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Spectacle and Sacrifice: The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China

Overview

This book is about the ritual world of a group of rural settlements in Shanxi province in pre-1949 North China. Temple festivals, with their giant processions, elaborate rituals, and operas, were the most important influence on the symbolic universe of ordinary villagers and demonstrate their remarkable capacity for religious and artistic creation. The great festivals described in this book were their supreme collective achievements and were carried out virtually without ...

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Overview

This book is about the ritual world of a group of rural settlements in Shanxi province in pre-1949 North China. Temple festivals, with their giant processions, elaborate rituals, and operas, were the most important influence on the symbolic universe of ordinary villagers and demonstrate their remarkable capacity for religious and artistic creation. The great festivals described in this book were their supreme collective achievements and were carried out virtually without assistance from local officials or educated elites, clerical or lay.

Chinese culture was a performance culture, and ritual was the highest form of performance. Village ritual life everywhere in pre-revolutionary China was complex, conservative, and extraordinarily diverse. Festivals and their associated rituals and operas provided the emotional and intellectual materials out of which ordinary people constructed their ideas about the world of men and the realm of the gods. It is, David Johnson argues, impossible to form an adequate idea of traditional Chinese society without a thorough understanding of village ritual. Newly discovered liturgical manuscripts allow him to reconstruct North Chinese temple festivals in unprecedented detail and prove that they are sharply different from the Daoist- and Buddhist-based communal rituals of South China.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Mainstream culture has traditionally ignored ordinary Chinese farmers, viewing them as simple, ignorant, and incapable of performing complex cultural activities. The rural festivals displayed by Johnson, however, illustrate a totally contrary picture. The rituals and operas of the temple festivals reveal the rich spiritual and religious activities and achievements of local communities, and the villagers' performances demonstrate their dazzling artistic capability and creativity. Supported by plentiful oral and written materials, Johnson utilizes this long-ignored local knowledge to discover and reveal the scope, depth, variations, and complexity of the local reality. This classic anthropological study of local communities should be a precious addition to the study of traditional Chinese society.
— A. Y. Lee

Choice - A. Y. Lee
Mainstream culture has traditionally ignored ordinary Chinese farmers, viewing them as simple, ignorant, and incapable of performing complex cultural activities. The rural festivals displayed by Johnson, however, illustrate a totally contrary picture. The rituals and operas of the temple festivals reveal the rich spiritual and religious activities and achievements of local communities, and the villagers' performances demonstrate their dazzling artistic capability and creativity. Supported by plentiful oral and written materials, Johnson utilizes this long-ignored local knowledge to discover and reveal the scope, depth, variations, and complexity of the local reality. This classic anthropological study of local communities should be a precious addition to the study of traditional Chinese society.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674033047
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2010
  • Series: Harvard East Asian Monographs Series , #315
  • Pages: 450
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Johnson is Professor of Chinese History at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Table of Contents

Maps, Figures, and Table

Introduction

Definitions and Argument

Particulars

Part I: Greeting the New Year in Shanxi

1. Renzhuang Village: The Fan-Drum Roster of the Gods

2. Two Northeastern Villages

3. Guyi Village: Killing the Yellow Demon

Conclusion to Part I

Part II: Shanxi Village Ritual Opera, an Overview

Introduction

A Note on Shê

History

Performance

The Absent Gods

Part III: The Great Temple Festivals of Southeastern Shanxi

1. The Temple of the Divine Mother of the Ninth Heaven — The Entertainers (Yuehu)

2. The Hou Yi Temple on Mt. Longquan — The Masters of Ceremonial

3. The Hou Yi Temple of Big West Gate — The Ritual Chefs

Conclusion to Part III

Concluding Observations

Bibliography

Glossary-Index

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