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Chapter 3

Divine Guardians of the Village

With an introduction to the supernatural behind us, let us turn back to Bǎo'ān village. We saw earlier that two organizing principles were important: surname and village, and the point was illustrated by a description of warfare in the Xīgǎng region. In the present section we shall see how the intersection of these two principles of social organization is ritually symbolized in Bǎo'ān in the person of King Guō1, a patron deity. After this we shall examine the village defined as a sacred domain, which must be protected, and the nature of the enemy that must, with King Guō's help, be kept out.

Footnote 1. 郭姓王 or 郭聖王, more formally known as 廣澤尊王. Although the identity of surname is probably not entirely a matter of chance, most patron gods do not bear the same surname as their worshipping villages. Certainly in no sense is King Guō thought of as ancestral.

Supernatural Protectors of Bǎo'Ān

The individuality of a village is inseparable from the particular configuration of gods who guide its policy, and its conflicts with other villages necessarily entail conflicts between the divinities that each side is able to muster. Accordingly, alliances between men and gods are a common idiom in which historical events are recounted. In some villages, including Bǎo'ān, a single god is elevated to a position of supreme authority as the recognized protector of the village, and in Bǎo'ān this god, King Guō, is the prime symbolization of the unity of surname units and village units.

Of the gods who are most frequently spoken of in Bǎo'ān, King Guō is the "highest" and "most powerful."2 King Guō is both a patron of those who bear this surname and a generalized god whose assistance is available to others. In the Xīgǎng area he is the patron of villages in which the Guō surname is predominant or which were allied with the Guō faction against the Huáng in the wars of a century ago, as they are in the political factions of today. In particular he is of great importance in Bǎo'ān and Wúlín.3

Footnote 2. For a recounting of several traditions about the earthly life of King Guō, see Liào Yùwén 1967: 78-83, and Zhèng Shēngchāng 1967: 49-52.

Footnote 3. Hé Liánkuí and Wèi Huìlín (1966: 136 f.) present a simplified scheme of "protective gods of immigrant groups" 移民守護神 such that Taiwanese of Jìnjiāng 晉江 stock worship King Guō and the Great Emperor Who Protects Life 保生大帝, alias Wú Zhēnrén 吳真人, and Taiwanese of Lóngxī 龍溪 stock worship King Chén 陳聖王. Minorities with origins outside Fújiàn have also appropriate and separate deities. However, the Guō of Bǎo'ān (as of southern Táiwān generally) consider themselves to have come from Lóngxī and speak the Lóngxī rather than the Jìnjiāng dialect of Taiwanese Hokkien; nevertheless they are under the patronage of King Guō. The Hé-Wèi scheme may generalize accurately for the island as a whole —I do not know— but it apparently predicts little at the level of the individual village.

It should be noted that, despite the surname, King Guō is not considered to be ancestral to anyone living today. His wife was a celestial maiden deliberately "planted" on earth to marry him, and their offspring were a series of semi-autochthonous stones that mysteriously appeared in the floor of the home temple. These are understood to symbolize "sons" to whom virtually all worship of King Guō is actually directed. And the sons have no offspring, being non-historical (or non-"historical") beings confined to their ethereal manifestations. The word used to designate a son of King Guō means "guardian" plus a birth-order number.4 Functionally this serves nicely to allow the god to be worshipped simultaneously in many places, or to permit different mediums to contradict each other, since it is always a different "guardian" in question. The same device is not used to multiply other, even more popular gods, however.

Footnote 4. The Chinese is Tàibǎo 太保, a term formerly used to designate the Guardian to the heir apparent 太子, and in this original usage also written 太保太子. Its use to designate the "sons" of King Guō has never been clear to me. Can it be the invention of a Fujianese medium of long past? I have rendered it "guardian" to avoid introducing a Chinese term, but I suspect that the implication of high court office is more relevant here than the notion of trusteeship.

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It is important to emphasize that King Guō today is the patron not only of the Guō as a surname group, but of the villages of the Guō faction, including such of their inhabitants as are not named Guō. His tie to these villages is due to their Guō inhabitants, but his commitment is to them as total villages. In social terms, his cult represents the acceptance of affiliation with a Guō dominated faction by the non-Guō of the village; he is the prime symbol of the integration of village solidarity and surname solidarity even though village and surname personnel do not entirely overlap.

