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Four Modes of the Jiao Ritual in Southeastern China

Wai-lun TAM (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
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In the past, many scholars have studied the jiao (Rite of Cosmic Renewal) ritual as performed in Chinese villages from the perspective of local society, focusing on its social, political and economic implications. This essay considers the jiao as a religious ritual and investigates its programme in detail. Based on participant observation of ten rituals in villages of southeast China in the past seven years, the author argues that the jiao is not a purely Taoist ritual. It occurs in at least four different modes, namely “Buddhist with Taoist elements”, “Taoist with Buddhist elements”, “Taoist and Buddhist rituals on separate altars”, and “division of labour between Taoists and Buddhists”. Field observation shows that the role of Buddhist tradition in the jiao ritual has been neglected. The author argues that the presence of these four different modes does not mean that the villagers in their ignorance conflate different traditions, nor that this is simply a classic case of the syncretic “Unity of the Three Teachings” of the Chinese religious tradition. On the contrary, the study provides the opportunity to re-think some important religious and historical questions, such as how Buddhism could take root and develop in the Chinese society.

Journal of History and Anthropology