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Organizer: Andrea S. Goldman, University of California, Berkeley
Chair: David G. Johnson, University of California, Berkeley
Discussant: Ann Waltner, University of Minnesota
Writing the cultural history of non-elites in late imperial China is difficult because their voices and values so often resist penetration. The papers in this panel approach the problem of understanding popular culture by investigating practicesby examining how shared or overlapping cultural repertoires of beliefs, images, and stories come to be invested with new import depending on the social communities or individuals observing or using them. These four presentations are bound together by their common concern with audience perception of, response to, and participation in religion and/or entertainment.
We begin with Qitao Guos paper on Wuchang exorcising performances, which argues that elites in Huizhou created a powerful tool for social control and moral inculcation by making the Wuchang a tutelary deity of lineage, even if the more demonic aspects of the cultnever fully subdued by their appropriation of its symbolsperturbed them. In another example of communities of religious believers in negotiation with popular lore, Meir Shahars work suggests that Buddhist monks may have borrowed martial arts practices from images of staff-wielding clerics that circulated in popular fiction and drama. The aesthetics of urban opera audiences is taken up in Andrea Goldmans scrutiny of an opera fans journal. This diary opens a window onto middlebrow appreciation of Kunqu, a genre often tagged as the quintessential drama of high culture. Questions of audience and genre are also central to Cathy Silbers study of the changing meanings of nushu or womens script writings over time. Silbers paper circles us back to the general panel concern with interpretation of the divergent readings and uses of shared cultural representations.
Gentrifying Exorcism: Popular Wuchang Symbolism in Late Imperial Huizhou
Qitao Guo, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
Wuchang, the gods of the Five Furies, originated in ancient nuo or masked exorcism performances, and later were also exposed to Daoist and Buddhist influences. In the early Ming, Zhu Yuanzhang incorporated Wuchang into an imperial liturgy to the Military Banners, thereby signaling an unwitting sanction that popularized the gods. This study focuses on Wuchang worship in late imperial Huizhou, analyzing how Wuchang underwent profound changes to become a repository for popular meanings from other religious traditions, meanings that reflected the distinct soteriological needs of various social groups. In the Huizhou region, known as a stronghold of gentrified lineages and a cradle of merchant activity since the mid-Ming, while Wuchang ritual retained its nuo traditions, the exorcism began to be "gentrified," signaling its accretion of new meanings. The Wuchang were incorporated by local elites to enhance the tutelary deity of lineages and localized pantheons. Later, the Wuchang further emerged as a popular variant of the god of wealth, conveying Confucianized mercantile ethics. These converging, and increasingly civil, identities help explain why Wuchang rituals in Huizhou had such powerful appeal to gentry and merchant elites and commoners. The more popular Wuchang became, the more receptive the symbol became to other religious traditions, thereby accruing greater multivocality, with different meanings appealing to different social groups. This exploration of popular Wuchang symbolism in Huizhou will shed new light upon the mutual influences of high and lower cultures in late imperial China, with particular respect to the multiple appropriations of religious practices and symbols.
Did Shaolin Monks Imitate Lu Da? Buddhist Staff-Fighting Methods in Fiction and Practice During the Late Imperial Period
Meir Shahar, Tel Aviv University
The origins of the Shaolin Buddhist martial arts need to be investigated. When, and why, did monks at this renowned Buddhist center start practicing martial arts? This paper will address this question from the perspective of the relation between the Buddhist fighting methods as performed in practice, and as depicted in works of fiction and drama, during the late imperial period.
The earliest surviving detailed accounts of the Shaolin martial arts date from the late sixteenth century. These accounts reveal that the martial arts developed at this monastery were methods for fighting with a staff (gun or zhang). A rich body of popular lore, which predates these sixteenth-century accounts, depicts monks who, likewise, rely upon the Buddhist staff for fighting. The most notable examples are those of Lu Da, the clerical protagonist of the early Ming novel, Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan), and its oral and dramatic antecedents, and Huiming, the fighting monk of Wang Shifus (ca. 12501300) play, The Story of the Western Wing (Xixiang ji). Should these fictional and dramatic accounts be taken as evidence that Buddhist staff-fighting methods existed earlier than the late Ming, at which time they first figured in the available historical documents? Or, could it be the case that the staff-wielding clerics in fiction and drama inspired real monks to imitate them and to develop the Buddhist staff-fighting arts? This paper will address these complex relations between fiction and practice in the evolution of the Chinese Buddhist martial arts.
A Sojourners Play-Watching Journal: Reconstructing Opera Performance and Audience Taste in Beijing, 17701820
Andrea S. Goldman, University of California, Berkeley
Guanju riji (Play-Watching Journal) was recorded primarily between 1797 and 1799, although the information about opera it contains spans the years 1773 to 1816. The bulk of the text consists of daily entries of performances the author attended while sojourning in Beijing. With meticulous detail, the author notes the plays presented (nearly all Kunqu scenes), the names of the acting troupes, and the sites of performance. Although Play-Watching Journal is anonymous (and short on narrative), this diary leaves enough traces of the authors experiences, travels, economic means, and passion for opera, to enable one to reconstruct, in conjunction with other sources, a rough sketch of who he must have been. He seems to have been a man with ample time and money at his disposal, for during his recorded stay in Beijing he attended the theater on average once every three days. Internal textual evidence also suggests that the author may have been a merchant. His diary provides a rare opportunity to view through his own wordsif only through one mans eyesthe cultural predilections of someone who was not part of the high political and cultural elite. This paper first attempts to recreate a composite of this anonymous opera fan. Next, culling from Guanju riji, scripts of the operas the author cites, and other historical sources on Qing theater, I use this new understanding to expand our knowledge of urban audiences of and "middlebrow" taste in commercial Kun opera during the mid- to late Qing Dynasty.
From Personal to Public: Genre and Audience of Nushu Texts
Cathy Silber, Williams College
Unlike popular culture for mass audiences, the producers and consumers of nushu, the written tradition practiced exclusively by women in Hunan, comprised a relatively homogenous community. For this audience, many personal texts could be identified with the people involved, while other texts of these genres survived as "old songs," transmitted both orally and in writing.
All texts in this tradition are so formulaic that they rely more than is usually the case upon the shared knowledge of their community of writers and readers. What difference, then, does it make to audiences to know the story behind the text? What different reception occurs of texts whose audience no longer knows the story behind them? When a letter, say, moves beyond its recipients into a community audience, and then survives the people and all memory of them, do its generic conventions change, and if so, how? Why do "old songs" survive, and how might they, as generic models, inform texts more current to their audiences? Conversely, how might current personal texts effect changes in "old songs"? How do changing audiences affect the transmission of texts? How does the changing relationship between audience and text complicate genre classifications?
This paper tracks the movement of texts from personal to public and through the passage of time to bring a diachronic sensibility to an extant corpus no longer practiced today and to understand the processes involved in the making of a popular literary tradition.