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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Chinese Religion After 1979

Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain Volume One: Historical Introduction to the Return of the Gods by Kenneth Dean, Zheng Zhenman (Handbook of Oriental Studies/Handbuch Der Orientalistik, Volume 23, 1: Brill Academic)

Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain Volume 2: A Survey of Village Temples and Ritual Activities by Kenneth Dean, Zheng Zhenman (Handbook of Oriental Studies/Handbuch Der Orientalistik, Volume 23, 2: Brill Academic) Making ingenious use of a wide variety of sources, and old as well as modern technical resources, Kenneth Dean and Zheng Zhenman here set a new standard for an histoire totale for a coherently well-defined cultural region in China. At the same time, these books deal in-depth with the ongoing negotiation of modernity in Chinese village rituals. This study will no doubt become a major advance in the descriptive and theoretically integrative account of religious practice. All those interested in contemporary China, Chinese religion, ritual and modernity, regional history, Chinese popular culture, Daoism and local cults, and comparative religion and globalization.

Over the past thirty years, local popular religion has been revived and re-invented in the villages of the irrigated alluvial plain of Putian, Fujian, China. Volume 1 provides a historical introduction to the formation of 153 regional ritual alliances made up of 724 villages. Early popular cults, Ming lineages, Qing multi-village alliances, late Qing spirit-medium associations, 20th  century state attacks on local religion, and the role of Overseas Chinese and local communities in rebuilding the temple networks are discussed. Volume 2 surveys the current population, lineages, temples, gods, and annual rituals of these villages. Maps of each ritual alliance, the distribution of major cults and lineages, are included.

Kenneth Dean (Ph.D. Stanford 1988) is Lee Chair and James McGill Professor of Chinese at McGill University. His publications include Taoist ritual and popular cults of Southeast China (Princeton, 1992) and Lord of the Three in One (Princeton, 1998).

Zheng Zhenman (Ph.D. Xiamen 1989) is Professor of History, Xiamen University. His publications include Family Lineage Organization and Social Change in Ming and Qing Fujian (200i) and (with Kenneth Dean), Epigraphical Materials on the History of Religion in Fujian (4 vols, 1995-2003).

Excerpt: This volume, and its companion volume, Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain Part Two: A Survey of Village Temples and Ritual Activities , document the central role of communal rituals dedicated to the popular gods in the villages of one region of contemporary Southeast China, the irrigated alluvial plain of Putian W, Fujian rte'. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution and the change of official policies regarding religious activity in 1979, thousands of temples have been rebuilt, local ritual traditions have been reinvented, and esoteric rites have been slowly reassembled or improvised across the Putian plain. These volumes demonstrate the importance of these rituals dedicated to the gods by the villagers in this region by showing their distribution and frequency in every village on the plain.

We found that village temples, and ritual alliances they have formed, generate a "second government" which addresses certain local concerns more effectively than the state and its local government officials (Dean 2001). The village temples are at the center of the celebrations of the birthdays and festivals of the gods. They organize processions of villagers that trace the boundaries of their ritual territories and alliances. They hold training sessions for spirit mediums who transmit the blessings of the gods to each household in the village. Village temples also invite Daoist and other ritual specialists to perform rites inside the temple as the processions, spirit medium exorcistic dances, and opera performances go on outside. They are also important centers of local political, economic, social and moral power. The temples are living cultural centers of the villages. During idle moments, they provide a place for the elderly to gather and play cards or mahjong, while individual worshippers burn incense and present offerings to the gods, and children play. Village rituals centered on these temples are continuing to successfully negotiate the forces of capitalism and nationalism while preserving a vibrant space for the celebration of local cultural difference.

