed shengguan wind ensemble for funerals, and often competed “facing tents” (duipeng) with groups of Daoists and lamas.

The Zhiwu style was said to have been transmitted by the monk Zongliang 宗亮, who was ordained at the Fayuan si temple in Beijing and went on to learn shengguan music there. As Ling Qizhen notes, the date of 1681 is dubious, since he (or another monk?) is said to have studied at the Zhushou si 祝壽寺 temple near Liaoyang in the Daoguang era (1821–50), becoming abbot of the Wanshou temple of Lesser Northgate in Shenyang, and teaching his disciple Zhanshi 湛釋, who then taught Zhiwu, Xiantong’s own master.

For the more popular (less slow) style of household ritual specialists transmitted by Lu Fang 路芳 (1868–1948), Ling Qizhen consulted his son Lu Yuncheng 路雲程. This style was transmitted in the Guangxu era (1875–1909) when the Wusheng guan 五聖觀 Daoist temple in Lesser Eastgate invited the Daoist priest Jiang Zhenru 姜真如 “from outside” to teach them shengguan; among his disciples was Lu Fang, a folk artist who ran a mill and played in a shadow-puppet band. Also a disciple of the Buddhist master Zhiwu, Lu Fang became a fine guanzi oboe player; he even taught the Daoists of the Zhenwu miao temple in Lesser Westgate. He was the father of Lu Yuncheng, whom Ling Qizhen visited, and who later contributed a biographical sketch for the Anthology, which shows Lu Fang’s versatility: he was also involved in creating an early amateur “national music” silk-and-bamboo society, with whom he made twelve discs.

These are but tantalizing glimpses: as always, how I wish we could recreate the changing ritual scene here, and the lives of the ritual specialists. Ling Qizhen’s brief account hints at a whole local world, with large and small temples in cities, towns, and villages all over China, and all the gradations of monks, priests, and household ritual specialists, as shown brilliantly by Chang Renchun for old Beijing. Not just this rich ritual scene before Liberation (amidst Japanese occupation, industrialization, and civil war) but the transition to the new society too would be fascinating, if elusive, topics for further work.

As to scores (see also Zhongguo gongchepu jicheng, Liaoning juan), the North Wanshou temple had a score from 1910, perhaps copied from that of the Zhushou si temple in the Daoguang era, containing 58 shengguan pieces, of which they could still play 29.

The shengguan repertoire was known as “hall pieces” (tangqu 堂曲), and classified according to use in morning, midday, and afternoon rituals (shang–zhong–xia). Just as in Beijing, they were long suites, with qianpai preludes and houpai codas. The list also includes single pieces (zhiqu 隻曲) played to accompany recitations of the names of Buddhas, and processional pieces (xingqu 行曲). The qupai melodies, and percussion items with large cymbals, overlap strongly with those of Beijing temples and Hebei ritual associations, as does the scale system. Ling’s account of shengguan suite form predates the detailed work of Yuan Jingfang for Beijing temple music. But he didn’t address the main issue of vocal liturgy.

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The Anthology
By the 1980s, under the able editorship of Yang Jiusheng 杨久盛, the Liaoning Anthology collectors were busy. As I noted here, the coverage of instrumental music is dominated by ritual shengguan and shawm bands, which are always complementary (for the latter, do listen to the amazing #6 on the playlist in the sidebar, with commentary here).

The collectors set about compiling material for wide-ranging introductions to both Buddhist and Daoist “music”—including vocal liturgy, percussion, and shengguan wind ensemble—around the province. However, the coverage is dominated by the “orthodox” temples, whose liturgy is rather standard (as always, the transcriptions provide texts that may offer clues to liturgical content). It’s worth knowing your way around the volumes: the biographies, and sketches of temple groups, provide useful additional material. [1]

Here the authors of the Anthology account were Jia Ruixiang 贾瑞祥, Qiao Yongjun 乔永君, and Bai Yulin 白玉林.

As to the vocal liturgy of the temples, the original “northern” style is said to belong to the “eastern branch” of Wutaishan. The “southern” style was imported in the 1920s by Tanxu 倓虛, (1875–1963), abbot of a temple in Yingkou, following his studies at a temple in Zhejiang—since the 1980s this southern influence continued apace in the temples of north China, both Buddhist and Daoist, leading to increased standardization. The shengguan wind ensemble was also widely used by temple clerics (again both Buddhist and Daoist) for rituals until the 1950s, but had declined since—by contrast with regions like Hebei and Shanxi.

The transcriptions of vocal liturgy come from the Ci’en si 慈恩寺 and Banruo si 辦若寺 in Shenyang, the Guanyin tang 觀音堂 in Liaoyang, the Longquan si 龍泉寺 on Qianshan, the Guanyin ge 觀音閣 in Jinzhou, and the Lengyan si 楞嚴寺 in Yingkou.

