Sects: Hebei

Sects sects sects, that’s all you think about

NB Other relevant posts can be found under the Hebei tag.

Through the 1990s I worked with a fine team of Beijing scholars to document amateur ritual associations on the plain south of Beijing. The common local term for many such groups, yinyuehui (“music associations”?) is unfortunate in that it may confuse us outsiders; it is all the more unfortunate that it was musicologists who discovered them. The more I think about it, the clearer it is that they are a form of the amateur sectarian associations often known as huidaomen. Derived from the ritual practice of local temple priests, they are nonetheless village-wide amateur groups, unlike the occupational household groups elsewhere.


Another surprising photo: the North Xinzhuang village ritual association posing with their master Daguang, former Buddhist monk , in 1959—of all times…

Prasenjit Duara’s work on ritual associations, based on Japanese studies from the 1940s, gave important perspectives, though I seek to refine it on the basis of our fieldwork.

Our project was significant within Chinese musicology, but deserves wider coverage within studies of folk religion. We collected not only a large corpus of gongche scores but also many ritual manuals. The scores are comparable in volume only with those of so-called Xi’an guyue. The latter too is a topic not just for music but for religion, but there, scholars collected mainly scores rather than ritual manuals.

We found many old “precious scrolls” (baojuan), which should also lead us to follow luminaries like Li Shiyu into baojuan studies (see my In search of the folk Daoists of north China, Appendix 3). Again, as in Daoist ritual studies, scholars have tended to treat them as silent “books” rather than libretti for performance. But for music scholars, the key is always religion in local society.

Now a major new project (led by Qi Yi 齐易) is finding yet more groups, though again needing augmenting by scholars of religion. There is also a substantial amount of video footage online in Chinese sites.

The village of Qujiaying, first to be “discovered” in 1986, has been the subject of much discussion. But as with Gaoluo, the Intangible Cultural Heritage project has inevitably failed to help it weather the challenges of the new capitalism, and has commodified the group in a transformation from ritual function to “performances” for visiting bigwigs. See also my obituary of Lin Zhongshu (also this), the extraordinary village leader who single-handedly and with astounding tenacity brought Qujiaying to the attention of the outside world in 1986, effectively creating this whole topic of the Hebei ritual associations.

The repertoires (both vocal and instrumental) relate closely to the ritual practices of local temples in old Beijing, for which see the major works of Yuan Jingfang.

The region also includes Tianjin and its extensive suburbs and rural areas, where the sectarian connection is often strong (Li Shiyu, Pu Wenqi, DuBois).

Such amateur ritual groups are an important theme in China, somewhat removed from occupational ritual specialists. One thinks of the Dongjing associations in Yunnan (Helen Rees), or the groups around Xi’an (Jones 2010 etc.), or sectarian groups in Jiangsu.

But the gulf between amateur and occupational groups is clear. Whereas one may go for months without coming across a ritual among the Hebei groups, as soon as I set foot in Yanggao, the household Daoists are busy virtually every day.

Why don’t I cite my Introduction to Part Three of In search of the folk Daoists of north China, which contains our notes from several areas of the Hebei plain:


So far, the ritual performers we found have been groups of occupational lay Daoists, whether they came from long hereditary lay traditions or were former temple-dwelling priests – or a combination of the two. I now discuss the largely amateur ritual associations on the central Hebei plain just south of Beijing. This is a different ritual scene, requiring another somewhat lengthy introduction.

While some of the accounts by Chinese scholars that I cited in Part Two were impressive, for this region I can again rely more on my own fieldwork, and put the Daoists in a broader social and religious context—with modern history, Buddhists, sects, and mediums all making cameo appearances again. Whereas my accounts so far have often subsumed whole counties, now they sometimes concern individual villages.

My focus here is the part of the Hebei plain south of Beijing nearly as far as Baoding (Map 3). My scope also includes Beijing and Tianjin municipalities; whereas since 1949 little ritual has been performed in the cities except within the major temples, Beijing and Tianjin municipalities are largely rural, part of the same cultural traditions that we find on the Hebei plain. Ritual practice varied considerably before 1949 in Beijing, with distinct élite and popular traditions (Appendix 1). If detailed material were available, we would doubtless find that village ritual has more in common with the practices of popular ritual specialists in Beijing and Tianjin before 1949 than with those of the rituals in the major temples there. Fieldwork on the Hebei plain incidentally allows us to witness how some of the rituals of imperial Beijing and Tianjin would have been performed, since in urban areas such rituals have become rare.