His dual aspect as protector of the Guō surname and of the villages of the Guō faction is well illustrated by his local name. King Guō is locally called koeh-sèng-ông. This may either be written 郭聖王, meaning "Sacred King Guō," or it may be written 郭姓王 meaning "King of the Guō Surname."5 No doubt people are to be found who will insist that one form is right and the other wrong. Both writings do occur, however, and it seems clear that both meanings of sèng are thought to apply.6

Footnote 5. The pronunciations are identical in Hokkien only, not in Mandarin. When mentioning the god to me in Mandarin, informants would use now one title, now the other.

6. It is inviting to speculate that the writing with , "surname," is earlier than that with , "sacred," and that the change follows a gradual change in his role from more strictly surname-related concerns toward greater generalization, perhaps at the time of the Guō-Huáng conflicts, perhaps after the pacification of the region. Unfortunately, evidence is lacking on earlier usage. Neither form is frequently written, since for most purposes where writing is employed a yet more formal title is used: The Venerable King of the Broad Marshes 廣澤尊王. At the risk of going yet further out on a limb I would suggest that this formal title is seldom used in speech in southwestern Táiwān because (unlike koeh-sèng-ông) it makes no statement at all about the special relation of this god to Guō concerns.

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The center for King Guō's worship in Táiwān today is the Xīluó Diàn 西羅殿 of Táinán city, which it is claimed was founded in 1714 by direct transfer of its incense fire from the home temple in Fújiàn.7

Footnote 7. Transfer of a pot of smoldering incense is the key act by which a daughter temple is founded from a mother temple. The daughter temple is said to "separate" from the parent temple. When parent temples are politically available, regular pilgrimages, usually yearly, are made to the parent temple for "renewal" of the fire. The home temple of King Guō is located at Phoenix Mountain Monastery in Fújiàn province 福建省南安縣泉州府鳳山寺.

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The Xīluó Diàn is too far away to be easily accessible for daily visits and divination. If it is true that a prophet is without honor in his own house (and I have always been told that this is the case), then no arrangement could be better calculated to preserve the prestige of King Guō and the sanctity of his oracles. Problems not satisfactorily solved within Bǎo'ān, or which arise between Guō villages, can be brought to the god's attention in a situation that marks the problem off as something out of the ordinary, and provides it with a "special" solution of greater sanctity and authority than is usually possible. Today it is rare for the village as a whole to refer problems to (the medium of) King Guō in Táinán, but it is not at all rare for individuals to do so when they are not satisfied with decisions handed down by local gods through their spirit-mediums or by other means of divination.

But King Guō is not merely a benevolent outsider who puts in his oar only at local invitation. He is also the protector of the village, and accordingly from time to time he makes a visit. Bǎo'ān, like other villages in the Xīgǎng region, participates in a triennial festival. The festival is called a Wángjiào 王醮 and is performed in honor of visiting divine inspectors of extraordinarily high rank.8 The rites involve, among other things, a procession in which local gods move through the villages of the area for three days to provide themselves with a chance (1) to inspect their territory, (2) to drive out misfortune and correct injustice, and (3) to pay their respects on behalf of their village constituencies to the visiting inspectors. The core elements of this procession are palanquins containing the gods of the participating villages. Normally, each village is represented by at least one palanquin filled with small josses belonging to individual families or owned collectively.

Footnote 8. These inspectors are derived from "plague gods," and the temple rites are, strictly speaking, those appropriate for plague gods. The details are not relevant to the present discussion. The interested reader should refer to Liú Zhīwàn 1963 for a discussion of plague gods, and to the same author's more recent monographs (1967 and forthcoming) for a discussion of various types of Jiào, including the Xīgǎng rites.

