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Ritual Specialists as Cultural Mediators: The Masters of Ceremonies (lisheng) in Late Qing and Republican Sibao, Fujian

Yonghua LIU (Xiamen University)
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In the past two decades, the relationship between popular culture and gentry culture during the Ming and Qing periods has drawn the attention of many scholars. They have investigated topics ranging from local customs, popular religion and ritual to gentry efforts to “reform” popular culture, and literary genres written or performed for popular audience, such as precious volumes, the Sacred Edicts, and regional opera. However, insufficient attention has been paid to the actual mediators between popular culture and gentry culture, the mediating process, and the mechanisms that facilitate cultural mediation. This essay attempts to provide an initial analysis of cultural mediators through an inquiry into the liturgical texts and socio-cultural practices of lisheng (masters of ceremonies ) in Sibao in western Fujian during late Qing and Republican periods. The paper begins with a short review of recent literature on lisheng and offers a brief history of them. The second part explores the socio-cultural activities of lisheng in Sibao. In the third part, the author investigates the liturgical texts of the lisheng. The conclusion discusses the mediating role of lisheng and the methodological significance that the study of cultural mediators for the reconstruction of the history of popular culture and the bridging of the gap between gentry culture and popular culture.

Journal of History and Anthropology