The Hebei plain was a breeding-ground for “White Lotus” sectarian groups (§1.6), as is still evident in the practices and manuals of its ritual associations today. It is also a hotbed for underground Catholics, still active after decades of repression.[1] As throughout China, spirit mediums practising healing are active too.

Ritual transmissions from Beijing and Tianjin seem mainly to have spread southwards. This may be partly explained by topography: not far north and west of Beijing, the terrain becomes mountainous, population more sparse, and patrons and literate culture perhaps rarer. In Part One we found a ritual corridor going west through northwest Hebei to north Shanxi. Daoists are said to be active to the north of Tianjin, and I have some clues to east Hebei—again around major former centres of imperial power, such as lay Buddhist ritual groups around Chengde and Pingquan, as well as Zunhua near the Eastern tombs of the Qing emperors.[2] But otherwise there is a curious lack of information on ritual transmissions to the north of Beijing. No-one seems to claim any Daoist ritual activity around Miaofengshan. Just northeast of Beijing, Yajishan (like Miaofengshan) was sacred to the deity Bixia yuanjun, and was also patronized by the Qing emperors; but again, we seem to have no reports of liturgy/ritual there, nor at other popular destinations for Beijing pilgrims before 1949 like Gaoliangqiao and Majuqiao.[3] Of course, popular religion cannot be assessed merely from such major events: less publicly, ritual specialists were needed for funerals and calendrical rituals largely within the home village. Still, clues to such rituals come largely from the area south, not north, of Beijing.

Trying to define a southern boundary for this type of ritual organization and its attendant performance style, we found this largely amateur tradition of village ritual groups with vocal liturgy and shengguan, derived from former temple priests or monks, south of Beijing down almost as far as Baoding, in counties as far south as Renqiu, westwards to Yixian, and east to Tianjin and Jinghai. Further south in Hebei (before we reach the Xingtai–Handan regions, where occupational Daoists thrive, as we saw in §4.2), religious behaviour still seems to involve many sects, lively temple fairs, mediums, and so on, but religious groups seem to have less connection with liturgy/ritual. Outside this area—north of Beijing, in the Shijiazhuang region and further south, and further west into Shanxi—occupational Daoists, sects, shawm bands, and amateur “entertainment associations” may be active, but we have not heard of amateur village-wide ritual associations. Still, much further fieldwork is needed.

Reading some accounts of Hebei temple fairs (e.g. §1 n.14), one might suppose that there was no “Daoist liturgical framework” there at all. But the picture is more complex. The framework is evident mainly in the practice of amateur lay ritual specialists at funerals and temple fairs, even if not performed by people calling themselves Daoists. Thus only a few counties in this area still have occupational groups of Daoists or Buddhists; they appear to be invited to major temple fairs only rarely, and most temple fairs are small, limited to the home village, with the New Year rituals their main annual observance—indeed, temple fairs in China do not necessarily require ritual specialists in my narrow sense. But Daoist and Buddhist folk ritual has survived in this area mainly among amateur ritual associations. Thus, ironically, the apparent absence of Daoists in central Hebei is partly to do with scholars’ stress on temple fairs; ritual specialists (whether amateur or occupational) and complex sequences are often more evident in the practice of funerals, on which we have more material.

These groups have been discussed by our team from the Music Research Insititute in Beijing, following a fieldwork project mainly from 1993 to 1997, but I now focus on the Daoist (and Buddhist) elements in their transmission. The ritual specialists of these groups perform just the kind of liturgy/ritual that I am seeking here. It is delightful to revisit our notes from over a hundred villages in the area, however provisional their leads.[4]

Ritual associations on the Hebei plain
Most villages on the Hebei plain have, or had, a ritual association, whose nominal membership—distinct from voluntary intra- or inter-village sectarian groups—was ascriptive, potentially involving the whole village. They are represented by a core group of amateur ritual specialists, who perform for funerals (never for weddings) and calendrical rituals for the gods, mostly serving the home village. Villages with such an association were thought to be protected by the gods. They learnt their ritual (including their vocal and instrumental music) from Buddhist monks, Daoist priests, or from other village associations, at various stages from the Ming dynasty right until the 1950s.

The associations are led by one or more huitou “association heads”, known as xiangtou or xiangshou “incense heads” until the 1950s;[5] leadership and organizational duties are also performed by a small group of senior men called guanshi “organisers”. In imperial times, and even under Maoism, there was a close connection between the “association heads” and the village leadership, with religious and secular power overlapping. But whereas temple committees elsewhere in China are generally organizers rather than ritual specialists, here the core membership also consists of a group of ritual performers (usually around 5 to 10 liturgists and 10 to 30 instrumentalists). Beyond this, the whole village population might be considered to belong to the association by a token donation of tea or cigarettes at the New Year’s rituals. Until the 1950s the associations owned a minimal amount of land. Any male can train to perform the vocal liturgy or instrumental music, with membership not based on lineage, but hereditary transmission is common. They are ordinary peasants, mostly poor, although senior members have a certain prestige.