This volume is designed to provide an introduction to the survey, and to put the "return of the gods" to the Putian plains over the past three decades into historical context. This volume begins with a chapter summarizing the survey and its main findings, including a description of the way in which the survey entries are organized. This is followed by a chapter discussing the limitations of official definitions of religion in China for an understanding of the village temples and their ritual activities, along with some suggestions for alternative approaches. Chapter Three provides a rapid overview of the historical development of aspects of the rituals one finds on the Putian plains today. Chapters Four and Five describes ritual events in contemporary Putian, and introduce the different ritual specialists who perform in them. Chapter Six introduces the principal gods and cults worshipped on the plain. Chapter Seven reviews the most prominent temples, monasteries and important village temples found on the Putian plain. Chapter Eight discusses the major lineages distributed over the plain, and presents a detailed case study of the interaction between lineage and territorial temples in Shiting village. Chapter Nine examines the Overseas Chinese connections to Southeast Asia which have brought new kinds of ritual innovation into the local culture. Chapter Ten offers some theoretical reflections on the syncretic ritual field of Chinese popular religion and the interaction of ritual and modernity in contemporary Putian. In Part Two, we present a translation of an essay entitled Lineage and religion on the Putian plains: an analysis based on stone inscriptions, by Zheng Zhenman, which provides more historical documentation on some key phases in the history of the local ritual system, for specialist readers. A series of appendices include the origin accounts and maps of the distributions of the main lineages of the Putian plains and a translation of a recent stone inscriptions.

This format, which first describes a survey, then outlines the history of the region, and next introduces the key elements of contemporary ritual events in the area, inevitably involves some degree of repetition, if not contradiction, for which we apologize to readers in advance. Throughout this volume we raise the question of what these complex village rites and processions tell us about the nature of ritual, community and identity in Southeast China. Chinese village rituals in this area incorporate many different liturgical frameworks and allow for multiple points of view, all the while mobilizing the entire village population into celebrations for the gods. These rites are an intensification of everyday life, featuring an acceleration of the flow of gifts and competitive displays of local power, rather than a sacred or solemn time set apart from some mundane realm. These ritual events thus pose very interesting challenges to Western categories of religion.

An amazing resurgence of popular local religion

Villagers in Putian often joke that when Mao Zedong was on earth, he scared all the gods away to heaven. Now that Mao himself has gone to heaven, the gods have come hurrying back to earth. Nowadays it is not Red Guards who tear down temples to the popular gods. Hyper-development flattens whole villages and temples in the rush to expand cities and towns. But the gods are still important to local people, and their rituals are at the center of a struggle for relative local autonomy and cultural self-definition. Since 1979, with the ending of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, a massive resurgence and re-invention of local ritual traditions, perhaps the greatest in history, has taken place across China. We estimate that over a million village temples have been rebuilt or restored across China, and ritual traditions long thought lost are now being celebrated in many of these temples.' These are the temples of Chinese local popular religion, although as we will see below, this term is problematic. This figure does not include the tens of thousands of large scale Buddhist monasteries, Daoist monasteries and temples, Islamic mosques, or Christian churches (Catholic or Protestant) that were rebuilt or restored over the past three decades. In other words, these village temples do not easily fit into the five officially recognized religions of China (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism). In many areas these village temples have been classified as Daoist by the local offices of the Religious Affairs Bureau.

China's towns and cities have been the main centers of political control, rapid economic transformation, and secularization over the past fifty years since the founding of the People's Republic. The once active temples and ritual activities of these towns and cities have, for the most part, been closed down or museumified, generating a growing gulf between the experiences of urban as opposed to rural Chinese.' The situation is very different in the rural sector. The numbers of village temples and the extent of their ritual activities have grown rapidly over the past thirty years. A substantial amount of the money remitted by the 200 million strong "floating population" of rural workers in urban construction sites and factories around China to their home villages supports the ritual activities documented in this book. While the stereotypical images of China under the Cultural Revolution slowly die away in the minds of outside observers, they have mostly been replaced by images of hyper-development in urban settings like Beijing and Shanghai. The everyday life of rural China and its ritual underpinnings remains scarcely understood. The role of local ritual traditions in this daily life is the subject of this book.

This book provides an in-depth introduction to the socio-cultural historical background and a survey of contemporary ritual activities in the irrigated alluvial plain which formed along the Xinghua bay of Putian county in Fujian province in Southeast China.' This plain extends from Putian city in the east to the Xinghua Bay on the west, and to the north and south of the Mulan river, covering a total of 464 sq. km. The book presents a survey of the population, principal lineages, temples and ritual celebrations that take place in 724 villages gathered into 153 ritual alliances situated on this plain. The introduction and survey are complemented by over 200 maps showing the historical evolution of the reclaimed land from the Xinghua bay, the distribution of the irrigation system, the position of the villages within each of the regional ritual alliances, and the distribution of major lineages and principal cults to popular deities.'

