My article on Guo Yuhua leads to several related posts on my blog—many collected under the Maoism tag in the sidebar.
For further alternative grass-roots accounts of Chinese society, see
For the troubled maintenance of local ritual life under changing regimes:
On recent conflicts between state and society, see e.g.
In Guo Yuhua’s interview with Ian Johnson she gives short shrift to the Intangible Cultural Heritage—as do I. Some tasters among the numerous posts under the heritage tag in the sidebar:
For Chinese parallels with authoritarian regimes in Europe, see e.g. my posts on
For another handy digest on a variety of topics, see here.
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(under Themes > Local ritual)
Many descriptions of Chinese ritual sequences appear somewhat timeless, blurring variation and change. But generally I like to keep my accounts either descriptive, based on observed performances, or prescriptive, an ideal sequence recounted by elderly performers. Where I become familiar enough with the local scene I sometimes try to collate the two, as in this composite funeral sequence for one part of the Yixian–Laishui region south of Beijing.
Based on talks with senior ritual specialists there, it’s illuminated by attending (and taking part in) many funerals in this area over more than a decade. While we always seek to copy the diverse funeral manuals of each village, they can’t offer the kind of detail provided by observation of practice and the accounts of the ritual specialists themselves. In particular, my constant refrain: ritual is performance, and is expressed largely through sound—the items of vocal, percussion, and melodic instrumental music that permeate the sequence.
A gradual dilution of ritual practice has undoubtedly occurred since the 1950s, but it’s never so simple as seeking to “restore” some notional ideal sequence from before Liberation on the basis of ritual manuals alone.
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Through the 1990s, one of the most fruitful sites for our fieldwork project on the Hebei plain south of Beijing was the area around Xiongxian county, just south of Bazhou, and east of the regional capital Baoding. Recently this whole region has become the centre of a vast and radical new development project to expand metropolitan Beijing; but when we used to visit, it was still very much rural.
As throughout the region covered in this growing series on Hebei, most villages here had ritual associations until the 1950s, and we found many still active in the 1990s. But here we found less vocal liturgy than further north and west on the plain, with no foshihui groups reciting precious scrolls.
Instead, ritual services were now mainly represented by the “holy pieces” of the shengguan wind ensemble to “revere the gods”—here an exceptionally rich repertoire based on long suites related to those of the temples of old Beijing. Not all these groups were still performing, but there is rich material here, not only on the ethnography of local ritual in modern times, but for scholars of the late imperial period.
This is the latest in a series on ritual in Hebei that includes Houshan and the precious scrolls, suburban Beijing, and Bazhou.
My well-meaning initiative of setting up a separate sub-menu for Ritual paintings has promptly been thwarted by my desire to incorporate the whole ritual practice of which such images are part.
So I’ve retained the original introduction, but I’ll subsume paintings from elsewhere (mainly Hebei) in posts under “Local ritual” in Themes. I’ve moved Ritual images: Gaoluo to go with the other pages on Gaoluo under “Other publications” in the top menu.
You can still use the tag for “art”…
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This first page under a new series on ritual images again concerns Gaoluo.
Apart from their ritual manuals and gongche solfeggio scores, all four ritual associations in North and South villages of Gaoluo have collections of images, including god paintings, diaogua hangings and donors’ lists, from various stages since the 19th century—displayed for calendrical rituals of the village community.
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(under Themes, in main Menu)
For aficionados of visual culture:
The main focus of our fieldwork on the Hebei plain through the 1990s was the ritual performance of amateur village-wide associations there. But of course we also documented the material artefacts of these groups—including ritual manuals, gongche solfeggio scores for the shengguan wind ensemble, donors’ lists, and so on.
I now realize that by comparison with elite painting, temple murals, and so on, what we may call “folk art” is not so well represented—either in print publications or online. So this is a new sub-menu for ritual paintings of village groups, mainly from Hebei. I’ve already included some of them in various posts/pages, but now I’m adding many more (mostly from the period since the late 19th century, but also some painted since the 1980s).
Most of these images are displayed for calendrical rituals (notably the New Year) and/or for funerals—the Ten Kings images are used for both.
Of course, these material artefacts are a sub-theme; our main material consists of a rich archive of audio and video recordings of ritual performance. Contemplating such images in a museum is a last resort: they are the backdrop to the ritual soundscape of vocal liturgy and “holy pieces” of shengguan wind ensemble, and a representation of the changing spiritual life of local communities. As you digest these pages, you might even listen to the items of vocal liturgy and shengguan on the playlist in the sidebar, with commentary here).