Friday, June 10, 2005

First Attempt

I'm not sure if the following is the best way to begin. It seems like I'm taking too long to get to the central points of my dissertation.

The starting point for my dissertation was the discovery by a Japanese anthropoligical team, led by Shiratori Yoshiro, of ritual manuals and other materials, written in a variant of classical Chinese, in Yao/Mien villages in Northern Thailand. Shiratori's published collection of reproductions of these materials, known as the Yao Documents (1975) caused an international stir among sinologists, anthropologists, and historians, in that it seemed to indicate that a non-Chinese (non-Han) group living in the mountains of Northern Thailand were using Chinese texts in their religious practice. In1982, Michel Strickmann, a sinologist and specialist on religious Daoism, published a brief article, entitled, "The Tao Among the Yao: Taoism and the Sinification of South China," which argued that the materials collected by Shiratori had more affinities with Chinese religion than simply the script in which they were written; the majority were Daoist ritual manuals. In the same year, a French ethnographer, named Jacques Lemoine, published a full length manuscript, called, Yao Ceremonial Paintings, which followed Strickmann in maintaining that the deities represented in Yao paintings were Daoist in origin, and that the bulk of their culture--their writing system, their cosmology, their festivals, their rituals--were borrowed from the dominant Han Chinese.

It should not seem strange that there are affinities between Yao and Chinese culture, because Yao in Thailand migrated there from Central and South China (Hunan, Guangxi, Guangdong, and Yunnan), where they still reside.


Blogger thirdpartydreamer said...

So I'm curious about how those Taoist documents came to be in Thailand. You say the Yao migrated south from China, with the ritual documents? How long have the Yao been in northern Thailand? Do Yao still living in China use the same documents as the ones living in Thailand? Do the ones in Thailand show any Thai cultural influences?

3:46 AM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

Hey Third Party Dream. Is that one word or three, symbolic of the three parties you envision? I'll try to get to your question, but I don't have too much energy right now. As you might have guessed, I ate a little too much last night. Also just came back from Center City, where I saw a great documentary (Not Mr. and Mrs. Smith) called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, about a guy in San Fransisco, who as the title suggests, takes care of the wild parrots there. I should blog about it some time, and I strongly recommend it.

It is hard to say exactly when people identified as Yao first came to Thailand. There seems to have been a lot of cross border movement back and forth within the last one or two hundred years, if not much longer ago. My feeling is that in earlier times, the various national borders that are now recognized were much more porous, if they were existent at all. There were Yao in South China and North Vietnam as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279); exactly how far south they travelled is unclear, though there were certainly Chinese communities (that is, from what is now called China) who travelled further, and made it to present day Thailand.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

The most populous Yao sub-group--Iu Mien--who live in South China, Vietnam, Laos, and are the only Yao group in Thailand, and to have come en masse to North America, have roughly the same ritual and textual materials, including one special document that I have studied, called the Charter of Emperor Ping and the Passport for Crossing the Mountains. Another Yao group, known as Mun or Landian Yao, has similar but different materials. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to travel to every part of the Yao cultural sphere, though it is on my to do list.

4:39 AM  

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