These associations often have, or had, large collections of ritual paintings such as pantheons and images of individual deities, displayed for rituals. Most common are paintings of the Ten Kings (Shiwang xiang) presiding over the Ten Palaces (Shidian) of the Underworld—a rather close equivalent of European mediaeval depictions of the punishments of hell, and no less graphic.[6] Colorful and stimulating, they make a splash of colour in otherwise drab villages, especially before the advent of TV and horror films. Related images are of Dizang Bodhisattva and the King of Ghosts (Guiwang). Some other main deities of the associations include the Bodhisattva Guanyin and Caishen god of wealth. By the way, the martial god Guandi, so prominent in the wartime material analysed by Duara, now barely features at all (though see Appendixes 2 and 3).

Pennants and cloth veils also adorn the ritual building. From the late 1980s, as ritual performing traditions atrophied and commercial instincts strengthened, such paintings and hangings, and indeed the scriptures, the soul of the village, were often being sold off to collectors. After all the confiscations and destructions of ritual artefacts over the previous decades, this is very sad, whatever the gains for Chinese black marketeers and foreign collectors. For the New Year rituals, cloth hangings known as beiwen, listing donors to the association, are also displayed at the ritual building—as well as more temporary paper lists.[7]

Other important artefacts of such groups include ritual manuals (jingjuan) containing the texts of the vocal liturgy, mainly for funerals. Also important are musical scores of gongche solfeggio, containing the melodic outline of the paraliturgical shengguan instrumental music. More gongche scores survive than ritual manuals, but both were invariably handed down from temples.[8]

For funerals, the ritual specialists of many village associations could stage a quite elaborate series of rituals for the salvation of the soul, that one associates with occupational ritual specialists—such as Crossing the Bridges (duqiao), Smashing the Hells (poyu), and yankou. Indeed, some groups dress in Buddhist or Daoist robes to perform the vocal liturgy. They both recite from manuals and sing shorter hymns from memory. But in many associations the list of rituals has been abbreviated since the 1950s, as an indirect result of political pressures; the complex shengguan instrumental music has remained an intrinsic feature of these rituals even when vocal liturgy has fallen out of use.

Apart from their main duties within the home village, the association ritual specialists sometimes accept invitations to perform funerals in neighbouring villages, over a small radius of around 15 kilometres. At such times they are more like a group of voluntary amateur ritual specialists, but usually, when performing in their home village, they serve an ascriptive membership.

They are also responsible for leading the calendrical rituals of their home village—not, in this area, a very dense annual list, even before Communism. As elsewhere in north China, village temples went into a long decline from the beginning of the 20th century, intensifying under Maoism; temples staffed by resident priests have long been rare except in some larger cities. Though both the music and ritual of the associations were associated with priests, in this area there have been no full-time priests since the 1950s, and even occupational lay Daoists are rare: thus the amateur practitioners of the ritual associations are now the main public intermediaries with the divine world.

In this area, although county gazetteers give quite a rich list of temple fairs, fewer temples have been rebuilt since the 1980s’ reforms than in many parts of north and south China. There are still a few major temple fairs, like those of Houshan and Maozhou, which attract visitors from a wide area, and thus involve significant accommodation with the local state; most, however, are local and small-scale, with little economic interest, and the festivals that are held are quite small and observed largely by the home village. Though most associations once served a village temple, in many villages the only functioning public religious site by the 1960s was the building of the ritual association, called “official building” (guanfangzi),[9] adorned with god paintings almost solely for the New Year rituals, or a specially erected tent (peng, commonly “lantern tent” dengpeng); the rituals may even be held in the brigade office, decorated as a temple.

The main calendrical event is the New Year lantern rituals around 1st moon 15th. Generally the altar is opened (kaitan) around the 12th, and the gods escorted away around the 17th.[10] Some calendrical observances do not revolve around a temple, like Releasing the River Lanterns (fang hedeng), observed in the 7th moon by many associations around the area of the Baiyangdian lake. Village associations sometimes visit each other’s temple fairs, but such networks are not extensive or formal.