link to picture of palanquin

In addition to the palanquins containing many small josses there are larger ones containing much larger images often belonging to large temples rather than to individual villages. These are patron gods of whole villages or clusters of villages, including, of course, King Guō. They are normally placed near the end of the procession. Because local custom maintains that the last place is the place of greatest honor, there is a certain amount of behind-the-scenes maneuvering for a place as near to the rear as possible. The order of march is decided by the officials of the Xīgǎng temple9 and depends partly upon temporary ranking given to local gods as "officials" in the festival for that year. Thus in 1964 it was decided that "The Tour of Inspection Representing Heaven has by Imperial Decree gloriously appointed the Venerable King of the Broad Marshes [King Guō] as Vice-Commander, the Grand Tutor Yang of A Village as Great General of the Rearguard, Marshal Xiè of B Village as Vanguard, and Wúgōngshén 蜈蚣神 of C Village as Sage of the Hundred Steps."10

Footnote 9. Larger temples, such as that at Xīgǎng, are not administered in the same way that we described earlier for the temple in Bǎo'ān. They are managed instead by a temple committee, which elects its own new members and typically includes the most wealthy and powerful men of the area. The system of prestigious posts in towns like Xīgǎng seems to play off the temple committees, the agricultural associations, and the more strictly political offices against one another. The subject is worth further study.

10. From a brochure issued by the Qìng Ān Gōng 慶安宮 Xīgǎng Temple. I am grateful to the Qìng Ān Gōng for lending their only remaining copy for photo-duplication. Village names have been replaced by single roman letters.

The permanent positions of these gods in the celestial hierarchy are, in theory, relevant; but the temporary assignment of each to an ad hoc role during the festival allows other considerations to take precedence.11 The decision is supposedly made by divination, but because the way one asks a question can influence the outcome of divination, the temple officials, like imperial advisers, may always be suspected of influencing the gods.

Footnote 11. This means, among other things, that the question of "permanent" precedence in the hierarchy is never actually solved. Because there does not seem to be a clear notion of precedence covering the locally worshipped village gods, an attempt to organize a procession in which such precedence was important would be foredoomed to failure. In some sense, assigning temporary roles can be seen as a dodge to avoid the issue. The temple has authority only to assign temporary roles.

What is important is that the order of march should be in accord with political reality, and the position of King Guō behind the protector of another village is a symbolic expression of the precedence of Guō influence over that represented in the other village. When priorities are unclear, the way is open for decisions to be made by the astute manipulation of these palanquins, but when they are clear, or when there is open and clearly defined dispute, the authorization of the "wrong" order of march can provoke serious disagreements. Thus in 1967 a conflict developed between Bǎo'ān, Wúlín, and other Guō villages on the one hand and a traditional "enemy" affiliated with the (today subordinate) Huáng faction. The latter claimed that the order of march should be decided anew each time, whereas the Guō villages maintained that the question had been decided finally a time or two before, with King Guō (naturally enough) in the most prestigious position. The Guō view prevailed, and the opposing village withdrew from the festival entirely rather than endure the mortification of being consigned to subordination to King Guō. According to letters from village people after I left the area, in the 1970 festival the opposing Huáng village prevailed upon temple authorities (among whom Huáng influence was apparently strong) to arrange divine consent to change the ordering. In 1970 Wúlín and Bǎo'ān therefore withdrew after extensive negotiations both with the temple authorities and among themselves.

The point of all this is that one of the ways in which a divine village protector protects is in sharing his rank and glory with that of his protégé villages. Seen the other way about, a divine protector provides a concrete symbol that can be invested with the rank and glory of the protégé village and can be manipulated in relation to similar symbols from other villages. This allows the village people to play out in a cooperative religious rite conflicts and questions of priority deriving originally from conflicts and questions of priority in other areas.

But there is another aspect to the presence of King Guō in Bǎo'ān. Within and among the Guō villages themselves, of course, the visit of King Guō represents more than just a chance to get one up on a neighboring faction. The statue used in the festival is the fourth "guardian" we spoke of earlier. It is kept in Bǎo'ān or Wúlín (chosen by lot) for about four and a half months after the festival (or until after the seventeenth day of the eighth moon, which is the official birthday of the particular guardian used), and during this time he occupies a place of honor seated on his palanquin placed squarely in the door of the village temple. The statue is considered to be especially beautiful as well as efficacious, and the universal reaction to it, in Bǎo'ān at least, is one of great admiration and reverence. In 1967 King Guō was in Bǎo'ān on the birthday of another local god worshipped primarily by the Zhāng within the village. King Guō's palanquin was placed in the courtyard where the ceremonies were held, as a guest of honor, and was as much an object of worship as the statue of the god whose birth was being celebrated.

