Local ritual

N. Xinzhuang funeral 1

By contrast with my long-term work on the Li family Daoists of Yanggao (notably my film and book, as well as this nice update), under this growing heading are grouped brief surveys of some other local Daoist (and a few Buddhist) traditions—mainly for north Shanxi and the Hebei plain, as well as Shaanxi.

All these articles derive from “hit-and-run” fieldwork (more poetically, “gazing at flowers from horseback” 马观), mostly on the basis of my In search of the folk Daoists of north China (now in paperback!), but they’re worth sharing as part of a more general survey.

I spell out the various levels of fieldwork, from provincial surveys to studies of an individual family, here.

The list so far:

Shanxi (see also Shanxi, summer 1992):

For north Shanxi, see also Tomb decoration, ancient and modern.

The central plain of Hebei (see also this overview):

as well as a whole series on

  • the ritual associations of Gaoluo (with more still under Gaoluo tag).

Note also links under

In a separate post I gave a simple introduction to the vibrant ritual scene in south Hebei.

On Shaanxi:

On Ningxia:

Most deserving of detailed further fieldwork are the ritual traditions of Gansu—see these separate posts:

On Liaoning:

Wang band jiao envelopes

On reflection, there are several reasons why household Daoists in north China haven’t received much attention, except from musicologists.

Scholars of Daoism have long studied household Daoists in Taiwan, and when mainland China opened up in the 1980s it was natural to cross the strait in search of their relatives, their origins, in south Fujian and east Guangdong (see e.g. Kristofer Schipper and Ken Dean). From there the topic gradually spread through south China, and we now have a vast body of field reports.

Meanwhile in the north there was actually a longer tradition of studying folk ritual, but it derived mainly from musicologists. Others—even scholars of Daoism and ritual—had inherited a misleading modern idea that the only Daoists in the north were ascetic monastic priests of the Complete Perfection branch. Accordingly, most scholars have limited their searches to such temple priests.

So I suggest a rethink. It’s not that we shouldn’t study temple clerics. But they are always vastly outnumbered by household Daoists, throughout north and south China. Instead of heading for a temple, it’s generally more fruitful to ask in a funeral shop.

Still, this work shouldn’t be left to musicologists. Scholars of Daoism are still the right people for the job—as long as they make an effort to achieve basic literacy (if that’s the word) in the soundscape, and modern ethnographic enquiry. As in south China, which is much better covered, once one begins joining up the dots on the map, one hopes to learn more about the empty spaces.

Buddhist ritual is very much a subsidiary topic. Among the pages above, so far I’ve given sketchy introductions to Ekou (central Shanxi),  Zuoyun (north Shanxi), Yangxian (south Shaanxi), Buddhist ritual of Chengde (Hebei) and Tianjin. It features often in my articles on the Hebei plain; and yet others can be found via the Buddhism tag in the sidebar.