More Daoists of Yanggao

Following my various pages on local Daoist traditions scattered around north Shanxi (Shuozhou and Yingxian, TianzhenGuangling, and Datong county!), I now return to Yanggao county, my main base, for a little survey of some other groups besides the Li family Daoists of Upper Liangyuan.

From my book and film on the Li family (and throughout this site) you can already see that Yanggao is still a hive of Daoist activity, Until the 1950s over twenty Daoist groups performed ritual around Yanggao county (see map). Here I will give brief sketches of four more lineages with a long Daoist history, who are also still active today.

in orange: villages with Daoist groups active until 1950s
in red: villages with Daoist groups still active today.
See also my book, p.7, and the map with my diary of Li Bin’s recent work. [1]

My first visit to Yanggao in 1991 left me with an indelible impression of the splendour of Li Qing’s Daoist band in Upper Liangyuan; but only since 2011 have I been able to focus on their rich family tradition, now handed on by Li Qing’s son Li Manshan. As we see further below, they are among several Daoist bands still active in this area south of the county-town.

The earliest lineage of Daoists in the county must be the Zhangs of Jinjiazhuang, who had taught Li Manshan’s ancestor Li Fu in in the 18th century.

Meanwhile the northern area of Yanggao (along the east–west corridor between the county-town and the Great Wall just north) is similar in ritual style, but has its own sphere of ritual activity, based on the temple life of the villages in between the town and the Great Wall just north. Indeed, while it may be less accomplished ritually than bands on the plain to the south like that of Li Manshan, it seems to be a more active scene for temple activity, and richly deserves detailed ethnographic study.

The Li family of Luowenzao
Several Daoist bands are active performing rituals in this northern zone. Most illustrious is another Li family (not related to that of Li Manshan further south)—based in Luowenzao township, in between Yanggao and Tianzhen county-towns—which also goes back some eight generations.

We met them in summer 1992, towards the end of our long trek through central and north Shanxi (see DVD Doing things with my book Ritual and music of north China: shawm bands in Shanxi, §A).

Li Yuan 李元 (b.1928. A fine Daoist name!) was the seventh generation of household Daoists in his lineage:

  • 1st generation Li Fa 李發
  • 2nd generation Li Wanxiang 李萬祥
  • 3rd generation: Li Tai 李泰
  • 4th generation: Li Jincai 李進财
  • 5th generation: Li Ke 李科
  • 6th generation: Li Deshan 李德山
  • 7th generation: Li Yuan 李元
  • 8th generation: Li Tianyun 李天雲, Li Yuan’s oldest son. Another son, along with Li Yuan’s sons-in-law, also took part in the ritual band.

As well as yinyang, they are known as erzhai 二宅 (locally pronounced erze)—a term rarely heard on the plain just south, but common in Datong county just southwest. Like others groups in Yanggao, they belong to the Orthodox Unity branch.

Alas, we had too little time to chat with him in depth, so we didn’t clarify his family history.

While their repertoire of eight ritual suites for shengguan ensemble, and their attendant scale system, seemed to be even more extensive than among bands further south, it had also declined in ritual practice. We did attend a funeral that his band were doing at Zhuanlou village, where we again found the Hua family shawm band (see the amazing video of Greater Yanluo).

Li Yuan procession

Procession nears soul hall, Zhuanlou 1992.

Li Yuan qushui better

Li Yuan leads a hymn at the well for Fetching Water ritual, Zhuanlou 1992.

There are several other household Daoist groups in this northern region, including the Ren 任 family band based in Gushan—a rather less accomplished group whom we found performing for the 7th-moon temple fair there in 2003 (see my DVD Doing things, §B1):

Gushan yinyang 2003

Gushan paiwei 2003

Paiwei inscriptions for Gushan temple fair, 2003, marked “Orthodox Unity teachings”.

For Hannibal Taubes’ recent photos of the temple (including doll effigies for fertility, cf. Houshan), see here.

This temple, known as Nunnery (Guzimiao) or Granny temple (Nainai miao), is formally called Temple of the Holy Mother of the Five Dragons (Wulong shengmu miao 五龍聖母廟) with its main temple fairs on 4th moon 18th and 7th moon 3rd.

The temple caretaker was Miaoshan 妙山, an elderly and infirm (former?) Buddhist monk ordained at Wutaishan (photo in Wu Fan, Yinyang, gujiang, p.287), who performed services like making and hanging lockets to protect children, but didn’t officiate over public rituals.