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King Guō also arrives in the Xīgǎng area about a week before the festival begins. His presence provides an opportunity for numerous visits between Guō villages, in which he is serially entertained. Besides the palanquins of gods, most villages submit troupes of performers to the festival procession, and these performers normally rehearse for two or three months before the festival begins. King Guō's visit to each Guō village is accompanied by the festival troupes from the previous village, who perform in their host village and are treated to noodles or other refreshment for their trouble.

link to picture of village troops

These troupes of performers are without overt religious significance for the most part, many taking their inspiration from classical novels or other bits of Chinese folklore. However, a very large number of them are distinctively military in character and consist of men dressed as soldiers and carrying weaponry of the same kind used in the Huáng-Guō war of the late Ching. Their performance consists of an athletic ballet, magnificently rehearsed and enthusiastically performed, in the pugnacious tradition of Chinese shadow boxing. Such an escort is entirely appropriate for a god, and indeed is common in processions throughout Táiwān, for the "soldiers" represent a god's "army" just as an emperor or general would proceed with his military forces. In Xīgǎng the soldiers also recall to local minds the days when each village actually had soldiers for combat purposes. Bǎo'ān has heightened the imagery, for her soldiers are inevitably young boys from ten to fifteen years old or so because, it is said, "after the Huáng killed our adults, we had only children to dance in the festival."

In this way, King Guō's visit provides occasion for the formal expression of good relations (and communal military exploits!) between these traditional allies: the social equivalent of phatic communion in language if you like. It also provides them with a focus about which to organize actual cooperative interaction (mutual entertaining), so that each visit is both a reminder of traditional cooperation and an instance of it.

link to picture of visiting troupe

To what extent can Bǎo'ān represent other Taiwanese villages? Probably not at all. So far as I am aware, Bǎo'ān is not particularly typical of the villages in its area. Villages today are seldom so completely dominated by a single surname; few villages share a patron god knowingly with other villages in a common and semi-communal cult; very seldom, to the best of my knowledge, do patron gods correspond in surname with the groups they patronize. But typicality is perhaps beside the point. Bǎo'ān seems to represent the kind of structure that is in some way "natural" to the area rather than that which is most common. Even if Bǎo'ān and the Guō represent an extreme instance, fostered by a particularly benignant happenstance, still this is what these principles can produce. And that in many ways is more revealing than what is merely statistically usual.

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link to picture of fort Bǎo'ān village is not merely a collection of people. It is a physical place, with legal boundaries and with ritual ones. Four enormous trees located near the four corners of the village represent forts manned by supernatural soldiers, and a fifth fort is located immediately opposite the temple at another tree. There is nothing about these trees in normal times that distinguishes them from other trees in the eyes of human visitors. But they are the first line of defense against undesirable supernatural forces.

The soldiers who man the forts and patrol the streets and byways of the village are deputies sent by King Guō to protect the harmony of the village. Sacrifices of food are made twice monthly by way of provisioning these soldiers. The rites go by the name of Shǎngbīng / siún-peng 賞兵, which we may translate as "appreciating the soldiers" for the time being.12

Footnote 12. Diamond (1966: 267) uses the same term to describe sacrifices to divine soldiers held once a year on occasion of the patron god's birthday. Apparently Bǎo'ān formerly held its Shǎngbīng rites once a year also. It is said that about thirty years back King Guō (in his manifestation as the second guardian) possessed a medium and announced that for unspecified reasons he had overextended himself protecting the villages of the vicinity and had been forced to borrow five million troops from the Five Kings of Tǔchéng 土成, a village to the south. Non-annual sacrifices were apparently held to welcome and send off the guest soldiers, and to welcome back King Guō's soldiers. The rites have been semimonthly since. "I want my soldiers to eat well," King Guō instructed.

