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  • Shijiao: Zhongguo nanfang fashi yishi chuantong bijiao yanjiu by Huang Jianxing
  • Fan Pen Chen
Huang Jianxing 黄建興, Shijiao: Zhongguo nanfang fashi yishi chuantong bijiao yanjiu 師教:中國南方法師儀式傳統比較研究. Beijing: Beijing Xinhua shuju, 2018. 336 pp. RMB 68. ISBN 978-7-101-13705-7

Shijiao 師教 (Religions of the Masters) is a term coined by the author based on the presiding of fashi 法師 (ritual masters) over the performance of exorcistic rituals.1 The appellation lends credence and affirmation to cult traditions which appear to incorporate a hodge-podge of Daoist, Buddhist, and shamanistic elements. Huang Jianxing argues that these local cults are in fact shamanistic religions with ancient roots. They share identifiable, common characteristics, and can be categorized into distinct traditions. The book is a greatly expanded version of Huang Jianxing’s Ph.D. thesis2 for which he won a University of Hong Kong dissertation award.

Ever since the denigration and prohibition of wu 巫 (shamanism) during the Song (specifically 1024), most shamanistic local religions have proclaimed themselves to be branches of Daoism and have absorbed a host of Daoist, and to a much lesser degree, Buddhist rituals. Indeed, Daoist elements such as the use of incantation-spells, talismans, registers, pronouncements, decrees, and memorials to deities, have become standard components of local cults; such that most Chinese scholars include local cults (also known as popular, folk, and vernacular religions) in Daoist studies. Due to the long-standing vilification and prohibition of Shamanism, recognition of these local cults as the Religion of Shamans (wujiao 巫教) would be impossible. However, vestiges of the existence of Shamanism as a recognized religion have survived. In some ritual scripts and memorials to deities, one still finds instances of Ritual Masters referring to themselves as “pupils of the shamanistic tradition” (wuliu zidi 巫流子弟), “ministers of shamanic rituals” (wushike chen 巫事科臣), “ministers of shamanism” (wuchen 巫臣), and “officiants of shamanism” (wufa menxia 巫法門下). In Haiyouji 海遊記, a late Ming hagiographical novel on Goddess Chen Jinggu 陳靖姑, Shamanism is listed as one of the four religions of China.3

The priests or officiants of Shijiao are masters of ritual techniques for exorcizing demons. However, the deities (fashen 法神; ritual gods) and their divine warriors and spirit soldiers which they invoke tend to be local gods and goddesses not included in the Daoist pantheon, even though Daoist and Buddhist deities abound in their paintings or [End Page 130] temples. Their techniques include the use of ritual implements (e.g., dragon horn, snake whips, swords, bells), the performance of acrobatic ritual techniques (e.g., climbing a pole of swords, somersaulting up a ‘mountain’ of stacked tables, climbing bamboo poles, treading over fire), the chanting of spells, the use of mudras, and even control over the spirit possession of their assistants. Shijiao ritual masters have to undergo many years of training, pass grueling tests and go through complex initiation ceremonies before they are ordained. They tend to perform rituals for the living only, leaving the performance of rituals for the dead to Buddhist priests.

The book is mainly a synthesis of primary fieldwork materials and secondary studies. Huang’s own fieldwork in Fujian alone consisted of visiting twenty-five counties and cities (xian shi 縣市), interviewing scores of folk Daoist altar associations (minjian daotan 民間道壇) and almost a hundred shrines of local religions, observing nearly a hundred religious rituals, collecting hundreds of volumes of hand-copied ritual scripts, taking tens of thousands of photos, and making scores of video recordings. In addition to Fujian, Huang also conducted fieldwork in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Hunan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Jiangxi, and Taiwan. To his own primary research, the book incorporated works by other scholars (Western, Chinese, and Japanese) including both historical and contemporary studies related to this topic. Of particular significance is his adding to this synthesis the vast corpus of primary materials edited by Wang Qiugui and John Lagerwey4 and others, published since the 1980s. Furthermore, aside from illustrating characteristics of the Shijiao found among mainstream Han populations, Huang added to this discussion the “Daoist” religious rituals of the She 畲 and Yao 瑶 ethnic minorities.

Huang shows that these shamanistic-Daoist traditions are a hidden substrate that is unified across time, space, and ethnicity. He provides overall syntheses of Shijiao in his introduction and conclusion. The individual...


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