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.
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