Rites to the soldiers are not particularly complicated. Some time in the mid afternoon of the first and fifteenth of each lunar month the family of one of the headmen, among whom the duty of leading these rites rotates, appears before the temple to place a temporary altar on its porch and lay offerings on it. Sometimes a group of village boys playing near the temple will be recruited to carry a drum about the village to announce the beginning of the rites. Sometimes an announcement will be made over the public address system. Sometimes, both. Meanwhile, the "head" family (that is, the family in charge of the rites for this time) has lit some sticks of incense, bowed before the temple altar, bowed out the door,13 and placed the incense sticks in the various dishes of food. Shortly, more families join, bringing baskets of food (their dinner, usually), which are set out in symmetrical lines of baskets running out from the door of the temple and across the square. The baskets are normally brought by women and children, or sometimes by children alone, who set the baskets down, light the sticks of incense, bow, and install the burning incense in the food. With this finished, they are at liberty to run and play or stand in groups talking, taking care only that the incense sticks are supplemented with new ones before they burn out.

Footnote 13. Bowing first to the altar, then toward the door is common also in household rites. It is so usual that it is more or less automatic, and many people are at a loss to explain what it means; some suggest that it is a gesture to the Good Brethren lest they be insulted and goaded to mischief.

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After most of the worshippers have about burned up their third stick of incense, the head family throws divination blocks to determine whether the soldiers have had their fill yet. If not, more time is allowed, and the blocks are thrown again. At length the blocks indicate that the military is happily stuffed, and the rites draw to a close. The children are summoned before the temple to kneel and move their hands before them in a gesture of worship (usually a most unheartfelt one, for they are all eager to be home, and it is in fact a moment of great hilarity). Then a bonfire is made of the paper spirit-money brought by each family in addition to its food offerings. Usually some of the children have been employed ahead of time carefully making a tower of the packs of money. As the fire dies down a pitcher of water is fetched and a circle of water is made about the fire three times. With this act the rites have ended. The remains of incense sticks are unceremoniously snatched from the baskets of food and dumped on the remains of the bonfire, then the baskets are carted home again. The square is effectively empty within about ninety seconds after the last circle of water is poured, and the baskets are well on their way home to be eaten.

The rite of appreciating the soldiers fulfills an agreement with King Guō. Bǎo'ān provisions the soldiers of King Guō, and King Guō protects the village. It makes little difference who brings a family's offerings to the temple, for what is important is that the offerings be made. The soldiers want merely to be fed; they are not fussy about who in the family serves them. And it does not seem to matter whether all the families are present. The rites begin when the censer-master's family burns the first sticks of incense. It would be a poor showing, somewhat lacking in etiquette perhaps, if very few families ever came to feed the soldiers. But the terms of the rite have been met even if but one family sacrifices. No one seems upset if, on a cold and rainy evening, only thirty families huddle on the porch of the temple with their damp sacrifices. But the normal attendance is much greater; usually three-fourths or more of the families bring baskets of food to fulfill the obligations of the village.

There are important gods in the village other than King Guō, as we shall see presently. Accordingly, not everyone speaks of the soldiers as the subordinates of King Guō, but simply as soldiers provided by "the gods" for the protection of Bǎo'ān. This more general interpretation seems to be reinforced by and at the same time helps to justify certain of the details of the rite. No statues are used to represent the soldiers, but such of the village josses as are not confined to their home altars by overzealous curators are placed on the temple altar on the days of sacrifice. No one is immediately able to explain their presence in rites dedicated to the soldiers, but it makes sense in its way if we look again at the term I translated as "appreciating the soldiers" (Shǎngbīng). Shǎng has another meaning besides appreciate: to reward or bestow, as a superior rewards an inferior. The presence of the josses on the altar seems quite appropriate if they are overseers of their soldiers, on whom food is being "bestowed" in the rite.

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Supernatural Enemies of Bǎo'Ān

What is the enemy that requires such an extensive military establishment to protect the village? For the most part it is the ghosts of the dead. Not all the dead. Not the dead who are ancestors and are properly worshipped and looked after. Not the dead who lived to a ripe old age in their time among the living and died peacefully in their beds. Rather the less "proper" dead; the hungry ghosts, and the ghosts of those who died by suicide or by murder, of those who were executed or died by drowning in the river or in irrigation canals.14 These ghosts are generally concentrated "to the north" of Bǎo'ān, and there are tales of odd things happening in the fields and along the roads to the north. When "things begin to go wrong" in the village, when there are unusual disasters, when many people are sick or there are agricultural reverses, or when means of divination do not seem to be producing workable decisions, one explanation is that despite the divine defenses the ghosts have somehow got in.

