“It’s Daoism, but not as we know it”

54 LMS writing 2003

These are some themes arising from my work with the Li family Daoists. I pursue them further under MY BLOG too.

Rectifying names is taken from ch.9 of my book.  Debunking “living fossils”,  Unpacking “Daoist music”, and Rethinking Zhengyi and Quanzhen are explored in Appendix 1 there. The reflections on Fieldwork and Participant observation are also adapted from my book. All these topics overlap to some extent.


Both film and book are an attempt to document the “ordinary Daoists” to whom Vincent Goossaert draws attention. It’s important not to regard the Li family as some miraculous relic; wonderful as they are, similar hereditary Daoist families remain active throughout China, including the north, such as north Shanxi. This is just one case study.


Temple fairs tend to dominate research, and they are the context for much of folk culture—including not just Daoist ritual but opera, storytelling, folk-song, amateur sectarian activity, and so on.

My own work tends to focus more on funerals, which are perhaps still more important in north China (indeed, the Li family now performs almost only for funerals) but tend to be treated as a subsidiary context in the south.

It’s also worth mentioning other types of religious activity in Yanggao: shamans, sects, Christians… who also appear in various posts and pages here.