Ritual traditions and village based ritual in Southeast China display extraordinary complexity and vitality. We argue that this unexpected role for ritual in contemporary Chinese everyday life in this area is the result of the development of a multi-layered syncretic ritual field that can be analyzed historically. These evolving rituals have been an important factor in social organization historically, and they continue to play a crucial role in this area in contemporary China. We argue that the state and its officials and the lineages and their scholar-literati elites were not the only, nor necessarily the most important, agents of local social change and control. Instead, we emphasize the role of village temple and lineage leaders in creatively adapting and mutating various state institutions and ideas, along with lineage ideology and practice, into sources of ritual change at the local level. They worked these cultural appropriations into a volatile and vital mix with local cults and ritual practices, which often involved spirit mediumism or spirit-writing. Of course, these temple leaders may also have been retired officials or scholar-literati with significant roles in local lineages, but their roles and powers within the temple committees were affected by practices of the rotation of responsibility and committee membership with all eligible married village males, and by the principle of collective decision making. These procedures ensured the expression of many different voices in the temple committees of the Putian plains. This too helps explain the ability of Putian villagers to continue to develop such a unique cultural ensemble of practices.

The contemporary flourishing of ritual activity should therefore be seen as part of a long history of local control and management of local resources, dating back at least to the mid-Ming (mid-16th century). At that time, multi-village ritual, alliances began to spread across the entire Putian irrigated plain, and rituals specific to these regional organizations were developed. This process took almost two hundred years to complete. Eventually, the plain was covered with alliances of independent natural villages, each of which held their own rituals and procession for the gods in their own temples. The allied villages organized only processions and rituals in higher-order, collectively managed central temples. There were multiple origins for these alliances—some formed to collectively manage the complex local irrigations systems, others formed when official altars to the soil and the harvest that had merged with local god temples branched out into newly settled villages. Others formed in reaction to the proliferation of these alliances, or to protect themselves against dominant localized lineages.

Over several hundred years, a new form of local power began to evolve within the ritual alliances of the Putian plains. The temples and their alliances were able to mobilize the entire populations of the allied villages. They channeled considerable resources into the performance of local power, as seen in great processions and massive celebrations held in higher-order central temples. This was a new kind of "ritual power formation", which differed from the forms and flows of power within more isolated individual villages. The greater scale of the regional alliances required ritual events of greater intensity and complexity, involving more complex modes of regional local management and control of resources, and the mobilization of multiple village populations.

The mid-Ming also marks the moment when the local irrigation systems reached the limits of their physical expansion. These systems nevertheless were relied upon to provide for ever expanding local populations. These are complex systems, which work to regulate the flows of coastal tides and the distribution of fresh water through the plain, and which require elaborate and continuous monitoring, maintenance, and regular repair. The ritual alliances became the centers of irrigation maintenance. Over time, the ritual alliances were able to interact with, absorb, and in some cases go beyond the power of locally dominant lineages. This was a long process, which coincided with a general trend on the part of the late Ming and Qing state to download more responsibility for local governance onto local leadership. Meanwhile, society in Southeast China was becoming increasingly commercialized, and the temple alliances offered opportunities for the display of wealth in a socially acceptable form. Over this period, the lineages of the Putian plains also became more commercialized and transformed in many ways, merging in many areas with the temple organizations. During the late Ming and the Ming Qing transition (late 16th-mid 17th centuries), the Putian region was troubled by large scale pirate invasions, dynastic wars, and massive coastal evacuations enforced by the Manchu court. All these disruptions accelerated the dispersal of lineages in the Putian plains, contributing to the current situation in which less than a third of villages are single surname villages.