We can identify broad cult areas, like the Medicine King (Yaowang) cult around Maozhou in the south of our area, but associations identifying themselves as serving a particular deity were quite rare. Until the 1950s, many village associations in the Yixian–Laishui–Dingxing–Xushui area made pilgrimages to the Houshan mountain temple complex in the 3rd moon for the cult of the female deity Houtu (§9), and many still observe the festival in their home village; some had Houtu paintings, and some recited the Houtu precious scroll, but even these groups didn’t formally identify themselves as Houtu associations. So the main activity is performing for funerals, and since they mainly serve within the village as a social duty, even this does not demand much of their time.

One might seek to characterize these groups as resembling a village temple committee that includes ritual specialists who also perform funerals; but they are not quite a temple committee, nor quite a sect, nor simply a group of ritual specialists. Nor can they be simply bracketed along with the “entertainment associations” that perform for calendrical rituals: although the latter too may perform on behalf of the whole village, they are not considered to be offering scriptures to the gods. These amateur ritual associations are also distinct from occupational household groups of ritual specialists like lay Daoists. Conversely, the sectarian groups described by DuBois (2005), in the southeast of our area, are very much part of the same phenomenon—ritual specialists performing as a duty, often representing the whole village.

Duara’s fourfold categorization of associations, though mainly concerning a mere six villages widely scattered just outside the periphery of this area, offers a rough outline. As I have hinted, most of the groups we have been studying seem best to fit Duara’s type 3, village-wide ascriptive associations—though note again that while all villagers may nominally belong to the association, a core group of ritual specialists represents them in communicating with the gods.[11]

The most common local term for these groups is yinyuehui, denoting both the core group of ritual performers and the entire village membership. This term, going back several centuries, often stands for more formal titles like Great Tea-tent Association (da chapenghui) or sectarian names like Hunyuan or Hongyang Association. The core group of ritual performers comprises a shengguan instrumental ensemble and sometimes a group of vocal liturgists accompanying themselves on ritual percussion, the latter group known as “civil altar” (wentan; wutan or wuchang may refer either to the shengguan ensemble or to the percussion section). In the western part of the region (§9) some groups consisting only of vocal liturgists were called foshihui “ritual association”. For calendrical rituals other village-wide names were also used, such as Tea Tent Association or Great Tent Association (chapenghui, dapenghui). The term Lantern Association (denghui) refers mainly to the New Year’s Lantern Festival rituals around 1st moon 15th.

Like ritual specialists throughout north China (§1.4), most ritual associations in this area have, or should have, three main musical components, chui-da-nian: wind music, percussion music, and vocal liturgy, in reverse order of importance. The “civil altar” performing the vocal liturgy consists of between five and ten performers, accompanying their chanting and singing of the ritual manuals by patterns on ritual percussion instruments including woodblock, a pair of small bells or a small upturned bowl-shaped bell on a stick, a bowl, gong-in-frame, large barrel drum, and small cymbals. The ritual specialists also punctuate their liturgy with majestic and solemn music in more complex percussion patterns led by several pairs of two types of large and heavy cymbals (bo and nao) in dialogue.

The yinyuehui are named after their solemn paraliturgical shengguan music, which as we saw, belongs to ritual specialists in north China, including temple priests and lay Daoists; it is as much a part of ritual observance as is vocal liturgy. It would be quite wrong to consider these groups as “musical”, with our baggage of secular modern meanings. Throughout north China, villagers use the term yinyue to refer not to any music, but specifically to the shengguan instrumental ensemble music performed as a ritual duty for funerals and gods’ days.[12] Hence common traditional terms like yinyue yankou (yankou with shengguan) and yinyue foshihui (ritual association with shengguan and vocal liturgy). While the yinyuehui often subsumes vocal liturgists, the vocal liturgy itself is not properly called yinyue.

Nor are other genres of music worthy of the name yinyue: neither folk-song nor opera, nor the music of shawm bands. Ironically, of course, the term yinyuehui is the modern name for “concert”—itself a modern concept, one barely known to Hebei peasants. The term is clearly not a modern, or even ancient, invention to give the group a cloak of secular respectability—though it might incidentally serve that purpose. Thus these are not just “musicians”, and the associations are no more “music societies” than Daoists reciting the scriptures are a book club.

