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A History of Daoism and the Yao People of South China By Eli Alberts ...

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A History of Daoism and the Yao People of South China


The Discovery of Yao Daoism

The term “Yao” ()1 refers to a non-sinitic2 speaking, southern “Chinese”3 people who originated in central China, south of the Yangzi River. Peoples identified as Yao, whose cultures, until recently, were characterized by a reliance on swidden or slash and burn agriculture, upland habitation, and widespread migratory patterns, live in the southern Chinese provinces of Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan; in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand; and in the last few decades, in Europe and North America. Despite categorization by Chinese and Western scholars of Yao as an ethnic minority with a primitive culture, it is now recognized that not only are certain strains of religious Daoism prominent in Yao ritual traditions, but Yao share many elements with pre-modern official and mainstream Chinese culture: their cosmology, their festive calendar, their pantheon of deities with its heavenly hierarchy, their system of ritual practices, and their script.4 All Yao scriptures are written in a variant of Chinese, marked by a combination of literary, vernacular, and even southern Chinese and Yao dialectal elements. This unique combination