In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China

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Daoist music, both instrumental and vocal, is differentiated by context. The zhengqu and yangdiao are reserved for performances before the gods and in rituals of self-cultivation or celebratory contexts, while the shuaqu and yindiao are pieces performed for the souls and spirits in rituals for the dead or for entertaining the living.

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The characteristics of Daoist music are revealed in the nature of the two sects. Quanzhen Daoism emphasizes spiritual enhancement and self-cultivation; its music is hence more refined and exalted. Zhengyi Daoism, which focuses more on providing rituals for the populace, draws on lively and popular folk music. Cao, Benye ed.

Zhongguo chuantong yishi yinyue yanjiu jihua xilie congshu. Taipei: Xinwenfeng chuban gongsi. Tokyo: Maison Franco-Japonaise.

Daoist music

Jones, Stephen Lu, Cuikuan Taipei: Xueyi Chubanshe. Pu, Hengqiang Taipei: Wenjin chubanshe. Pu, Hengqiang and Cao, Benye Wudangshan daojiao yinyue yanjiu. Taipei: Taiwan Shangwu Yinshuguan. Shi, Xinmin Quanzhen zhengyun puji. Beijing: Zhongguo wenlian chubanshe. This book, based on fieldwork, challenges this assumption.

With case studies on parts of Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces, Stephen Jones describes ritual sequences within funerals and temple fairs, offering details on occupational hereditary lay Daoists, temple-dwelling priests, and even amateur ritual groups. Stressing performance, Jones observes the changing ritual scene in this poor countryside, both since the s and through all the tribulations of twentieth-century warfare and political campaigns. The whole vocabulary of north Chinese Daoists differs significantly from that of the southeast, which has so far dominated our image.


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Largely unstudied by scholars of religion, folk Daoist ritual in north China has been a constant theme of music scholars within China. Stephen Jones places lay Daoists within the wider context of folk religious practices - including those of lay Buddhists, sectarians, and spirit mediums.

This book opens up a new field for scholars of religion, ritual, music, and modern Chinese society.

From his extensive fieldwork, he provides convincing evidence that distinctive Daoist ritual traditions are deeply embedded in rural northern China. Its comparative project is admirably ambitious, looking at key rituals done very differently across an area as wide as Europe; yet the writing always remains lively, witty and focused on actual people and performance rather than theories.

The author comes to the topic with a background of field experience that is virtually unmatched. Beyond this, Jones is deeply versed in Anglophone literature, but also engages a vast amount of Chinese scholarship. While this diversity may confuse and perplex the outside observer, it accounts for the resilience of Daoism in China.

Daoism was adaptable, evolving to fill spiritual gaps created by the vagaries of life. Daoism can also be called "the other way.

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Daoism, while not radically subversive, offered a range of alternatives to the Confucian way of life and point of view. These alternatives, however, were not mutually exclusive. For the vast majority of Chinese, there was no question of choosing between Confucianism and Daoism. Except for a few straight laced Confucians and a few pious Daoists, the Chinese man or woman practiced both—either at different phases of life or as different sides of personality and taste.

Laozi and Zhuangzi, living at a time of social disorder and great religious skepticism see article on Confucianism , developed the notion of the Dao Dao—way, or path as the origin of all creation and the force—unknowable in its essence but observable in its manifestations—that lies behind the functionings and changes of the natural world. They saw in Dao and nature the basis of a spiritual approach to living. This, they believed, was the answer to the burning issue of the day: what is the basis of a stable, unified, and enduring social order?


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The order and harmony of nature, they said, was far more stable and enduring than either the power of the state or the civilized institutions constructed by human learning. The early Daoists taught the art of living and surviving by conforming with the natural way of things; they called their approach to action wuwei literally, "no-action" , action modeled on nature.

The lowly artisans understood the secret of art and the art of living. To be skillful and creative, they had to have inner spiritual concentration and put aside concern with externals, such as monetary rewards, fame, and praise. Art, like life, followed the creative path of nature, not the values of human society. Throughout Chinese history, people weary of social activism and aware of the fragility of human achievements would retire from the world and turn to nature. They might retreat to a countryside or mountain setting to commune with natural beauty.

In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China - CRC Press Book

They would compose or recite poetry about nature, or paint a picture of the scene, attempting to capture the creative forces at the center of nature's vitality. Chinese utopian writings also often bore a Daoist stamp. Dao Qian's T'ao Ch'ien, ? Although these utopian surged him to stay, the fisherman left to share his discovery with friends and a local official. He could never find his way back. He did not understand that this ideal world was to be found not by following an external path, but a spiritual path; it was a state of mind, an attitude, that comprised the utopia.


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If Daoist ideas and images inspired in the Chinese a love of nature and an occasional retreat to it from the cares of the world to rest and heal, it also inspired an intense affirmation of life: physical life --health, well-being, vitality, longevity, and even immortality.

Laozi and Zhuangzi had reinterpreted the ancient nature worship and esoteric arts, but they crept back into the tradition as ways of using knowledge of the Dao to enhance and prolong life. Some Daoists searched for "isles of the immortals," or for herbs or chemical compounds that could ensure immortality.

More often, Daoists were interested in health and vitality; they experimented with herbal medicine and pharmacology, greatly advancing these arts; they developed principles of macrobiotic cooking and other healthy diets; they developed systems of gymnastics and massage to keep the body strong and youthful.

Daoists were supporters both of magic and of proto-science; they were the element of Chinese culture most interested in the study of and experiments with nature. Some Daoists believed that spirits pervaded nature both the natural world and the internal world within the human body. Theologically, these myriad spirits were simply many manifestations of the one Dao, which could not be represented as an image or a particular thing.

As the Daoist pantheon developed, it came to mirror the imperial bureaucracy in heaven and hell. The head of the heavenly bureaucracy was the jade Emperor, who governed spirits assigned to oversee the workings of the natural world and the administration of moral justice. The gods in heaven acted like and were treated like the officials in the world of men; worshipping the gods was a kind of rehearsal of attitudes toward secular authorities. On the other hand, the demons and ghosts of hell acted like and were treated like the bullies, outlaws, and threatening strangers in the real world; they were bribed by the people and were ritually arrested by the martial forces of the spirit officials.

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The initiated Daoist priest saw the many gods as manifestations of the one Dao. He had been ritually trained to know the names, ranks, and powers of important spirits, and to ritually direct them through meditation and visualization.

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