One might at first subsume these groups under the “performing arts associations” (huahui) that commonly perform for temple fairs and gods’ birthdays throughout these villages; they too have a core group of performers, may be widely supported, and perform for calendrical rituals. Villages without yinyuehui may enliven temple fairs with whatever performing association they happen to have. But though some of these groups (for yangge dancing, for example) may also have a certain ritual content, it is the yinyuehui that perform the core rituals representing the village’s identity, communicating with the gods, and locally this basic difference is widely perceived. Still, with some groups now performing their shengguan music more than their vocal liturgy, some recent scholars have tended to bracket them with the “entertainment associations”, stressing the melodic instrumental music and the more “customary” aspects of their performance contexts. In some parts of the area this may be valid, but they are ritual groups performing for funerals and temple fairs, who learnt from monks or priests, and even the shengguan melodies are “holy pieces” (shenqu), “scriptures” (jing).

As we saw in §1.4, the classic Beijing temple orchestration consists of pairs of the four types of melodic instruments (sheng-guan-di-luo); although in their numbers village ritual groups tend to be much larger than the occupational household groups we met above, often consisting of over twenty musicians, in their instrumentation they are more “classical” than those we found in Shanxi and further west, with the yunluo here always a frame of ten gongs, and without small suona shawm or bowed fiddle.

Whereas in the smaller occupational groups the Daoists learn the complete repertoire including both vocal liturgy and shengguan, in these larger amateur groups there is a clear division of labour between the small group of liturgists and the often large group of shengguan instrumentalists. Some associations that originally had only vocal liturgy decided they needed shengguan music too. Some that used to have both vocal liturgy and shengguan music now have only one of these elements—we may assume that most yinyuehui performed vocal liturgy before 1937, for instance. However, by the mid-1990s, several associations that had survived barely since the 1950s by performing only their instrumental music for rituals were keen to relearn their vocal liturgy. The musically outstanding Gaoqiao village association (§8.5) started playing their shengguan music for rituals again in 1979, but only resumed scripture recitation in 1992.

Some counties now have little vocal liturgy—like Xiongxian, with its fine shengguan groups and early gongche scores. Some counties didn’t have many groups at all, such as Gu’an and Zhuozhou. Our notes often document the minutiae of the shengguan instrumental music. This is partly because we were interested in it; it may suggest that most peasants tended to learn this rather than the vocal liturgy, but ideally they sought to learn both, and in many cases they did, even if the latter has declined more since the 1950s.

Apart from the solemn and conservative ritual shengguan instrumental music (also known as beiyue “northern music”, or xiaoguan “small guanzi”), since early in the 20th century some village associations converted to a style called “southern music” (nanyue, or daguan “large guanzi”), led by a larger guanzi oboe and also using a small shawm and a bowed fiddle, playing more popular pieces related to folk-song and opera. This style was also transmitted by monks and priests before Liberation, like the monk Haibo around Laishui, and the priest Yang Yuanheng (1894–1959) from the Lüzutang temple in Anping county,[13] and most groups remained amateur, serving the same types of rituals as the yinyuehui from which they evolved.

On pennants, donors’ lists, and the title page of gongche scores, both before and after the revolution, the term yinyuehui is usually prefixed by the name of the village. Clear evidence comes from associations that have early scriptures and manuals with the name yinyuehui on their title page, like the 1920 yankou manuals of North Wudaokou (§8.6). More formal terms are yinyue shanhui (charitable, referring to ritual duty), since they exist to “practise good” (xingshan); and yinyue shanghai (“holy” or “illustrious” 聖/盛). Of course, other types of association could also call themselves shanhui or shenghui, as the Miaofengshan material shows (n.3 above).

The ritual specialists commonly show their awareness of transmission from former temples, referring to their traditions as either “Buddhist monk scriptures” (heshangjing), or “Daoist priest scriptures” (laodaojing); “Daoist transmitted” (daochuan, daomen) or “Buddhist transmitted” (sengchuan, sengmen). The ritual specialists are also sometimes known as laodao, generally a colloquial term in the area for local temple Daoists, as in old Beijing,[14] but here also meaning precisely these people—ordinary lay villagers who have learnt to perform the vocal liturgy and/or the shengguan music. Unlike occupational lay Daoists who have long hereditary traditions and manuals handed down in the family, in this area ritual knowledge is not the monopoly of a particular family, it is not a livelihood (quite the opposite—it detracts from livelihood), and they have little if any formal “Daoist” training apart from learning how to perform the rituals.

The village associations invariably acquired their ritual (whether vocal liturgy, shengguan, or both—as well as ritual manuals, gongche scores, paintings, and so on) from temples, or sometimes from other associations that had done so. These transmissions occurred at various stages since the Ming dynasty, with a naturally greater proportion relating to transmissions since the late imperial period. Our notes are full of such accounts, and the material below only cites a few cases.

