AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 129

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Session 129: Ritual and Community in Late Imperial and Contemporary China - Sponsored by Society for the Study of Chinese Religions

Organizer: Hsinchao Wu, Harvard University, USA

Chair: Paul Steven Sangren, Cornell University, USA

Discussants: Paul Steven Sangren, Cornell University, USA; Mei-rong Lin, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This panel explores the codependent development of ritual and community in China, taking ritual as both the instrument and effect of creative socio-historical institutionalization. Whereas current approaches often assume the pre-existence of a community that creates rituals to service the group, the papers in this panel explore the formation, transformation, and institutionalization of ritual and community together in a diachronic process. Each paper looks at a different community in a different era and argues that the rituals practiced both shaped the community and were themselves transformed. Iiyama looks at non-Han families in Henan, showing how their manipulation of Neo-Confucian, popular religion, and ancestor worship rituals in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing, respectively, reconstituted their community over time. Keliher investigates the relationship between the development of local temples and the community in the Ming and Qing, showing how a village was splintered by tensions and temple rivalries, and then remade through a community wide festival. Wu looks at the contemporary transformation of a community temple, showing how it stratified a township in the Republican era, reshaped it in the reform era, and today preserves egalitarianism. Broy’s research provides a negative example by showing how the replacement of a sect’s rituals with Buddhist rituals in the twentieth century led to the dissolution of the sect community—when the ritual failed, the community dissolved. Our two distinguished discussants are experts in the study of Chinese community rituals, and in their response to the papers will bring further insights to the approach.

Mongols, Confucians, and the Dragon Lord: The Ritual Transformation of a Non-Han Community in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing
Tomoyasu Iiyama, Waseda University, Japan

This paper explores the evolution of the rituals and relations of Tangut, Qarlug, and Mongolian garrison families in Henan from the Yuan through the Qing. It argues that the development and practice of different rituals over time influenced the cohesion and composition of the community. Based on a recently uncovered collection of Yuan and Ming writings of local literati, this paper shows the early formation of a circle that inherited military position from generation to generation and joined important military campaigns in the thirteenth century. In the early fourteenth century, some families began to practice Confucian community compact rituals at a Dragon Lord temple (Longwangci), which, despite the influence of Mongolian practices, resulted in a new social stratification of the community as some members were promoted into officialdom and the dynasty granted titles to their academy. With the fall of the Yuan and the disbandment of the garrisons, however, the community dispersed. But by the early fifteenth century the community came to form anew through the worship of the Dragon Lord at the said temple, the ritual of which reordered social relations. I pick up the story of this locality again in the Qing, where the genealogies of one of the original families shows further shifting social composition and ritual order through worship at ancestral halls. This paper shows how different rituals took part in forming, dissolving, and shaping the community, but also emphasizes the evolution of the rituals themselves according to the needs of the community.

Temple, Community, and Parade in Late Imperial Zhanglin
Macabe Keliher, Indiana University, USA

This paper explores the history of the southeastern port town of Zhanglin, Guangdong in the Ming and Qing to argue that social and economic development took place simultaneously through the formation, transformation, and institutionalization of the community’s temple rituals and religious festivals. Rich local documents show the formation of a community in Zhanglin in the mid Ming, and its demographic and economic growth through the Qing into a prosperous southern trading port. At the same time, a network of neighborhood temples arose serving as the focus of intra-village mediation and interaction, and which shaped social life. The fragile order imploded in the early to mid-eighteenth century with intra-village strife and temple parades violently crossing paths. Only with the establishment of a master temple in 1742, the Fire God Temple, and the negotiation of set parade routes regulated by the Fire God was social order re-established and the village once again began to prosper. As the village grew into one of the most important trading ports in Southern China, suburban communities outside of Zhanglin’s administrative jurisdiction, and with their own deities and temples, were gradually included into the Zhanglin economic and religious activities through the annual festival. As such, I argue that the case of Zhanglin shows the continued evolution of community and ritual practice together, not only in the formation of locality, but also even after the establishment of a prosperous social and ritual order.

Inventing the Community Temple: Domination, Stratification, and Negotiation in Republican and Communist China
Hsinchao Wu, Harvard University, USA

This paper traces the development of a local temple and its annual parade in the Republican and Communist eras, and shows how the development of the local politics in the community—from a stratified hierarchy to egalitarian negotiation—has been intimately tied to the practice of local rituals. Drawing on stelae and interviews in a western Fujian township, this paper shows that in the Republican period, a highly stratified community was constructed by the township’s annual parade. At this time, only four of the township’s ten surnames were allowed to take part in the parade, and each surname had their own deity that symbolized group social status. National socio-political developments suspended ritual activities for nearly four decades, but in the mid-1980s, the original dominant lineage tried on its own to reconstruct the temple and to revive the annual parade. Failing in the effort, it was forced to negotiate with the other surnames of the township, gradually including all ten surnames equally in the parade and thus recreating the community on a more egalitarian basis. The parade today winds through the same six administrative villages as in the Republican period, but now all ten surnames in the locality participate equally. Through this case, this paper highlights the phenomenon of local rituals not only providing the means for constructing local social relations, but also that their practice reframes and reconstitutes local power dynamics and identity.

From Sectarian Past to Buddhist Present: Ritual and Communal Change in the Dehua Hall, Tainan
Nikolas Broy, University of Leipzig, Germany

This paper takes up a vegetarian sect (zhaijiao) in Taiwan from the nineteenth century to the present, arguing that its adoption of Buddhist rituals led to a complete transformation and eventual dissolution of the sect. Founded in 1837 by members of the vegetarian Dragon Flower Sect (Longhuapai), the Dehua hall in Tainan began to incorporate Buddhist rituals in order to expand membership in the early to mid twentieth century. In this process, sect initiation, recitation, and funeral rituals were rejected in favor of more open and ordinary Buddhist ones, which led to a drastic expansion of non-initiated members. These new members have had little interest in sect doctrine or ritual, however, and regard themselves as Buddhists and part of the larger Buddhist community. In this way, although the sect still exists in name under the organization of the Dehua hall, most members no longer consider it a sect community, but rather part of the larger Buddhist community. The only difference from Buddhism, then, is merely the presence of older members who joined the hall as Longhua, and who maintain a lay organization rather than monastic. This case shows how the abandoning of sect rituals in favor of Buddhist ones has led to a loss of communal identity and will ultimately lead to the complete dissolution of the sect.