The main life of the temple revolved around an active devotional mixed-gender sectarian group that performed distinctive “precious scrolls” as part of their impressive rituals. We went back in winter 2003 to attend an impressive two-day vow ritual:

Gushan sect 2003.2

Gushan sect 2003.3

For more on the role of women in the sects of Yanggao, see here, the second in a series of three posts on women there. For an update on the sect, see here.

* * *

Returning to my base further south in Yanggao, here I won’t describe other active bands—those of the Wangs of Baideng, Li Hua (b.1951), son of the great Li Peisen in Yangta, and Li Hou (b.1955), son of Li Yuanmao, in Swallows Nest (Yanwo)—all related to the Lis of Upper Liangyuan. I introduce them briefly in my book.

Wang Fengming

Wang Fengming (1938–2016) at home in 2013.

Li Hou (left), and Li Hua, 2013.

But two further Daoist lineages nearby have a long relationship with the Li family of Upper Liangyuan; and as we saw, since Li Manshan and Li Bin need to supplement their core group locally both from the ranks of other Daoist lineages and shawm bands (all the more when having to provide two or more concurrent funerals), members of these lineages still often work for the Lis today.

The Yan lineage of Wangzhuang
I came across the Yan band in 2001 at a funeral in their home village of Wangzhuang 王庄, with the venerable Yan Sheng 闫生, then 86 sui, leading.

Yans Wangzhuang 2001

Yan Sheng on gongs, Wangzhuang, 2001. Left, Yan Xuewen on sheng.

This Daoist lineage also goes back several generations, and younger scions continue to practise, like Yan Xuewen 闫学文 (known as Sanyou 三有), a regular dep for Li Manshan and Li Bin.


Left to right: Li Manshan, Wang Ding, Yan Xuewen.  Funeral at Lower Liangyuan, 2011.

The Yuan lineage of West Shuangzhai
Nearer Upper Liangyuan is West Shuangzhai 西双寨, where the Yuan lineage of Daoists also goes back several generations.

Apart from learning within his own family, Yuan Lishan 袁利山 (b.1955) was a disciple of Li Qing, frequently working in his band. He later went on to lead his own group, which is also in considerable demand.

The Pardon, 1991

The Pardon ritual, Greater Antan 1991. Left to right: Yuan Lishan, Li Qing, Wang Chang (from Baideng), Li Peisen’s grandson Li Yushan, and Wu Mei. See my film, from 48.21.

His older brother Yuan Wushan 袁武山 (b.1947) works separately—sometimes for the Li band.

Yuan Wushan 2015 better.jpg

Yuan Wushan (right) prepares paperwork for Hoisting the Pennant ritual with Golden Noble, Huiquanzi 2015.

Another highly accomplished Daoist was their cousin Yuan Gaoshan 袁高山 (1960–2013), who is much missed (see my film, from 21.32).

Lis with Yuan Gaoshan

Yuan Gaoshan (left) with Li band, 2009.

Yuan Gaoshan 2011

Yuan Gaoshan leading vocal liturgy on drum, Xingyuan 2011.

A nephew Yuan Xuedong 袁学东 (known as Hesheng, b.1974) also deps regularly for the Li family.

The Daoists of Greater Antan
I can now also add basic notes on the Daoists of Greater Antan, a rather isolated site for Daoists in west Yanggao. Meeting Cao Guomin 曹国民 (Erguang 二光, b.1954) as he depped for a funeral with Li Bin in March 2018, I learned that he is the third generation of Daoists in his lineage, having learned from 9 sui, around 1962, before a long interruption; he followed his grandfather Cao Youyun 曹有云 (died c1963) and father Cao Honglu 曹洪录. Chen Yu (n.1 below) also listed one Cao Rong 曹荣; and from the An family, An Tai 安太 and An Jing 安静 are Daoists. While they restored their ritual practice upon the reforms, they don’t seem to have recopied their ritual manuals that were lost in the Cultural Revolution.


So while the Li family Daoists of Upper Liangyuan are most esteemed throughout the whole area (and my book and film on them are rather comprehensive!), they are part of a much wider ritual network, both in Yanggao and other counties of north Shanxi.

[1] This account is based on fieldnotes from 1991, 1992, 2001, 2003, and since 2011. For more, see my book; Wu Fan, Yinyang, gujiang; Chen Yu, Jinbei minjian daojiao keyi yinyue yanjiu; and Zhang Zhentao, Chuipo pingjing.