While the leader of a ritual association may be called “incense head”, the term “incense association” (xianghui) is rarely heard here. Other common terms include “association outing” (chuhui), referring to both calendrical worship and funerals. Whether or not vocal liturgy is performed, terms like “taking out the scriptures” (chujing), “delivering the scriptures” (songjing), or “inviting the scriptures” (qingjing) are often used. The associations perform “seated at the altar” (zuotan). Several terms refer to funeral practice, such as “sending off” (fasong), and “helping out” (laomang), a dialectal expression for the social duty to perform funerals for a bereaved family without any material reward—this is perhaps the most frequently heard term of all.

All these individual village associations have only loose personal and customary ties of cooperation, based on earlier transmission and geography.[15] Villagers are aware of other associations in their area; they can tell you which nearby villages have a yinyuehui, a nanyuehui, or a foshihui, and which are “Buddhist” or “Daoist” scriptures, or have “only” a martial-arts group or a lion-dancing association. But such local knowledge does not, at least not any longer, amount to an active network of support, far from the fenxiang “division of incense” networks of the southeast.

The yinyuehui were the most prestigious of local performing associations, often within the ritual catchment area of a “great temple” (dasi) that defined a “parish” (she); we often heard the expression “where there is a great temple, there is a yinyuehui”. Though we find traces of the parish in many parts of north China (§1.1), the term “great temple” was used most commonly in this part of central Hebei.[16]

This whole region south of Beijing was a base for so-called “White Lotus” religion, hence the reciting of “precious scrolls” (baojuan) in some areas (§9, and Appendix 3). State attempts to suppress “heterodox” popular religion have a long history. The Ming and Qing codes actually prohibited “associations” (hui); “the Qing code prohibited the formation of associations generally, and specifically banned religious activities involving processions of god images accompanied by music and percussion”.[17] But success in suppression has been chequered, in both imperial and modern times.

Laymen in the villages have long acquired a certain ritual expertise, and could substitute for priests. Naquin cites an 18th-century member of a Hongyang sect:

Whenever there was a funeral for a poor person who did not have the resources to invite a monk or a priest, they asked [us] to chant sutras and escort [the coffin to the grave].

Describing the late imperial and republican periods, Naquin notes:[18]

If [Buddhist or Daoist, Naquin glosses] professionals were not available nearby, people turned to huoju Daoists, lay Buddhists, or sectarians. The poor might be unable to hire any clergy at all. Musicians who specialized in funerals could be brought in cheaply to supplement or even substitute for some of the clerics.

I would refine that a bit: by this period, there was already a long tradition of lay ritual specialists in the countryside, and local tradition would naturally suggest inviting them. And it wasn’t quite a question of “bringing them in cheaply”: they were already there, they didn’t have to be brought in. As we saw, whether local temples were Buddhist or Daoist, if they were occupied at all, it was by a very small staff, rarely adequate to field a team able to perform a complex ritual. The main duties of temple priests, apart from any notional “self-cultivation”, would have been survival: tilling the fields, temple upkeep, supervising offerings of incense, hanging lockets to protect children, and so on. Performing folk ritual outside the temple could be a welcome source of extra income, so they might collaborate with priests from other temples nearby to make up a band (dabanr; cf. §1.2 above). In many cases, they sought local villagers whom they could teach and constitute a viable ritual group.[19] While we have plenty of instances of transmissions in the 20th century, there was a long tradition of temple priests performing ritual services outside their temple, recruiting laymen to supplement their numbers, as well as lay groups performing rituals without temple priests.[20]

If rather mundane imperatives drove the temple priests (most have whom had been given to their temple in infancy), the villagers too might welcome this chance to learn ritual, partly to save money on inviting priests themselves. But also, since they were perhaps more devout than the priests, with their own set of ritual they could bring divine protection (“well-being” ping’an) to their home village; and once they had set up their own association, they adhered to a tradition of performing rituals as a moral duty, without a fee. Indeed, association members we met were invariably devoted to their ritual tradition, even if they had little doctrinal understanding; they were true amateurs.

Thus here we find amateur village-wide traditions performing mainly for the home village—by contrast with the occupational “household idiom” (Chau 2006a) of huoju Daoist families, performing for patrons throughout their locality, that we found elsewhere. If the amateur associations acquired many of the rituals of temple priests, one major difference between them and occupational groups is that they are not at all busy, performing funerals and temple fairs only within the home village and a small radius.[21] Unlike in north Shanxi (§2.1), where lay Daoists and shawm bands are the two complementary bands to invite for funerals and temple fairs, the shawm bands are of minor importance on the Hebei plain, and occupational Daoists too are scarce. The calendar of temple fairs is less dense than in north Shanxi, and ritual less complex.