Footnote 14. Chinese seem to have a special fear of death by drowning. One of the twenty-four dangers to the lives of young children . which traditional almanacs attempt to predict is drowning. When ancestral spirits are called to participate in a funeral, those who have died by drowning require separate summoning. The ghosts of people who died in this way are said to linger at the place of death in order to pull other victims into the same pool of water and drown them. Drowning may be more frequent also among Chinese, since few of them know how to swim, and we may suppose that the continuation of special attitudes about death in water may promote panic when faced with water emergencies.

Should there be reason to suspect that this has happened, or that Bǎo'ān is in imminent danger of being invaded by ghosts, the forts may be strengthened by means of an exorcism consisting of purification by fire of the temple and the five forts. One such exorcism was performed during the time I lived in Bǎo'ān.15

Footnote 15. Unfortunately for clear exposition, this was the occasion of much more than merely village exorcism, although that is the only aspect of it directly relevant here. A new spirit medium had been possessed, and the exorcism was preliminary to his initiation and was designed to ensure that he was possessed by a benign and not an evil presence. The initiation itself, which need not concern us here, consisted of purifying the body of the medium and instructing him in the use of his mortification instruments. All of this had to take place on an appropriate, felicitous day, and the day chosen was the birthday of the Queen of Heaven, the twenty-third day of the third moon. So far as r know, none of the activity here described relates to the Queen of Heaven. In the previous year, 1967, no village-wide observance of her birthday was celebrated, which tends to confirm this.

This exorcism was performed by a hired priest and was presided over by the gods themselves, either through their mediums or through divination chairs. The priest called in for such an event is called an âng-thâu-á 紅頭仔.16 Taiwanese âng-thâu-á are basically exorcists, who are invited and paid to purify villages, houses and families of forces causing illness and misfortune. They also perform a limited number of other rites, including "opening the eyes" of newly acquired josses. The nearest âng-thâu-á who can be called to Bǎo'ān lives in a village to the east of Xīgǎng, and to the best of my knowledge be is the only "red head" in the immediate area.

Footnote 16. Literally, a "red head" priest, in opposition to a "black head" priest or Wūtóu Dàoshì 烏頭道士, more often simply Dàoshì. Whereas the âng-thâu-á is primarily an exorcist and uses only a small corpus of liturgy, the Dàoshì performs in other capacities as well, although in Táiwān there appears to be more overlap in the two liturgies than is common in other parts of the country (see Schipper 1966: 81n). In the vicinity of Bǎo'ān, âng-thâu-á are more common than Dàoshì and charge less for their services; accordingly they are the most usual outside religious practitioners called upon to perform occasional rites in the village. Dàoshì were called to the area during my stay only to officiate at funerals and in connection with the triennial festival at Xīgǎng. On schools of Taoist priesthood for China as a whole, see Welch 1957: 83-163 and Fù Qínjiā 1937: 207-230; for Táiwān, see Lǐ Tiānchūn 1956: 20-46 and Jiāng Jiājǐn 1957:124 f. and 1959:12-15.

The âng-thâu-á arrived in Bǎo'ān in the early afternoon and recited chants for about an hour before the temple17 while village people performed rites of "appreciating the soldiers."18 When he finished his chant, the âng-thâu-á prepared five sturdy bamboo stakes, with magic charms written on yellow paper securely bound to the tops of them, to be driven into the ground at each of the five forts to supplement the power of the soldiers. When the stakes were ready, the âng-thâu-á busied himself with the preparation of purification oil. In a large cooking basin of the kind that is usual in China he placed a thick wick tightly wound into approximately the shape and size of a bamboo shoot. This he soaked with rice liquor to render it more inflammable. Then he added about an equal quantity of peanut oil to the rice liquor now flooding the bottom of the pan. The basin was then heated over a small charcoal stove and the wick was lit, while the âng-thâu-á performed his chant, dancing in a circle about the pan. When the oil was hot, the charcoal stove was placed in an inverted bamboo stool to which wires were attached so that the stool, the stove, and the pan of oil might be slung from a pole carried by two bearers.