The village temples, ritual alliances and lineages of the Putian plains suffered through a century of state-led attacks in the name of modernization under the Republican period and in the first decades of the People's Republic. Over the past thirty years, however, the temple committees and regional ritual alliances of the Putian plains have regrouped and formed what might be called "China's second government". These organizations fulfill many functions of local self-governance (Dean 2001). The temple committees raise considerable funding by collecting a set small amount from every household on a per capita basis (except for those Christian households that refuse to participate). Wealthy individuals are expected to contribute substantial funds to display their wealth and status and to reinvest in the community. All funds collected and dispersed are posted on the temple walls for all to see. The main expenses are for opera performances, ritual specialists, and the costs of the processions and rites. Extra funds are spent on many projects, such as sponsoring local infrastructure work, laying roads, building toilets, providing electric lighting, sponsoring cultural events (rituals invariably include operatic performances), sponsoring scholarships, dispensing charity, medicine, food and clothing, and providing a cultural center for the community. Opportunities for leadership and management training are provided by the rotation of (primarily male) members of the temple committees, usually based on age and marital status in the village. There is a place for the display of status through individual contributions to village rituals, but there is also scope for the display of moral rectitude, regardless of one's wealth, on the part of all those who take part in the rites. Equally, if not more important, the celebrations allow for all kinds of excitement, fun and chaotic tumult.

"Traditional" practices in this part of China are not in flight before an encroaching, all encompassing modernity. On the contrary, the temple leaders who organize rituals in this region have shown a remarkable ability to negotiate the forces of modernity, whether from the state or from capital flows, incorporating these forces without distorting the celebrations into commercialized tourist spectacles or state-sponsored nationalist displays of "local cultural folklore". This survey documents conclusively the resurgence and growth of popular religious ritual activity in Southeast China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. The survey also highlights the role of Overseas Chinese returning to help sponsor and participate in local ritual traditions and to invest in the rebuilding of temples and the performance of spectacular rituals. Many Putian villagers emigrated to Southeast Asia at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century. Some of them set up branch temples overseas of their village temple from the Putian plains. The survey shows the degree to which these transnational temple networks have revived from the late 1980's onwards. These networks, which are often led by spirit medium groups, have become very active in the past thirty years. Many of these spirit mediums are also very successful Overseas Chinese businessmen. The Overseas Chinese played an extremely important role in the revival of local culture in the years just after the Cultural Revolution, and continue to play an important role in some village rituals, but in fact, the vast majority of ritual events currently performed in the region are organized and funded locally. This is, after all, a region which has seen extraordinary economic growth over the past three decades.

Why Ritual?

One might reasonably ask why ritual is the focus of these volumes, and in what ways it functions as the preferred site for the merging of political, economic, social and cultural forces in contemporary Fujian. The rituals discussed in this volume, and documented in the survey volume, are all communal village celebrations. They include village and ritual alliance celebration held during Chinese New Years (especially the Lantern Festival) and other annual communal festivals such as the Xiayuan Pudu (Rite of Universal Deliverance of the Lower Prime) held in the Putian area on lunar 10/15, rather than on the more usual date of Zhongyuan (Middle Prime) on lunar 7/15. The birthdays of the gods which are celebrated communally occur throughout the year. Thus these volumes do not discuss individual or family based rites, and only occasional mention is made of lineage based ancestral rites (which are far less common in this area than celebrations of the gods).

The communal village rituals which are the focus of these volumes are an especially significant object of study because they mobilize the entire village community. Each member of the village has a part to play in the overall ritual event. Each household contributes a set small amount on a per capita basis to the temple committee. Wealthy individuals contribute substantial amounts to display their wealth and status and to reinvest in the community. As mentioned above, the temple committees and ritual alliances form a second government, responding more rapidly and effectively to local needs than the local government. The ritual events organized by the temple committees are part of a long history of local self-management that can be traced over time. The techniques of management and mobilization were developed in many different institutions, including the lineage in its many forms, the schooling of village children for the imperial examination system, and the collective training of spirit mediums and altar associates. This ability to mobilize entire village populations into processions and celebrations has a deep relationship to the success of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in mobilizing village populations for dramatic struggle sessions in the early phases of the land reform movement, and throughout the processes of the collectivization of farms, the development of communes, and the factional battles of the Cultural Revolution. Ritual events are expressions of local cultural self-definition, which draw upon and creatively appropriate imperial or state symbols and ritual forms, mixing and combining them with local mediumistic and other ritual traditions. The last thirty years have shown the power of these processes of local self-expression, as homogenous state-imposed cultural forms have been replaced by communal celebrations.

