Baojuan Manuscripts in Modern Performance Traditions of Jiangsu: With “Telling Scriptures” of Changshu County as an Example (Rostislav Berezkin)
Abstract: Baojuan 寶卷 (precious scrolls) is a type of Chinese prosimetric literature (with alternation of prosaic and poetic passages) used for ritualized storytelling, mostly with religious subject matter. They appeared around the 13th-14th centuries as a type of Buddhist proselytizing literature, but during the Ming and Qing dynasties served as sacred books of various religious movements. At the end of the 19th-early 20th centuries recitation of baojuan became popular in the Jiangnan region, and at that time many texts were devoted to local deities as well as to secular subjects, such as stories borrowed from traditional drama and novels. Because of various historical circumstances, special culture of manuscripts developed around this storytelling practice. It still survives and is quite widespread in the areas around Suzhou.
Scroll recitation in the Suzhou area originally represented “scripted performance”, in which both woodblock printed texts and manuscripts were used. In this regard it resembles the ritual practices of Buddhist and Daoist priests, no wonder that in Changshu (originally a county under Suzhou prefecture) it is known as “scripture telling” (jiangjing 講經). “Scripture telling” is performed there by professional “masters of telling scriptures”, who are specially trained and charge believers for their performances. This article takes “scripture telling” in Changshu area as an example to discuss the special features of manuscript culture of local baojuan in contemporary period, such as traditional transmission of texts, interaction with printed materials, and innovations of individual modern performers.