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Playing and Mourning : Rituals in Southwest China

Playing and Mourning : Rituals in Southwest China

Documentary film (2012-2013, DVD, 24 min & 44 min)

1 DVD includes the 2 versions (English & Chinese)

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US$20.99 tax incl.

Rituals organize and symbolize a way of living together. Among the ethnic minorities who, all together, account for around nine percent of China’s population, those living in the southwest may offer the widest repertoire of ritual performances. Caring for the souls of the dead, chasing away ghosts so as to cure illnesses, rejoicing at times of marriage and New Year harvests are some of the occurrences in which ritual celebrations take place. The four rituals that this documentary follows all take place in Sichuan province, among people of Yi, Qiang and Ersu ethnic origins.

Meigu county 美姑县 is located in Liangshan prefecture 凉山州, the southwest corner of Sichuan, home to the Liangshan Yi people 凉山彝族 – who, in their own language, call themselves “Nuosu.” 诺苏人. We follow here a ritual practitioner (a bimo 毕摩) helping a family enter a new time of the year with restored confidence.

A few hours away, in Mianning county 冕宁县, another Nuosu settlement, relatives and friends gather for a funeral.

The name Qiang 羌族 refers today to an ethnic minority group of around 300 000 people established on the foothills that separate the plains around Chengdu from the highlands of Eastern Tibet. In the area of Wenchuan 汶川 we follow the ritual process that comes with the construction of a new house after the devastating earthquake of May 12 2008.

Also dwelling in Liangshan prefecture and the surrounding areas, Ersu people 尔苏人 claim to descend from the first population to settle there. They inherited the characteristic Shaba pictographic system 萨巴文, used in rituals – a script where the color of a character modifies its meaning. Shaba is also the name given to the religious practitioners, who exhibit features reminiscent of the shamans of the Tibetan Bon religion 苯教 and Taoist priests. We follow here the last traces of this disappearing tradition. However, the tale of the disappearing Ersu shaman does not speak of the end of rituals, but rather of the way rituals need to remain anchored into a social and cultural reality. Every community needs to ritually reenact its origins, to proclaim its continuity and to reaffirm its solidarity so as to provide its members with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.

Year of production: 2012-2013

Duration (English version) : 24 min

Chinese version : 44 min

Production : Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University

Taipei Ricci Institute

Directed and filmed by Liang Zhun 

Script : Benoît Vermander 


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