Footnote 17. Chanted Hokkien is incomprehensible to native speakers as well as to me. The priests themselves make every effort, moreover, to mutter their chants less articulately if they know people are listening to what is being chanted, for the content is often secret and may be communicated only to the initiated. Nor does the priests' schedule during these rites allow of extensive interviewing on the spot, and interviewing at a later date has generally been unsatisfactory due to the disinclination of most clerics to say very much about what has transpired and the difficulty of being sure what part of a series of chants one is talking about. For all these reasons I do not have material on these chants For purposes of the present analysis, such material is not essential —the people of Bǎo'ān have no more idea what is being chanted than I do— but for a full understanding of the event and its relation to other parts of the greater Chinese religious tradition one naturally needs the view of the officiating âng-thâu-á, including the texts he chants.

18. "Appreciating the soldiers" was accomplished in the mid-afternoon. Not long after the participants had returned home, however, they were called back over the public address system to perform the rite again in exactly the same way. For some reason my notes are hazy on the point, but I believe that the first time the sacrifices were directed to the soldiers and the second time to the Good Brethren, that is, to wandering and potentially malicious hungry ghosts This, as we shall see, is the format of the "same" rites performed at the family level.

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The rite about to be performed by the âng-thâu-á was a kind of purification called "passing through oil" 過油. The oil used in the rite is usually designated by the same term.

As the âng-thâu-á prepared the oil, a succession of village youths held the two divination chairs and waited for the gods to descend into them. As the chairs began to shake slightly, they turned them over to more experienced, older men. About the same time the gods descended into the divination chairs, a medium, who had appeared somewhat earlier for the sacrifices to the soldiers, went into trance. With the gods in attendance and the oil hot, all was ready to purge the village of its ghosts. This was done by successively firing —I can think of no more appropriate word— the oil. The âng-thâu-á spat a fine spray of rice liquor onto the hot oil, causing a momentary column of flame and smoke to rise several feet in height, through which incense pots and other objects in the temple were passed to purify them. When the temple building and its sacra had been purified in successive columns of flame and black peanut-oil smoke, the apparatus followed the medium and the divination chair to each of the five forts successively, where the oil was fired, a charm stake was posted, a banner with charms written on it was nailed to the tree, and firecrackers were set off.

By these comparatively simple acts the positions of the soldiers in the forts were strengthened, and the invading evil forces were frightened away. Also by these relatively simple acts the action of the gods, including King Guō, as protectors of the village was dramatized. For the gods, in their mediums and their divination chairs, are present at such rites, and are visibly and dramatically fulfilling their end of the agreement, honoring the same contract by which the soldiers are cared for with semimonthly sacrifices.

When unnatural deaths occur in the village, rites must be conducted to drive out the untoward forces they leave behind. In July 1967 King Guō was still in the village after the Xīgǎng triennial festival. Another festival was to take place in Jiāyì to the north, and a group of Bǎo'ān men traveled to Jiāyì with the palanquin of King Guō to march in the procession. No sooner had King Guō left than a child drowned in the fishpond in the center of Bǎo'ān, causing no small consternation to all who lived in the village. It seemed strange to me that he should have drowned, for people said that he could swim a little, and the pond is shallow and often used for bathing. One man told me: "He was pulled in by a ghost. Someone died there before, and when someone dies, his ghost often wants to pull a second one after him. … A lot of people have died there. I don't know how many." Another speculated that the ghosts to the north had somehow managed to get into the village.

The dead child left behind a malign ghost, which, it was feared, would do untold harm if permitted to remain in the village. Properly it would have been called a "water ghost" 水鬼, but so dangerous was it that this term could not be spoken. (After my repeated inquiry one man wrote the word for me, but would not speak it.) Instead it was referred to merely as a "bad thing" (pháin-míh 歹物) Such beings appear to have caused alarm on the Fujianese coast at the end of the last century as well as in modern Táiwān. Groot (1892-1910: 5.525) writes of them: "The common opinion in that part of China is that those … 'water-spectres' mostly are souls of the drowned. Having spent their time in their wet abode in the bondage of the watergods, they may be redeemed from this servitude by substitution, and therefore they lie in ambush for victims to draw into the water and make them take their place. Thus they are a constant lurking danger for people on the waterside, fishers, boatmen, and washer-women."

