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Tan, Hwee-San (2003) Sounds for the dead: ritualists and their vocal liturgical music in the Buddhist Rite of Merit in Fujian, China. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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In Minnan, southern Fujian, China, a complex ritual performance carried out by ritual specialists after death to assist a soul’s journey to a better afterlife is known as gongde. Three types of Buddhist ritualist may perform gongde: institutional ordained monks, semi-institutional women practitioners called caigu (“vegetarian sisters”), and lay professional ritual specialists xianghua heshang (“incense-flower monks”). This thesis examines the music, ritual structure, and the background and role of the three types of specialist in gongde. Of the three types, the ordained monks and the women caigu reveal strong links while the lay xianghua have a more tenuous relationship with the two. The hymn style commonly used in gongde performed by the first two groups is said to be a regional one originating from Fuzhou, the provincial capital north of Minnan. At the same time, a National style reserved mainly for rituals aimed at personal religious enhancement is now a preferred choice in gongde by ordained monks. Interesting questions arise about agreement in hymn styles, melodic unity in hymns and the relationship between text and music, issues about change and variation in relation to musical migration, and musical features in the recitation (niansong) form, which is often thought of as non-melodious. This thesis addresses these issues. It also considers the relationship between xianghua and the orthodox Buddhists, and the close link between the music of the former and that of local secular traditions. Social and economic transformations in China in the past two decades have led to change in gongde. The three types of ritualists and their respective re-constructions of gongde reveal new responses to social changes and political ideology, which in turn impact on music in gongde.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Department of Music
SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: David Hughes
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2022 16:00
Related URLs: https://ethos.b ... bl.ethos.401898 (Organisation URL)

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