The Flying Phoenix

The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan

DAVID K. JORDAN
DANIEL L. OVERMYER
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 354
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztrdj
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  • Book Info
    The Flying Phoenix
    Book Description:

    Anthropologist David Jordan and Daniel Overmyer, a historian of religions, present a joint analysis of the most important group of sectarian religious societies in contemporary Taiwan: those that engage in automatic writing seances, or worship by means of the phoenix" writing implement.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5420-2
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    David K. Jordan

    Between 1966 and 1968 I was conducting predoctoral fieldwork in an agricultural village in southwestern Taiwan. I called the village Bao-an an 保安 (Pao-an,in the romanization used in this book).¹ Toward the end of my stay in Bao-an, I had an experience which was to change my view of Chinese religion: I was invited to attend something calledpai-luan拜鸞 which, rather inscrutably, meant “phoenix worship.” The session was to be held in a rather unpretentious temple of the popular goddess Ma-tsu 媽祖 in a nearby market town. Here is an edited extract from my field diary, written the...

  5. A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xvii-2)
    Daniel L. Overmyer

    On February 26, 1969, while attending a meeting of the China Society in Taipei, I heard the unmistakable sounds of Chinese ritual chanting, the drone of voices in unison, thetok, tokof the “wooden fish,” thetingof a small gong. It all sounded more interesting than the lecture, so at an appropriate moment I slipped out and found across the street a storefront religious chapel. There about twenty people in light blue-green pants and jackets, trimmed in black, were singing from a scripture text, led by three men at the altar. At intervals they bowed three times, performing...

  6. 1 OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 3-15)

    Understanding human beings and their social groups is the essential goal of both the discipline of history and the social sciences. When the groups are contemporary ones, we usually proceed by directly or indirectly observing or questioning their members, and say that we are engaging in social science. When the groups are extinct ones, or when our concern is with contemporary groups in earlier times, we resort to the use of written documents, oral tradition, and archaeological remains. At that point we say that we are studying history.

    The skills (and temperament) required to do effective historical research differ, of...

  7. 2 THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: POPULAR RELIGIOUS SECTS IN CHINA AND TAIWAN
    (pp. 16-35)

    Popular religious sects in Taiwan are the inheritors of a sectarian tradition that goes back to the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). It was in this period that earlier associations of lay Buddhists incorporated Taoist beliefs and practices and evolved the basic characteristics of sectarian groups from then on: lay membership and leadership, voluntary adherence by individuals, hierarchical organization, distinctive beliefs and rituals, and possession of their own vernacular scriptures. Other important characteristics are active participation by women, construction of temples, and self-consciousness as groups with their own founders and traditions. Some of these associations also had a concern for collective...

  8. 3 BACKGROUND OF THE Chi
    (pp. 36-88)

    The spirit-writing rituals which can be observed in Taiwan are the modern manifestation of a tradition which was first developed in the Sung dynasty (960–1279). This tradition began in part as a form of non-verbal divination by common folk, but by the eleventh century was centered on written messages from immortals and deified culture heroes. In this new form it was embraced by many literati as a means of foreknowing both personal fate and topics on civil service examinations.Fu-chispecialists appeared as well, some of them from the great body of literate people who were not directly concerned...

  9. 4 CASE STUDY I: HISTORY OF THE HALL OF THE WONDROUS DHARMA
    (pp. 89-106)

    In order to get a closer look at some of these features ofpai-luan,we turn now to apai-luanthat was relatively autochthonous, early engaged in a wide variety of activities, and grew rapidly to incorporate a large number of people. By the end of the 1970’s it had run its course, ultimately subverted by unpopular passions of its landlord. The story of the Hall of the Wondrous Dharma will enable us to get a closer look at some of the features ofpai-luanthat we have discussed more abstractly above.

    Sometime in 1946, a prominent member of a...

  10. 5 PAPERS OF THE HALL OF THE WONDROUS DHARMA
    (pp. 107-128)

    The Hall of the Wondrous Dharma described in the preceding chapter produced two books by thefu-chimethod, one a large collection of teachings and admonitions, the other a short text for ritual recitation, similar to those discussed in Chapter 3. Both are popular Taoist in mythological orientation, with conservative Confucian ethical values. There is no hint in them of the mythology associated with the Eternal Mother, which is so prominent in the texts of the Compassion Society and the Unity Sect, discussed below. These materials serve to remind us further of the variety of beliefs among contemporary religious groups,...