People in Bǎo'ān were less explicit about the workings of a "bad thing" in the village, but it was clear it ought to be removed. The death took place on July 22 (the fifteenth day of the sixth moon). The twenty-seventh (that is the twentieth by the lunar calendar) was chosen as a calendrically appropriate day for the exorcism.

A little past noon two altar tables were placed on the porch of the temple, and the instruments of divination were placed by them so that the gods might provide instructions on how to perform the exorcism. These instruments I have called "divination chairs." The Taiwanese word is kiō-á 轎仔, or "little palanquin." They will be described in some detail below. At the moment it is enough to know that the object involved is a small chair, with arms and a back, that measures about thirty centimeters from the top of the back to the bottom of the legs. It is held by two bearers, who are said to "support" the chair. The kiō-á is used to provide a seat for the divine presence, and the descent of a god into it results in a bouncing motion of the chair, and sometimes in evident lateral movements as well. In divination the chair traces characters upon a tabletop with one of the protruding arms. Variations on this chair also occur; there is, for example, a larger model slung on poles in the manner of a sedan chair and wielded by four bearers rather than two. The differences seem to be more regional than functional.

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The first god to appear was His Highness Chí 池府二千歲, whom we shall meet again (p. 106), because he is the patron of the Zhāng families in the village and a frequent visitor in séances. He advised that people should desist from speaking "bad words" to one another; that is, scolding or arguing. The death had disrupted the "harmony" of the village, and the village people were being instructed not to make matters worse by adding interpersonal disharmony, but to create as harmonious an atmosphere as possible.19 His second word of advice was that people should keep their children away from the fishpond and watch them. He himself had business to tend to other than watching village children every minute. All of this was interpreted from the characters traced upon one of the altar tables by the divination chair. The second chair was now possessed by King Guō. He reiterated the same advice offered by His Highness Chí, and then proceeded with instructions for the exorcism of the water ghost (or rather of the "bad thing"!). The two gods, represented by the divination chairs, would go in person to the pond and drive the "bad thing" from it. The bystanders must be very careful that it not lodge in their bodies, and to this end women and children were not to approach the pond, and those men who chose to do this work were to carry with them one sheet apiece of spirit money on which His Highness Chí would write a protecting charm. His Highness now caused the arm of his divination chair to be dipped in ink, and with the ink he made a blot on each of twenty sheets of spirit money laid out on the altar before the chair. The men stuffed these into their pockets and left in a great hurry for the fishpond, following the two wildly swinging divination chairs, which fairly dragged their wielders along the road.

Footnote 19. We shall see later in connection with the family that the notion of inharmony 不平安 includes sickness, financial reverses, death, and numerous other disasters, as well as interpersonal relations. Attention to interpersonal relations during the exorcism of an inharmonious water ghost is not therefore so odd as it may at first seem.

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Upon arrival at the pond the chairs ran madly about the perimeter of the pond, then hurled themselves and their bearers into the water where they circled the pond several times more swinging up and down into and out of the water to drive out the bad thing. At the same time the onlookers shouted high-pitched shouts, hurled burning firecrackers over the pond, and threw handfuls of sesame seeds into the water.20 The shouting, the rain of sesame seeds, and the continual and ubiquitous explosions of firecrackers were all calculated to terrify the ghost, and added to this were the chairs of the gods plowing through the water, hot on the trail of the startled ducks. When the gods climbed out at one bank, they would leap in wildly elsewhere and beat the water with renewed vigor. Had I been the water ghost, I should surely have fled.

Footnote 20. The objective of this last, I was told, was that the bad thing would try to count the seeds, but as there were so many he would surely lose count. In a fit of frustration and pique he would run away and never return. It struck me as unlikely, but that is the only explanation I was able to elicit. Sesame was in season. As I understand it, any small seeds would do.

The body of the drowned child had been encased in an unpainted wooden box, and in the afternoon of the day on which the exorcism was held it was carried out of the village to the cemetery and buried.


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