The successful staging and performance of a festival commemorating the gods is the performance of local power. This is not only a symbolic expression of power, rather, the material activities involved in the gathering of funds, organization of tasks, preparations of food offerings and costumes, decorating of altars, and the composition of ritual documentation are themselves concrete workings of power and desire, including aesthetic desire, sensory desire for the stimulation and mixing of the senses in ritual events, and desire for fun and companionship and celebration of community. Rituals directly invest these desires into material expressions. The ritual events documented in these volumes involve the simultaneous performance of activities that trace several concentric circles or loopings of activity: 1) processions that can last several days involving hundreds of villagers starting out from the village temples and then tracing the boundaries of their ritual territories and alliances; 2) visits to each household in the village by smaller processions of the gods carried in sedan chairs along with spirit mediums possessed by the gods, met with elaborate food offerings, incense, and fireworks; 3) complex rites performed in the temples by Daoist and other ritual specialists while opera, including necessarily ritual opera, is performed on stages facing the temple; 4) visits to the temple by individual worshippers bearing offerings, burning incense and spirit money, and setting off firecrackers, along with more formal visits from neighboring or allied villages, with processions of musicians and temple committee representatives; 5) musical performances by traditional ritual ensembles of shiyin bayue (ten sounds (of string and wind instruments) and eight (percussion) instruments) or dachui ensembles in one corner of the temple courtyard; 6) competing performances in the courtyard of marionettes or puppets or marching bands or disco dancers or popular singers; 7) a corner of the courtyard is often set aside for cooking, as the entire scene is a setting for transformations of many kinds, in this case of food into energy and sensory stimulation. Such ritual events have often been viewed as an expression of other, more important determining or underlying forces, such as social or religious values, or the working out of social conflicts. But it is important to examine ritual in itself as a material activity embodying and working local desires and local power.

Even from a more conventional notion of power (see the critique of such approaches in Geertz, 1980:122), the staging of rituals, including processions, possession by the gods, Daoist rites and opera performances, is a contest of wills with state authorities. While the latter now are usually content to assist with public security, the past few decades have involved endless struggles, negotiations and confrontations over the size and scale and route of the rituals and their processions. Currently, a sort of steady-state phase has been achieved in the Putian plains, where processions do not seek to expand beyond traditional (meaning here Republican period) scope and scale (with some interesting exceptions).

These ritual events do not only struggle for space with the state. They are also described in local terms as yingshen saihui OEM* (competitive gatherings to attract the gods), in other words, holding competitions with neighboring villages and alliances to: 1) demonstrate their wealth and cohesiveness through setting off mountains of fireworks, inviting the best opera troupes, acquiring elaborate costumes for their processions, and throwing spectacular feasts for friends and outside invitees; 2) stake a claim over territory through processions tracing their boundaries, during which they often veer into the territory of neighboring alliances in a show of bravado; 3) show off their support from the gods by staging elaborate performances of parallel rites by different troupes of ritual specialists and by training a group of spirit mediums who can transmit the intentions of the gods in dramatic trance sessions; 4) display their martial prowess and their strength of numbers in processions and through the crowds they attract to their celebrations and feasts; 5) demonstrate their relative status and seniority by claiming privileged positions in collective processions and by formally inviting and hosting representatives of neighboring villages to their festivals. Despite the competitive nature of these actions, there is considerable respect for maintaining the scale and order of the system of ritual alliances. Only within these systems do such assertions of status make sense.

The Survey

This study of ritual activity on the Putian plain situates itself in relation to these earlier publications. Rather than attempting to cover a very large area, or to follow variations of ritual or performative traditions across different regions, we focus on a geographically contained but culturally rich area. We attempt to survey every village on this plain. The survey fills a hole in collective knowledge about Chinese popular religion by providing first hand empirical evidence of the complexity and multiple layers of popular ritual activity in one specific region of contemporary China. These materials fully document a hitherto largely unknown dimension of cultural life in contemporary China."

At a methodological level, this survey is designed to confront the limitations of the single village anthropological study by revealing the entire range of different kinds of villages, modes of ritual organization, and types of ritual specialists available within a set geographical region (in this case the 464 sq. km. of the irrigated alluvial Putian plain). This focus on spatial distribution of a wide range of socio-cultural forms is facilitated through the use of GIS (Geographic Information System) tools, which make it possible to map and analyze the distribution of particular cultural and geographic features across the entire area. This approach enables one to outline the contours and distribution of a local pantheon, distinct from that of other regions of China, and to present hypotheses on the evolution of this local pantheon over time. This emphasis on the importance of spatial location also leads to a new way of approaching local documents, including the writings of local literati, which should have important consequences for the field of Chinese studies. The essay by Zheng Zhenman translated in Part Two is an example of this approach to locally situated texts.

