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Tuesday, May 8, 2001 - 19:30

Film: The Miaofeng Shan's Taoist Pilgrimage

Patrice Fava, French Ethnologist, Scholar and Film-maker

Swiss Embassy

Very early in Chinese history, although it was not recorded in the Classics, the religion of the common people included the worship of great female deities (like Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, who rose to great prominence in the Han dynasty). Under the Ming, the first emperor put the dynasty under the aegis of the Three Teachings (Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism). Thus, Taoism fared better than it sometimes had. Temples and pilgrimages multiplied and the great female saints emerged. In northern China, it was the Sovereign of the Clouds of Dawn (Bixia Yuanjun), the daughter of the terrible god of the Eastern Peak. The great pilgrimage held on her birthday was the major social event of the year.

Patrice Fava, a French ethnologist, scholar and film-maker, with 30 years experience in China, will show and present his film on the present day pilgrimage to this deity on Miaofeng Shan near Beijing. This film was first shown at the sinological seminar on Chinese religions organized by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient and the Chinese University in Hong Kong. It was also lent, with other films by Patrice Fava, to Mr. Stephen Little for his big and remarkable exhibition on Taoism and the Arts of China at the Chicago Art Institute in 2000.

At midnight on the first day of the 4th Lunar month a drumbeat announces the opening of the temple doors on Miaofeng Shan, the great sacred mountain of Beijing. Fifty years after it was interrupted, pilgrims resumed their way to the peak to pay homage to the immortal Mother of Heaven (Tian Xian Niangniang) or Sovereign of the Clouds of Dawn, a patron saint of women, children and numerous corporations. More than a hundred charitable associations, martial arts troupes, yangge dancers and procession theatres, participate in the pilgrimage, which resembles descriptions made by an exceptional witness Feng Kuan, in the Manchu period, or by the famous historian and sociologist Gu Jiegang, during the Republican period. This pilgrimage introduces us to the heart of traditional society and religions that have, for centuries, shaped the face of Beijing as a sacred city.