1st Edition

In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China

By Stephen Jones Copyright 2010
    312 Pages
    by Routledge

    312 Pages
    by Routledge

    The living practice of Daoist ritual is still only a small part of Daoist studies. Most of this work focuses on the southeast, with the vast area of north China often assumed to be a tabula rasa for local lay liturgical traditions. 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 1980s 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. 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.

    Contents: Preface; A well-kept secret; Part 1 Singing from a Different Hymn-Sheet: North and Central Shanxi: North Shanxi; North-central Shanxi. Part 2 Temple-Lay Connections: South Shanxi and South Hebei, Shaanxi and Gansu: South Shanxi and South Hebei; Shaanxi; Gansu. Part 3 Just Can't Get the Staff: the Central Hebei Plain: Introduction: ritual associations on the Hebei plain; Daxing: the Liangshanpo transmission; Bazhou and Jinghai; The western area: Houshan and the Houtu cult. Conclusion: It's Daoism, but not as we know it; Appendices; Bibliography; Glossary; Index.


    Stephen Jones has been documenting living traditions of ritual and music in rural China since 1986, going on to hold research posts at SOAS while working as a violinist in London early music ensembles. Apart from his two other Ashgate volumes Ritual and Music of North China, he is also author of Folk Music of China, Plucking the Winds, and Daoist Priests of the Li family.

    ‘In this groundbreaking study, Stephen Jones brings to light the service of Daoist rites among common people in northern China and compares them with what until now have been far better researched Daoist ritual performances in southern China. From his extensive fieldwork, he provides convincing evidence that distinctive Daoist ritual traditions are deeply embedded in rural northern China.’

    Stephan Feuchtwang, London School of Economics, UK


    ‘Stephen Jones' twenty years of fieldwork with Daoists and musicians in north China come to full blossom with this superb book. 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.’

    Vincent Goossaert, CNRS, author of The Taoists of Peking


    ‘This book is an invaluable work of ethnography, and a landmark accomplishment in the study of Chinese religion. 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. The book itself is more encyclopedic than narrative. It is exceedingly well indexed, and will be irreplaceable as a work of reference...I would place this book on a par with the great ethnographic studies of the 1930s and 1940s. Like them, I expect that it will remain unsurpassed for many years to come.’

    China Quarterly


    ‘… anyone who works on Chinese folk beliefs should appreciate the author’s excellent work in providing valuable fieldwork data, in synthesizing the studies on the subject, and in establishing the focus on the performances of folk ritual specialists in North China.’

    Journal of Folk Research


    ‘One of the most thorough and careful studies of the decade, this well-written, carefully researched, and highly entertaining study of what the author calls "folk Daoists of North China," is a must-read for all sinologists, ethnomusicologists, and Daoist aficionados. Begun in the 1980s and covering more than twenty years of work in the field, Stephen Jones’s study is a first of its kind, approaching the well-kept secret of Daoist liturgy, festive as well as funerary, in North China, from the viewpoint of a classical musicologist.’

    China Review International


    ‘… the most original aspect of Jones’ work within the nascent field of north China religion is his sensitivity […] to modern and contemporary change in ritual practice. The huge spatial variations he observes and documents […] he does not ascribe to village autarky, but rather to two factors: 1) different regional systems, and 2) very different rates of liturgical loss from one village to the next. He documents how specific rituals became gradually simplified and streamlined throughout the twentieth century […], a process that continues abated. He thus addresses the crucial, but risky question of contemporary change under both political and socio-cultural constraints a question that most scholars tend to avoid.’

    Journal of Chinese Religion


    ‘Folk Daoist rituals have structured part of the history of these areas and continue to play a great part in farmers’ lives on the Hebei plain. Jones’s book very effectively illustrates and supports this fact. As the author states in his conclusion, "It’s Daoism, but not as we know it". The book indeed may be used as a very good introduction to folk rituals in northern China.’

    Asian Music