  11. 6 CASE STUDY II: THE COMPASSION SOCIETY, A BRIEF HISTORY
    (pp. 129-140)

    The Compassion Society (Tz’u-hui t’ang , 慈惠堂) is a popular religious sect founded in east-central Taiwan in 1949.¹ Although the original revelations are believed to have come through a spirit medium from Chekiang province, membership in the sect from the beginning has been almost entirely Taiwanese, with Hakkas making up a substantial minority. From very humble beginnings the Compassion Society has developed into a full-scale religious system, which, by the time of Overmyer’s visit in 1973, boasted a number of scriptures, an articulated organization centered on the founding temple in Hualien, 112 branch congregations and several thousand members all over...

  12. 7 A COMPASSION SOCIETY LOCAL BRANCH HALLI: A POLITICAL FIELD
    (pp. 141-181)

    In the last chapter we viewed the Tz’u-hui t’ang or Compassion Society, from the center, looking at it as an institution, and examining its history and doctrines as a single organization. But for the individual believer, the Society consists principally of his local “branch hall.” In the present chapter and the one to follow, we shall examine life in a single local branch hall, the Dragon Well Branch Hall, sometimes called the Dragon Palace.¹

    The Dragon Palace is not the oldest branch hall in Tainan City. It was born in a schism from the Southern Mystery Branch Hall. Today it...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 8 SOME COMPASSION SOCIETY BELIEVERS
    (pp. 182-212)

    One of the most frustrating problems in the analysis of religious symbols in their relation to religious experience is that believers often disagree about the interpretation of any given symbol, often (perhaps especially) even about the significance of central symbols of their faith. Sometimes they are aware of the disagreement; more often they are not. Instead, the difference is detected by the ethnographer in the course of seeking a coherent statement of beliefs from a variety of informants.

    The problem of alternative interpretations of the same symbol or the same ritual is as severe in Taiwan as anywhere. Jordan (1976)...

  15. 9 CASE STUDY III: THE UNITY SECT (I–kuan Tao)
    (pp. 213-249)

    The Unity Sect (I-kuan tao– 貫道) is an ethical society devoted to the salvation of its members and ultimately of all mankind, in accordance with teachings claiming to incorporate Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian traditions, and centering, like the Compassion Society, on the cult of the Venerable Mother. The Unity believer obtains salvation from worldly delusion by practicing the “Way” (Tao 道). To do this, the sect encourages believers to follow a variety of traditional religious exercises and uses a distinctive vocabulary of accomplishment, but true benefit from these requires initiation, which simultaneously withdraws the initiate’s name from the rolls of...

  16. 10 WRITINGS OF THE UNITY SECT
    (pp. 250-266)

    The Unity Sect has produced a large number of texts, most of them published after 1930, but some attributed to Wang Chueh-i, the fifteenth-sect patriarch active in the late nineteenth century. Li Shih-yü, in his pioneering study of this group, describes 130 Unity books which he collected in the Tientsin area in the mid-1940’s. He divides these texts into four types:

    a. Books produced by the Unity Sect itself, most by spirit writing

    b. Scriptures borrowed from other popular sects

    c. Texts from orthodox Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Li notes that relatively few books of this type were used because...

  17. 11 CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 267-288)

    Three anthropological problems posed by thepai-luansocieties of Taiwan were set out in Jordan’s introduction. At this point it is useful to examine each of these issues in turn, making use of the extensive textual and case material that has been presented since the themes were outlined in the introduction. First, there was the ethnographic finding thatpai-luanprovides a stage for individual religiosity, in contrast to many other aspects of popular religion, which focus upon the prescriptive corporate group. Second, the importance of the self-consciousness of syncretism was pointed out and suggested as an important motivation inpai-luan...

  18. APPENDIX I THE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION OF THE UNITY SECT
    (pp. 289-292)
  19. APPENDIX 2 RITUALS OF THE UNITY SECT
    (pp. 293-303)
  20. APPENDIX 3 WRITTEN MATERIALS OF THE COMPASSION SOCIETY
    (pp. 304-306)
  21. APPENDIX 4 SOME Fu-chi MAGAZINES PUBLISHED IN TAIWAN
    (pp. 307-307)
  22. APPENDIX 5 TABLE OF CONTENTS OF THE “COMPENDIUM OF PRECIOUS SCRIPTURES FROM THE SAINTS AND SAGES”
    (pp. 308-310)
  23. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 311-322)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 323-329)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)