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Reviewed by:
  • In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China
  • Michael Saso (bio)
Stephen Jones . In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2010. xx, 292 pp. Hardcover $124.95 ISBN 978-1-4094-0615-0.

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. Among the major reasons for its success are the author's trained expertise in musical scores, performance, and classical Chinese instruments and full collaboration with Chinese scholars, Daoists, ethnomusicologists, and local cadres, without whose collaboration the work would have been nearly impossible. [End Page 244]

In stark contrast with voluminous studies of Daoists in Southeast China, Hong Kong, and the Southeast Asian diaspora, North China has been more or less neglected by Western scholars, though not by their Japanese counterparts, who have left behind a vast (and mostly neglected) series of studies dating from the 1920s through modern times. Besides the groundbreaking work of Koyanagi (cited in Jones's work), noted scholars such as Kubo Noritada, Obuchi, Fukui, Tanaka Issei, Yoshioka, and Kamata have covered almost all of the aspects of monastic and fire-dwelling (married) Daoists throughout China, though without specifically treating the rural areas in Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hebei, and greater Beijing, described in Jones's work.

In Search of the Folk Daoists of North China is divided into three parts, extended over ten chapters, that treat parallel and dissimilar festive (sometimes, but not always, called jiao) and funeral rituals. The descriptions are derived from personal experience, or the work of other scholars, whose field work was done mainly in Gansu Province and along the Inner Mongolia border. Only some of the ritual texts described are related to the Ming dynasy Zhengtong Daoist canon; most, Jones states, come from private, local Qing dynasty manuscript sources. The use by some Daoists of classical instruments, namely the sheng 笙 (mouth organ) and guan 管 (reed pipes), is contrasted to other areas visited where percussion and the more strident Sona (double-reed oboe) dominate. Jones finds very little evidence of the Tan 壇 Daoist altar, found in Daoist households throughout Southeast China. The fact that Daoists in nearby areas such as Shandong and Gansu (neither place visited by Jones) do have household Tan altars shows that those surveyed in Folk Daoists of North China may have been overly zealous in protecting themselves, due to the proximity of these northern areas (surveyed by the team of scholars who accompanied Jones), the careful scrutiny of Beijing, the incessant wars of the late Qing and Republican eras, and the harsh policies of the People's Republic of China (PRC) inflicted on these northern rural areas during the Cultural Revolution. The same sort of concealing religous paraphernalia and all sacred objects by Buddhists and Christians began long before the CCP era in North China, Jones notes.

The existence of lay Quanzhen ritual specialists, noted throughout the work, is not a phenomenon found only in North and Northwest China. The massive compendium of Tanaka Issei (Ritual Theatres in China, 1981; and Village Festivals in China: Backgrounds of Local Theatres, 1989) parallels the findings of Jones and the Chinese Academy scholars, for central as well as Southeast China and Hong Kong. Lay Quanzhen, as well as Zhengyi ritual, classical as well as popular music, local as well as Kunqu and Jingxi opera—all modified and reinterpreted by local usage—are phenomena found throughout China. The value of Jones's work lies precisely in describing for us the variations on these themes found in local, unstudied areas of North and Northwest China. However, they are by no means unique to that area, Japanese scholars assure us. [End Page 245]

In concluding this splendid (and extraordinarily well-written) work, Jones draws...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 244-246
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-01
Open Access
No
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