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Chasing the Yellow Demon

  • Ian Johnson (a1)
Abstract

Author's note: A few years ago, I read David Johnson's Spectacle and Sacrifice: The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China. 1 The book immediately caught my attention because it dealt with parts of China that I know well: southern Hebei and eastern Shanxi provinces, where I was conducting research for a new book. Johnson describes festivals that helped bind together communities, and in several cases had information showing that some of them had been revived after the Cultural Revolution.

One, particularly, seemed noteworthy: Guyi Village in the south of Hebei Province. This is near the steel-making city of Handan and one of the most polluted parts of China. I had been there several times and was fascinated with the idea that this area could also be home to elaborate, multi-day rituals that seemed otherwise not to exist in North China. According to Johnson's informants, local scholars had visited the village in the 1990s and seen exciting performances of Zhuo Huanggui, or Chasing the Yellow Demon, an exorcistic purging ritual performed at the end of the fifteen-day Chinese New Year's festival. I contacted local officials and academics, who were unsure if the ritual would be performed again. No one, it seemed, had been out to the village in years. So in mid-February 2014, I set off to see if anything was left of these complex performances. 2

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References
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1 Johnson David, Spectacle and Sacrifice: The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009).

2 This article is drawn from research made for my forthcoming book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao (New York: Pantheon, 2017).

3 Xuede Du, Yan Zhao Nuo wenhua chutan [Preliminary explorations into the Nuo culture of Yan and Zhao] (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1998), 2 .

4 Johnson, op. cit. note 1.

5 Ibid., 12.

6 In 1998, Du reported 700 households, a population of 2,700, and 3,628 mu in his study. Du, op. cit. note 3, 7.

7 Guyicunzhi [Guyi village gazetteer], November 2013, unpublished. Agricultural statistics on p. 4, “meandering” quote on p. 15.

8 See, e.g., the works of the ethnographer and historian Li Lan: Lan Li, “The Changing Role of the Popular Religion of Nuo (傩) in Modern Chinese Politics,Modern Asian Studies 45, no. 5 (2011): 12891311 ; Popular Religion in Modern China: The New Role of Nuo (Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2015).

9 Du, op. cit. note 3, 3. Citing local tombstone inscriptions, Du estimates that the dramas have a history in Guyi of at least 500 years.

10 Johnson, op. cit. note 1, 11–12.

11 Du reports that the Nuo dramas were performed in 1953, 1964, 1987, 1990–92, 1995, and 1997. Du, op. cit. note 3, 12.

12 Guyicunzhi, op. cit. note 6, 33.

13 Ibid ., 13.

14 Du also observed in his 1990s surveys that the event was financed by villagers. See Du, op. cit. note 3, 13. In a subsequent telephone interview, Mr. Li said a local businessman paid the balance in 2015. In 2016, the village paid a subsidy of 20,000 yuan, with the balance made up by small donors.

15 Li, Popular Religion in Modern China, op. cit. note 7, 3.

16 Chau Adam Yuet, Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006).

17 Hebei jingji nianjian [Hebei economic yearbook], “Jumin renjun kezhipei” [“Residential per capital disposable income” chart), cnki.net, http://tongji.cnki.net/kns55/navi/result.aspx?id=N2016010191&file=N2016010191000007&floor=1 (accessed September 26, 2016).”

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
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