This study builds upon earlier fieldwork conducted independently by the authors that led to studies of the transformations of lineage formations in Ming and Qing Fujian (Zheng 2000), analysis of Daoist ritual and popular cults in the Minnan region (Dean 1998), and exploration of the ritual traditions of the Three in One in the Xinghua region (Dean 2003). Methodologically speaking, this book presents a model for studies of Chinese local history through its combination of a cultural geographical approach to a specific geographic area (incorporating GIS technology), anthropological fieldwork (surveys, participant observation in rituals, and interviews), religious studies approaches to the study of liturgies, rituals, and iconography, and historical analysis of local documents (stelae, posted accounts, scriptures and liturgies, lineage genealogies, and mediumistic chants and talismans) discovered during the research.

Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain Volume 2: A Survey of Village Temples and Ritual Activities by Kenneth Dean, Zheng Zhenman (Handbook of Oriental Studies/Handbuch Der Orientalistik, Volume 23, 2: Brill Academic) This second volume of Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain contains the survey data introduced in the preceding companion volume, Historical introduction to the Return of the Gods. Readers are encouraged to look at the introductory volume for a historical overview of the ritual formations found on the Putian plains, along with an introduction to the range of rituals, ritual specialists, temples and gods found in the survey, and a description of the survey itself, including the process of mapping the ritual alliances using GIS technology.

This volume begins with an overview of the region as a whole, introducing the principal irrigation systems of the Putian plain, the Li I sub-cantons, the regional ritual alliances, the police and self-defense units known as Pu M, and the feuding banner alliances of the late Qing and early Republican period. This section includes maps showing the position of the ritual alliances within sub-canton boundaries; the relation of the Pu boundaries to the ritual alliance boundaries; and the distribution of the higher-order regional ritual alliances of the Putian plain.

Next, each of the three major regions of Putian plains, the Nanyang (Southern irrigated plain), Beiyang (Northern irrigated plain) and the Jiuliyang (the northeastern irrigated plain), are introduced separately. These sections first outline the irrigation systems of these regions, discussing the main channels, secondary canals and sluice-gates of each irrigation system. Next, the main temples of each of the higher order regional ritual alliances into which the different irrigation systems of the Putian plains are organized are introduced. Finally, the sub-cantons into which each irrigated plain was divided are introduced. Maps of each sub-canton in each irrigation system are provided. The main villages extent in each Li sub-canton in the Qing dynasty are listed, followed by a list of the ritual alliances and number of villages currently found in each Li sub-canton.

The survey continues by presenting first a map and then a brief description of each of the 153 ritual alliances on the Putian plain, and then provides a description of each village in each alliance. The brief descriptions note the main irrigation channels and canals that provide water to each ritual alliance. They also record the presence in the Song, Ming and Qing of prominent lineages, as seen in the production of successful examination candidates—Jinshi (Metropolitan Graduates) and Juren (Provincial Graduates). The bestowal in the Song and Ming of commemorative archways on the lineages and successful graduates of these villages is next noted, although very few of these archways still remain standing. This information will assist the reader is assessing the history of the villages in a particular regional alliance. The village entries include a statement of the village population and the name of the current administrative village to which it belongs. Next is found a discussion of the main surnames of the village, along with any available information about ancestral halls or lineage rituals. Information gathered on Christian churches is given at this point, where available, but this was not a primary focus of the survey.

A third section of each village entry lists the temples of the village, along with the gods worshipped in each temple. In addition to the survey data, entries have been added on village temples from two sources. These are the draft edition of the Putianxian zongjiaozhi, which includes a list of Buddhist temples and monasteries which has been used to supplement the survey, as some of these structures are located outside the villages and were difficult to find. A second set of supplementary temples was drawn from survey data prepared for the local Religious Affairs Bureau by the Three in One movement (Sanyijiao diaocha baogao, 1992), which lists all Three in One temples (including minor shrines that are easily overlooked) along with an estimate of the numbers of initiates. These estimates appear quite accurate in places, but are occasionally greatly exaggerated. These Buddhist and Three in One temple listings are given in italics to indicate that these temples were not visited by the survey team.