Within this large area, I will suggest some local variations. Indeed, though our survey could never be adequate, it reminds us again of the need for detailed fieldwork. The areas introduced briefly in Parts One and Two were often equally large—under Xingtai, for instance, I glibly bracketed around sixteen counties, a similar area to that discussed below.

Below I will discuss three areas on the Hebei plain, a mere smattering of our material on over a hundred villages. These areas have distinct ritual characters. Just southeast of Beijing (§7), the largely occupational groups have strong ritual traditions acquired from temple clerics only in the 1950s. Around Bazhou (§8), traditions are amateur, often with clear links to Daoist priests. Around Yixian (§9), the associations are again amateur, and early; the cult of Houtu is a major factor in ritual activity, and the area is distinguished partly by the additional occurrence of groups reciting vocal liturgy with percussion alone, including “precious scrolls” derived from White Lotus sects.

But the three main temple transmissions that I highlight in these areas were only part of ritual elements there, chosen because I happen to have rather detailed material. Our notes also show that ritual transmission to lay associations might derive from a variety of sources. My point is not so much to show transmission from a particular Daoist temple, but to show that the network of lay ritual specialists who had acquired their practices from Daoist priests and Buddhist monks stretched back into imperial times. The ritual specialists of those “old associations” (laohui, a term sometimes denoting a group with more than one hundred years of history), that had a thriving early ritual tradition and no recent input from temples, are rather like huoju Daoists, except that they are amateur and represent a village-wide constituency; indeed, they are often known as laodao. Though their connections with priests or monks are sometimes lost in time, they perform liturgy for both funerals and temple fairs.

Occupational groups like household Daoists appear to be weathering the new capitalist ethos quite well. So too do the more devotional amateur groups like sects and Catholics, with their frequent and inclusive rituals. But while many of the amateur associations also staged an impressive revival through the 1980s, I cannot predict that they will still be so active now, as migration, modern popular culture, and mercenary values take root.[22]

On the theme of mobility (including ritual mobility), until younger villagers began boarding packed rickety buses to the towns in search of work in the 1980s, the world of peasants, even in this area near Beijing, was highly circumscribed. Peasants, and ritual specialists, travelled mostly by foot, within a radius of around 20 kilometres. One expects transport problems in Shanxi or Shaanxi, but it is worth noting that even here, on the plain not far south of Beijing and Tianjin, transport was still far from ideal in the 1990s. Even in the dry northern climate, once we left the main roads, our jeep was often unable to reach villages connected only by narrow rutted tracks.

Note on sources
Our team consisted mainly of Xue Yibing, Zhang Zhentao, Qiao Jianzhong, and me. Attempting a survey of an area comprising over a dozen counties, we collected data on over a hundred villages (not all of whose associations were currently active), so our visits were often quite brief, and since we could not always coincide with a ritual (in this area they are anyway quite sporadic), we sometimes had to fall back on requesting them to perform their ritual for us. (Contrast Yanggao, where no more than a couple of days ever seem to pass without the Daoists and shawm bands going out to do rituals!)

Our main notes (mostly by Xue Yibing and Zhang Zhentao) are from 1993 to 1996 (as well as some by Wang Shenshen, Han Mei, and Du Yaxiong, to whom I am also grateful), but come also from our many fieldwork trips from 1986 through 2002. I made a preliminary overview of the groups in my Folk music of China, ch.11. Undigested notes from fifty of the villages were printed in Zhongguo yinyue nianjian 中国音乐年鉴 1994–96. We also took photos, copies of ritual manuals and gongche scores, and made audio and video recordings.

After our preliminary survey:

  • Jones, Stephen, with Xue Yibing (1991) “The music associations of Hebei province, China: a preliminary report”, Ethnomusicology 35.1 (Winter 1991): 1–29

I overviewed the associations in

  • Jones, Stephen “Chinese ritual music under Mao and Deng”, British Journal of Ethnomusicology 8 (1999): 27–66

but eventually focused on a historical ethnography (Plucking the Winds) of one village, Gaoluo (Jones 2004).

See also

  • Jones, Stephen “Revival in crisis: amateur ritual associations in Hebei”, in Adam Chau ed., Religious Revitalization and Innovation in Contemporary China­ (Routledge, 2010), 154–81.

Note the fine

  • Zhang Zhentao 張振淘, Yinyuehui: Jizhong xiangcun lisuzhongde guchuiyueshe 音乐会: 冀中乡村礼俗中的鼓吹乐社 (Ji’nan: Shandong wenyi chubanshe, 2002).