The biographies provide a few more clues. The Ci’en si temple in Shenyang continued to transmit the northern style of yankou, of which Miaoyin 妙印 (b.1921, above left) was a master. He was also an accomplished leader of rituals like Hoisting the Pennant, Fetching Water, and Crossing the Bridges. Having spent time in various temples, he is said to have been at the Ci’en temple since 1952—a long period for whose vicissitudes all these accounts are inevitably laconic, but about which would like to know more.

In the southern style a renowned ritual master was the Chan monk Mingyuan 明遠 (b.1922, above right). After serving several temples, from 1984 he was resident at the Lengyan si temple in Yingkou. The latter was only built in 1931.

Wang Guiyun 王貴雲 (1908–90) became a monk at the Laoye miao temple in Jinzhou when 13 sui, studying vocal liturgy at the Guanyin ge and then shengguan with the monk Anqing 安清; later he also learned with the renowned monk Sijing 思靜.

Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism
Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism was common throughout north Chinese cities, as in old Beijing, and in major centres like Wutaishan. In Liaoning it was based in the western and northern regions of the province. While its vocal liturgy is most distinctive, some temples also used the shengguan ensemble (“scripture coffers” jingxiang 經箱), as further afield in Hohhot and Labrang, as well as old Beijing. [2]

The Anthology account is by Qiao Yongjun and Yang Jiusheng. The spread of Longmen Complete Perfection Daoism in Liaoning is attributed to Guo Shouzhen 郭守真 (eighth generation in the lineage transmission) in the 17th century.

TQG priest

Feng Chongde.

The Anthology transcriptions of vocal liturgy are mainly from Shenyang, where the most prestigious Daoist temple is the Taiqing gong. [3] Here, as elsewhere in Liaoning, the traditional style of vocal liturgy (derived from Laoshan in Shandong) was replaced around the turn of the 20th century by the “new style” (xinyun 新韻). As in other orthodox temples, shengguan wind ensemble was not used.

Among senior priests at the Taiqing gong, the gaogong ritual leader Zhan Quansheng 戰全生 (b.1915) held posts in the official Daoist administration under Maoism until 1966, resuming activity after the Cultural Revolution. Another esteemed master was Feng Chongde 馮崇德 (b.1917).

TQG 92

Evening service, Taiqing gong, 1992; Wu Zhifeng on sheng mouth-organ. My photo.

In 1992 I visited the Taiqing gong with my long-suffering colleague Xue Yibing, talking with the senior priests Wu Zhifeng 吳至豐 (83 sui) and Tao Lixiu 陶禮修 (64 sui). We attended the temple’s evening service—to which, against the general trend, they now added shengguan ensemble.

Wu Zhifeng recalled the complex funerary sequence performed in his youth, including Hoisting the Pennant yangfan 揚幡, Fetching Water qushui 取水, Crossing the Bridges duqiao 渡橋, Chasing the Quarters paofang 跑方, and Releasing the Pardon fangshe 放赦. Scriptures prescribed to be recited included

  • Taishang sanyuan cifu shezui jie’e xiaozai yansheng baoming miaojing 太上三元賜福赦罪解厄消災延生保命妙經
  • Taishang lingbao shishi 太上靈寶施食
  • Taishang sanyuan shuichan 太上三元水懺
  • Shiwang badu jiuyang fanqi shendeng 十王拔度九陽梵煞神燈.

The Qianshan mountain complex in Anshan municipality was clearly an important centre for Daoist ritual, but curiously the Anthology gives little detail. As often, other studies are more instructive about its imperial than its modern history. By contrast with the complexities of ritual life on and around mountain sites such as Wudangshan in Hubei, I glean little from the bland identikit picture offered recently in the media and Intangible Cultural Heritage coverage.

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Panjin municipality
So far there are hardly any clues to household ritual specialists around the countryside. Temples revived in the 1980s, and their resident clerics resumed the performance of daily services, as well as the yankou nocturnal ritual. That’s the “routine” aspect, somewhat widely distributed in north China; but with a focus on expressive culture, one seeks more than a mere list of functioning temples—local groups performing rituals (notably funerals) among the people, where the shengguan wind ensemble is not the main goal but one likely index of such activity.

The Anthology was based on submissions by county, only a small proportion of which could be included in the final volumes. The enthusiasm and aptitude of these local contributors was variable; very few were so assiduous as Li Runzhong 李润中 in Panjin municipality, on the coast southwest of Shenyang. He submitted four substantial volumes, on shawm bands, yangge, “temple music”, and folk-song, comprising over 1,000 pages. Setting forth from his studies with his shawm-playing father, his work on shawm bands is remarkably detailed.

