Spectacle and Sacrifice

The Ritual Foundations of Village Life in North China

This book is about the ritual world of a group of rural settlements in Shanxi province in pre-1949 North China. Temple festivals, with their giant processions, elaborate rituals, and operas, were the most important influence on the symbolic universe of ordinary villagers and demonstrate their remarkable capacity for religious and artistic creation. The great festivals described in this book were their supreme collective achievements and were carried out virtually without assistance from local officials or educated elites, clerical or lay. Chinese culture was a performance culture, and ritual was the highest form of performance. Village ritual life everywhere in pre-revolutionary China was complex, conservative, and extraordinarily diverse. Festivals and their associated rituals and operas provided the emotional and intellectual materials out of which ordinary people constructed their ideas about the world of men and the realm of the gods. It is, David Johnson argues, impossible to form an adequate idea of traditional Chinese society without a thorough understanding of village ritual. Newly discovered liturgical manuscripts allow him to reconstruct North Chinese temple festivals in unprecedented detail and prove that they are sharply different from the Daoist- and Buddhist-based communal rituals of South China.  —Harvard University Press

David Johnson
Harvard University Press
March 2010

David Johnson is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests are centered on pre-modern Chinese non-elite culture, including popular religion and ritual, popular performing arts, popular literature both secular and religious, popular iconography, and vernacular architecture, especially in North China. Johnson is author of Domesticated Deities & Auspicious Emblems: The Inconography of Everyday Life in Village China: Popular Prints & Papercuts from the Collection of Po (with Po Sung-Nien; Berkeley Chinese Popular Culture Project, 1992) and Ritual and Scripture in Chinese Popular Religion: Five Studies (Berkeley Chinese Popular Culture Project, 1995).