The Japanese material from 1940 to 1942 cited by Duara, from a handful of villages just around the margin of this area, is not ideal for our purposes (see below in this §). Cf. also Gamble 1954 and 1963 for Dingxian just south, no more helpful for the kind of ritual practice we find here. For “religious music” in Hebei, see JCI Hebei 35–9, 1237–1409; though the editors gave us useful early leads, the published result is most misleading for the central Hebei plain. Under “Daoist music”, apart from the counties discussed above and below, JCI Hebei also includes instrumental transcriptions from Boxiang, Gaocheng, and Shexian, as well as Chengde and Pingquan in northeast Hebei. For Daoism in Hebei, articles like Kang Wenyuan 1986 are typically concerned more with early temple history than with modern ritual practice; for the Baoding region, cf. Overmyer and Fan 2006–7, Baoding vol., pp.613–83.

  • Overmyer, Daniel L. [Ou Danian] and Fan Lizhu (eds) (2006–7) Huabei nongcun minjian wenhua yanjiu congshu [Studies of the popular culture of north China villages], 4 vols., Tianjin: Tianjin guji chubanshe. [Consists of articles on the Baoding region, and Xianghe and Gu’an counties, as well as Handan region in south Hebei.]


[1] See e.g. Jones 2004: 37–45, 56–64, 298–304, and index.
[2] Scant clues in Jones 1998: 207; note Chengde 1984.
[3] Naquin 1992: 337, 339–42, 349, 353­–4; Naquin 2000: 517–47; Gu Jiegang 1988: 38–9; Zhao Shiyu 2002: 352–78; Overmyer and Fan 2006–7, Xianghe vol., pp.208–16. [SJ update: NB also a recent film from Patrice Fava and fine material from Ian Johnson.] Gu Jiegang’s list of 99 associations making the Miaofengshan pilgrimage in 1925 (Gu 1988: 41–52) only contains one yinyuehui (ibid. p.50), which he, like most educated urbanites, would have assumed to be an entertainment group; his list mainly consists of huahui and “incense associations” (xianghui), mostly voluntary pilgrim groups from Beijing. On the Hebei plain, by contrast, the Houshan temple fair has many more ritual associations alongside the huahui, though see §9 below.
[4] For the project, see note at end of this Introduction.
[5] Note that this is the common meaning of xiangtou in this area—unlike in Cangzhou to the southeast (DuBois 2005: 65–85), or around Beijing in the 1940s (Li Wei-tsu 1948, a classic source), where it denotes spirit mediums. Cf. §9.5 below.
[6] See e.g. Goodrich 1964; Teiser 1994; Ma Shutian 1990: 532­–5. Cf. the better-known shuilu paintings, ibid. pp. 539–40.
[7] Note Zhang Zhentao 2002: 115–80.
[8] On gongche scores, see Zhang Zhentao 2002: 367–407.
[9] Note the splendid chapter in Zhang Zhentao 2002: 181–204. Elsewhere (e.g. Jones 2004) I have called it “public building”.
[10] For Gaoluo, see Jones 2004: 270­–306.
[11] Duara 1988: 118–32; cf. Liu Tieliang 2000: 269–80, for temple fairs. For diverse types of village association before Communism, note Duara 1988: 118–57; Gamble 1963: 32–40. See also my comments, Jones 2004: n.14, 384–5.
[12] The term is traditionally used thus in Beijing temple Buddhism, and is part of the title of the celebrated 1694 gongche score of the Zhihuasi temple. The extensive shengguan repertoire transmitted by Buddhist monk Miaoyin in villages of Xiongxian county in the late 18th century, still preserved in several village scores (§8.6), was an important part of ritual performance there.
[13] For Haibo, see Jones 2004: 71, cf. In search of the folk Daoists §9.7; for Yang, later professor of guanzi at the Central Conservatoire in Beijing, see Jones 1998: 197.
[14] Goossaert 2007: 83, cf. Appendix 1 below.
[15] Cf. DuBois 2005: 160.
[16] See Jones 2004: 33–5; cf. the term damiao in Fujian.
[17] Naquin 1992: 351–2; cf. Esherick 1987: 41–2.
[18] For these two citations, see Naquin 1988: 51–2 (cf. Naquin 1985: 267); Naquin 1988: 60.
[19] See also DuBois 2005: 101–102.
[20] Cf. Goossaert 2007: 123–5.
[21] Cf. DuBois 2005: 183–4.
[22] For reflections on the precarious state of non-devotional amateur ritual groups, see Jones 2010.