A fourth section of each village entry outlines the ritual activities conducted during the Yuanxiao festival at the first full moon of the year. The birthday celebrations of those gods who receive special rites are then listed. A final section included in some of the village entries discusses particular ritual groups active in a village, such as spirit mediums or tanban spirit medium altar associations. Some mention is made in many entries of the number of Fushou (fortunate headsmen) selected to organize rituals throughout the year, and the means of selection.

The Putian plain is an alluvial plain on the edge of the Xinghua Bay ringed around on three sides by mountains and hills. The entire plain was reclaimed from the sea over in a process that took several hundred years from the late Tang to the mid-Ming (9th-16th centuries). The plain covers 424 square kilometers and can be divided into three regions, the Nanyang A4 (southern irrigated plain) south of the Mulan river which runs through the center of the plain, the Beiyang 1L4 (northern irrigated plain) north of the Mulan river, and the Jiuliyang fL T4 (Nine-li irrigated plain), a region in the northeast corner of the Putian plain with its own irrigation system.

The Putian plain was divided into administrative sub-cantons called li beginning in the Song dynasty. Over the Ming and Qing dynasties, the plain came to be divided into twenty-two sub-cantons. As explained in the historical introduction in Volume 1, the sub-cantons continued to be important for local administration, taxation and state ritual purposes in the late imperial period. Each of the sub-cantons established one lishê official altar to the soil and the harvest in the early Ming. The official altars were gradually merged by the villagers with the miao temples to local gods, forming a shêmiao hybrid temple Branch altars of the founding she altars were established in newly formed villages, forming the basis for multi-village ritual alliances. Other ritual alliances formed around common use of a segment of the irrigation system, or in order to protect themselves from the pressure of large lineages. Although the sub-cantons are no longer part of local administrative space (since the Republican period), they are still part of the ritual space of the Putian plains, and are included in addresses written in ritual documents by villagers to this day (see map 2).

The multi-village ritual alliances known locally as qijing (seven-fold alliances) began to form with each sub-canton in the mid-Ming. The village survey in this book is arranged according to these ritual alliances, following the numbers seen on the map below. These numbers roughly follow the distribution of the sub-cantons, starting with those in the southern irrigated plain, then those in the northern irrigated plain, and concluding with those in the Jiuliyang irrigated plain. A total of 153 ritual alliances made up of 724 villages cover the Putian Plain (see map 3).

In a very few cases, ritual alliances crossed the boundaries of the sub-cantons, usually on account of a connection along a segment of the irrigation system. However, for the most part the sub-cantons were also drawn in relation to the main channels of the irrigation system. The relationship between ritual alliance boundaries and sub-canton boundaries can be seen in map 4 below.

During the late Ming and in the Qing, the Putian plains were further subdivided into defensive units designed to carry out police control and to defend against coastal pirate raids. These spatial units were termed pu translated below as a police/defense unit. These correspond in part with the locally formed multi-village ritual alliances, but they frequently cut across them as well. The names of these units are given in the survey below (map 5, 6).

The villages of the Putian plain often have several temples, and each temple can have many gods. During the Chinese New Years festival, and especially around the Lantern Festival that marks the first full moon of the year, each village carries its most revered gods in a procession around the village boundaries, while Daoist ritual specialists perform rites in the temple. A few days later, the village goes on procession to the other villages of their multi-village ritual alliance, or else receives the main gods of the main temple of their ritual alliance at their own village temple. In addition, most of the ritual alliances of the Putian plain have joined into larger regional alliances. Each of these regional alliances has a higher order central temple which organizes large scale processions and rituals. Map 7 shows the major higher order regional ritual alliances of the Putian plains.

Villages in map 8 are indicated with either a black, white or red flag icon. These indicate which of the feuding banner alliances the village joined at the end of the Qing dynasty, when the entire irrigation system of the Putian plains was beginning to collapse, and villages fought against villages. In many cases, the banner alliances follow the ritual alliances, which in turn are related to the irrigation communities, but there are also exceptions. Membership in a banner association is noted in the survey when known. Villages without this information are indicated by a point instead of a flag.

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