I have juggled dual careers, as an ethnographer specializing in documenting living traditions of folk ritual and music in rural China, and as a performing musician—playing in leading early music orchestras in London as well as in Chinese ensembles. My publications are of interest to ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and scholars of modern Chinese religion and society.

After leaving Cambridge I performed for over three decades as violinist in London period-instrument orchestras (Gardiner, Pinnock, Hogwood, Manze, and so on).

Since 1986 I have spent extended periods in China, working closely with the Music Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Arts in Beijing. I was co-founder of the European Foundation of Chinese Music Research, whose journal CHIME quickly become the authoritative forum for all aspects of Chinese music. From 1993 to 2005 I held research fellowships at SOAS, London University. I was editor of the “China” articles for The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001). I have recorded, co-ordinated, and written notes for several CDs, and helped bring many outstanding groups of Chinese musicians to perform in Europe and the USA.

Apart from many articles, my first five books were:
• Folk music of China: living instrumental traditions (OUP, 1995/1998 paperback with CD), an influential overview.
• Plucking the Winds (CHIME, 2004, with CD), a riveting ethnography of one north Chinese village, told through the experiences of its ritual musicians.
• Ritual and music of north China (Ashgate, 2007 and 2009), two volumes focusing respectively on Shanxi and Shaanbei, both including fascinating DVD documentaries.
• In search of the folk Daoists of north China (Ashgate, 2010), a groundbreaking study of local religious practice, revolutionizing our concepts of Daoist ritual.

Having long documented folk Daoist ritual in the field, my main focus since 2011 has been the wonderful Li family household Daoists of Shanxi, whom I first met in 1991. Since 2005 I have presented them on stage in tours of Holland, USA, Italy, Germany/Switzerland, and most recently France. Working closely with them in the field since 2011, in 2015 I completed an intimate 80-minute film:
• Li Manshan: portrait of a folk Daoist, https://vimeo.com/155660741
• (trailers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2jmjxxRXBI or https://vimeo.com/166819206)

and in 2016 I published the accompanying book
• Daoist priests of the Li family: ritual life in village China (Three Pines Press).

Now my blog https://stephenjones.blog (“Daoism—language—performance. And jokes”) gives further details, reflecting on both my Chinese fieldwork and my orchestral life; it’s also funny, though I say it myself… From the homepage:

This site began as an introduction to my work with Li Manshan, his late great father Li Qing, and the amazing household Daoists of Yanggao county in north China.

But it’s clearly going to expand into my usual crazed ramblings on a variety of more-or-less related topics…

Compiled without regard to expense or the feelings of the public—Flann O’Brien

I seem to be discovering a taste for arcane and unlikely links between all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse. However jocular, such connections seem necessary in these fractured insular times—building bridges, not walls.


Apart from the Li family Daoists, other topics include the Hebei ritual associations, reflections on fieldwork, and Western Art Music (Bach, Ravel, my orchestral life…). Stewart Lee, Groucho, Alan Bennett, Stella Gibbons, and Flann O’Brien make regular appearances. There are generous lashings of jokes, and enticing photos.