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Ritual Space and Territorial Community: Spiritual Objects, Temples and Ancestral Halls in the Villages Surrounding the Thunder God Temple in Leizhou

Xi HE (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
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The Thunder God, also known as Chen Wenyu, is an important deity in Leizhou. Local people of the Chen surname also consider him to be their ancestor. The tradition of Chen Wenyu is thus a story of how Chen and non-Chen villages use the same shared culture and symbolic resources differently. Chen's principal temple is the Thunder God Temple (Leizu ci) at Baiyuan, which is maintained by people of the Chen surname in four surrounding villages. They are responsible for the annual parade that carries the statues of the god to Leizhou city, an activity which can be seen as marking the territorial space that came under the purview of people of the Chen surname in the historical past. The parade also goes through Mafu village, whose residents were historically the tenants of the Chen. In addition, the Thunder God is also celebrated at another hall in Yingshan village, which serves as the centre of another alliance of Chen surname people, drawn from a much wider area than the alliance of villages at Baiyuan. This paper examines the geographical layout of these villages and shows that each village maintains its own protective deities, and carries out a separate set of local rituals within its own village space aside from the Thunder God tradition. Sacrificial activities, therefore, mark out for multiple ritual spaces. Within these multiple ritual spaces, ritual markers denote both the extent of the village, and the engagement of the village in wider alliances.

Journal of History and Anthropology