On Chinese ritual and rural life, in stark contrast to the substantial body of silent, immobile written work published, few films are available.
Further to my portrait film on Li Manshan, still for Yanggao county, the DVD Doing things with my 2007 book Ritual and music of north China: shawm bands in Shanxi (Aldershot: Ashgate) provides general background; in two sections, funerals and temple fairs, it shows the diverse performance activities at these events, with the Li family Daoists making cameo appearances.
Two excellent films on Daoist ritual in south China are
- Kenneth Dean, Bored in heaven (2010), and
- Patrice Fava, Han Xin’s revenge (2005). Among his other films (mainly here), for temple fairs in Taiwan see Mazu la déeese de la mer, réalité d’une légende (1995).
- the videos of Michael Saso (his website seems to be unavailable, but his YouTube channel is here)
- for the rituals of the Tainan Daoist master, scroll down here.
- a comprehensive new series on Shanghai Daoist ritual, including fine videos.
- Ian Johnson has some brief clips, including further footage of the Li family Daoists and Sidney Gamble’s precious 1927 film on Miaofengshan, on his YouTube channel for his book The souls of China
- My 2009 book Ritual and music of north China, volume 2: Shaanbei (Ashgate) also contains a DVD. For a fine film on shadow puppetry in Gansu, see
- Chinese Shadows by Frank Kouwenhoven and Antoinet Schimmelpenninck (Pan Records)
- Also filmed in Gansu is Fly with the crane 告诉他们, 我乘白鹤去了 (Li Ruijun 李睿珺, 2012), about a coffin decorator
- Under goddesses’ shelter (姑婆, Yang Yufei, 2016) describes the daily observances of an elderly Hakka nun
- Film footage (alas silent!) of religious life in 1930s’ Fujian
- Amdo rituals: early and recent films
- Adeline Herrou, Maître Feng (CNRS, 2017), a portrait of a Quanzhen Daoist priest in south Shaanxi that makes an intriguing contrast with my film on Li Manshan
- DVDs with diverse footage are included in the book series Cao Benye 曹本冶 (ed.), Zhongguo chuantong minjian yishi yinyue yanjiu 中国传统民间仪式音乐研究 (2003–2007) (see e.g. Rain rituals in north China)
- The films of Jacques Pimpaneau on ritual drama.
Ethnographic films on the Chinese ethnic minorities are more common, including
- the outstanding work of Rahilä Dawut on Uyghur ritual culture
- the films of Liu Xiangchen 刘湘晨 (see also here)
- Ito Satoru, Sensing the journey of the dead (2014)
- see here for a 2019 festival of ethnographic film in Shanghai.
Casting our net wider, see
- Carma Hinton’s films about rural life elsewhere in Shanxi.
- for memories of rural tribulations under Maoism, note Wu Wenguang’s Memory Project.
- the harrowing documentaries of Wang Bing and Ai Xiaoming
- recent documentaries by Jiang Nengjie on the left-behind children, and mining, in rural Hunan.
- Among fictional treatments, note the films of the “fifth generation”, such as Old well and The story of Qiuju; and then the films of Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯, often based on his hometown of Fenyang in Shanxi, stand out for their realism.
A wealth of unedited, undocumented, video clips appear on various Chinese sites—more on that story later…
Beyond China, while you’re watching my film on vimeo, do check out Michele Banal’s other films on that site, and the brilliant series Growing into Music. One of the most impressive documentary series was Rito y geografia del cante, which I use extensively in my series on flamenco. And for a thorough list on visual anthropology, see this site from Barley Norton, including the films of John Baily.
Further suggestions welcome!