Precious Scroll of the Ten Kings in the Suzhou Area of China

with Changshu Funerary Storytelling as an Example

  • Rostislav Berezkin
Keywords: baojuan (precious scrolls), Chinese Buddhism, folk beliefs, storytelling, rituals, folklore


This paper examines the connections to be found between the cult of the Ten Kings of the underworld and the practice of baojuan storytelling (“telling scriptures,” or scroll recitation) in the Suzhou area of Jiangsu province. In some places, notably the city of Changshu, the stories devoted to the Ten Kings are recited during funerary services for the dead and are combined with the ritual actions aimed at salvation of the dead soul (i.e., with the object of obtaining a better form of rebirth for the deceased in the next life). These practices and related narratives have local specifics. They have been known since the 19th century, but rarely have been documented in historical sources. This paper is largely based on the results of the author’s fieldwork in several areas of Suzhou, where this storytelling has survived until the present, in addition to materials preserved in libraries. It focuses on discussion of the origins, special features, and religious affiliation of these funerary performances, taking the Changshu tradition as an example. The author also analyzes the meaning of this ritualized storytelling in comparison with funerary rites and performances in other areas of China and applies to it universal ritual theory. Funerary baojuan performances constitute a part of the complex “ritual event” that involves several groups of religious specialists and texts and rituals of different origins, and that has important social functions in the communities in which they are practiced.


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Author Biography

Rostislav Berezkin

ROSTISLAV BEREZKIN obtained his PhD degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He is an associate professor at the National Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Fudan University (Shanghai). His main fields of research are religious storytelling and popular religion in late imperial China, precious scrolls (baojuan) in particular. His publications in Russian include a book on the function of precious scrolls in Chinese culture, with the Baojuan about the Three Rebirths of Mulian as an example (Dragotsennye svitki v dukhovnoy kul’ture Kitaya: na primer Baots’ziuan’ o trëkh voploshcheniyakh Muliania. Saint Petersburg: Saint Petersburg Centre for Oriental Studies, 2012). His English articles have been published in T’oung PaoLate Imperial ChinaAsia MajorMonumenta SericaJournal of Chinese ReligionsMinsu quyi (Journal of Chinese Theatre and Folklore), CHINOPERL (Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature) and other authoritative journals.

How to Cite
Berezkin, R. (2016). Precious Scroll of the Ten Kings in the Suzhou Area of China: with Changshu Funerary Storytelling as an Example. Archiv orientální, 84(2), 381-412.
Research Article