Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunnan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance (EAP012)

Aims and objectives

Until a Naxi dongjing orchestra held extraordinarily successful concerts in Beijing and Paris in the 1990s, dongjing had been neglected for near half a century. However, the “rediscovery” of dongjing does not necessarily mean a better understanding and preservation strategy, let alone research. With the development of tourism and modernization in Yunnan recent years, dongjing has faced a more serious situation than before. The present project aims to salvage and preserve dongjing archives in Yunnan, whose transcript, music, ritual, and performance reveal classics, literature, religion, social life and regional culture of pre-modern China, which are not available in any other source.

Dongjing refers to a body of Daoist and Confucian texts, which are accompanied with traditional scores and could be sung and played by an orchestra. The dongjing originated in Central China in the 13th century, and diffused into Southwest China in 15th century. Due to enduring political turmoil and social transitions, presently dongjing does not survive except in Southwest China and northern mainland Southeast Asia. Dongjing is best preserved in Yunnan. Though the majority of the texts are Daoist, it is Confucians, instead of Daoist monks, who dominated the compilation and performance of dongjing.

The dongjing archives in north Yunnan take the following form:

  1. Text transcripts: some are printed by traditional Chinese woodblock method, the majority are manuscripts, owned by temples or individuals.
  2. Music scores: there exist more than 700 melodies in north Yunnan presently but only less then 100 melodies are recorded, the majority is transmitted in an oral literature manner.
  3. Wenchanggong (Temple of Literature God): it is the key site for dongjing performance. All the temples are in terrible situation now due to lack of fund. Except few, most Wenchanggong temples have never been recorded in any archive format.
  4. Rituals: they are closely connected with, but not limited to temples. Rituals were once banned for ideological reason, and recently partly restored, but are reshaped to attract tourists.
  5. Steles: they are open-aired stored at Wenchanggong, in a neglected situation. Very limited rubbings have been made and stored at county libraries.
  6. Performances: presently there are two kinds of performance, one, organized by government, is modified to satisfy public audience, and the other, organized by clubs of former dongjing guild members, keeps the tradition. The development of tourism has accelerated the disappearance of the traditional performance. Though the modern performance is frequently recorded or filmed, the traditional is rarely done. Both rituals and performances are now endangered by the development of tourism in Yunnan.


The project successfully completed a thorough investigation of dongjing archives in Dali, Chuxiong, Kunming and Qujing in North Yunnan and produced an interdisciplinary dongjing archives – the first on this subject in the world.

The dongjing archives include approximately 4,000 digital files of transcripts and manuscripts, about 200 scores dating from the late 19th century to the 1990s, up to 40 hours of audio recordings from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, about 10 hours of video recordings and 40 recording hours of oral historical interviews.

In addition, Sun Yat-sen University has funded three small workshops on dongjing and cultural heritage in Southwest China, participation in an international conference on studies of Southwest China held in Guilin, Guangxi in January 2007and the publication of a series of field reports and research monographs on endangered cultures.

The original material has been either relocated to Sun Yat-sen University Library or returned to the owners. Complete copies of the collections have been housed in the special collection section of the University Library, the archives of the Centre of Historical Anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University and the British Library. A special website will be developed in the near future.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

Three of the manuscripts are available to view on the Digitised Manuscripts section of the British Library’s website: