Spirit-writing Halls and the Development of Local Communities: A Case Study of Puli

Paul R. Katz. “Spirit-writing Halls and the Development of Local Communities: A Case Study of Puli (Nantou County).” Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 174 (2011.12): 103-84.
康豹。〈鸞堂與地方社會的發展:以埔里地區為例〉。《民俗曲藝》174 (2011.12): 103-84


In recent years, a growing number of scholars have begun to undertake path-breaking research projects on the development of communal religious traditions. However, such scholarship has tended to center on temple cults, largely ignoring the question of how modern Chinese social history was also shaped by voluntary religious associations that practiced spirit-writing. The goal of this paper is to highlight the social aspects of spirit-writing groups, particularly “phoenix halls” located in the town of Puli (Nantou County, central Taiwan).
In Puli, as well as many other parts of Taiwan, phoenix halls are home to highly diverse communities of men and women committed to the pursuit of self-cultivation, moral edification, and social activism. Their initiated members (literally “disciples of the phoenix”) tend to sub-divide into many different groups, and people belonging to one group may not necessarily play an active role in another group’s activities. In general, about a dozen or even fewer male initiates are in charge of a hall’s spirit-writing rituals. However, dozens of other initiates devote themselves to performing rites for worshipping a hall’s deities, while others manage the hall’s finances and communal activities, including philanthropy, pilgrimages, and participation in local festivals.
The historical and ethnographic data obtained during our research indicates that the rapid growth of Puli’s phoenix halls has in large part resulted from the efforts of local elites, including those who manage these sacred sites and those who perform as wielders during their rites. In addition, it is clear that phoenix halls can only thrive by utilizing extensive networks of connections with other sacred sites, including both local temples and other phoenix halls. Phoenix halls continue to impact Puli’s religious traditions today, both through their rituals and their engagement with local networks of power, while their educational and philanthropic activities have also made an impact on communal life. One might even be so bold as to say that some halls have developed according to patterns similar to those of major public temples.


Also in Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore:

賴玉玲。楊梅的義民信仰聯庄與祭典。《民俗曲藝》137 (2002.9): 165-201
Lai Yu-ling. “Village Alliances and the Festival of Heroes in Yangmei, Taiwan.” Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 137 (2002.9): 165-201.