Since his work for the “temple music” volume (1986) was already “salvage”, describing the riches of the household ritual scene in the region before Liberation, it’s quite possible that cultural cadres elsewhere found no activity and thus simply gave up (the Anthology also mentions Shenyang, Liaoyang, and Tieling as having active household groups before Liberation). Li Runzhong’s volume consists largely of transcriptions, but the introduction is quite detailed.

Panjin map

His main informant was Huang Ze’en 黃則恩 (b.1923). In his teens he was pledged to the Wenchang gong 文昌宮 (Sanjiao si 三教寺), an Orthodox Unity [4] Daoist temple in Tianzhuangtai, learning sheng mouth-organ with Wang Baokun 王寶坤 and percussion with Fu Kesheng 付可勝. Soon was he working as a household Daoist alongside Zheng Wenzhong 鄭文中, Zheng Wenxuan 鄭文選, Ding Fengge 丁風革, Zhang Lianfu 張連福, Xing Baojin 邢寶金, Wang Baokun, and the abbot Liang Qingdi 梁慶地, playing shengguan along with vocal liturgy. The temple, founded in 1868, seems only to have adopted shengguan around 1900. It was destroyed in the 1940s.

In Qing-dynasty Panjin, not counting smaller local temples, there were twenty-nine major Daoist temples, of which seventeen had resident clerics. Li Runzhong gives a table listing their thorough demolition after Liberation:

Panjin temples 1

Panjin temples 2

Li Runzhong classifies ritual activities thus:

  • Spreading Road Lanterns (sa ludeng 撒路燈) on 1st moon 15th
  • Releasing River Lanterns (fang hedeng 放河燈) on 7th moon 15th
  • domestic rituals of blessing: for the temple faithful (xi foshi 喜佛事, or ban xihui 辦喜會, taipinghui 辦太平會), and for others (menwai shi 門外事)—only the latter requiring recompense for the Daoists.
  • funerals: apart from rituals before the coffin, most of the public segments are familiar elsewhere in north China: Tour of the District xunxiang 巡鄉, Fetching Water, Hoisting the Pennant, Supervising the Stove jianzao 監灶, Chasing the Quarters, and Crossing the Bridges
  • rain rituals—in our notes elsewhere the participation of temple clerics is not always specified.

The demolition of temples didn’t necessarily amount to the total curtailment of religious life: after all, in many regions funerals became the main context for ritual observances. But here such activity looks to have been a concomitant loss.

Even if the other Anthology submissions were far less detailed, Li Runzhong’s account suggests the riches of ritual life around the province before Liberation. From my fieldwork elsewhere I might surmise that the Panjin ritual specialists continued to perform funerals after a fashion through the 1950s, but since even such an assiduous fieldworker was reduced to “salvage”, it is possible that their activities really were decimated in Liaoning after Liberation, and didn’t revive upon the reforms—so the lack of reports from other parts of the province may reflect this.

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Change is constant, not only in the vast social upheavals since the early 20th century but in the adoption of the “southern” style of vocal liturgy and the decline of the shengguan wind ensemble. When ritual life may seem timeless and anonymous, there is a certain satisfaction merely in being able to record the names of clerics and ritual specialists.

In context, reports from the 1950s and 1980s still make a salient material for our studies (cf. William Noll’s article on Ukraine). While one always hopes to document living traditions as well as those that struggled to survive after Liberation, studies from those times, when senior ritual specialists could describe their practice in detail, make rich material which recent accounts rarely supplement. It almost seems as if the reified heritage shtick has repressed detailed ongoing ethnographies.

Fine as these studies are, none of them quite provides the kind of material that I have sought, and found, elsewhere in north China. Ling Qizhen’s report is limited to shengguan; the Anthology adds the component of vocal liturgy, but is largely based on the major temples; and even Li Runzhong’s careful work has to fall back on salvage. It does appear that local ritual life was much impoverished in Liaoning by the 1950s; any activity today remains elusive. See also Buddhist ritual of Chengde, between Beijing and Shenyang.

So as with some of my other reports, this is a mere introduction to tempt people to continue such fieldwork.

[1] Zhongguo minzu minjian qiyuequ jicheng, Liaoning juan 中国民族民间器乐曲集成,辽宁卷 (1996). Buddhism: pp.1117–29, transcriptions pp.1130­–1267. Daoism: pp.1269–79, transcriptions 1280–1350. For biographies and accounts of temple groups, pp.1353–77.

[2] See also the brief account of the Ruiying si 瑞應寺 temple in Fuxin, p. 1377.

[3] For more, see Qiao Yongjun’s draft for the Anthology, Shenyang Taiqing gong daojiao yinyue (1990).

[4] According to the Anthology account (pp.1375–77)—corrected by Li Runzhong from his original description as a Complete Perfection temple.