Originally hailing from the West coast of the USA, Professor Holm studied classics at Glasgow University before completing this PhD in Chinese at Oxford University. After originally specialising the late Qing dynasty period, he switched his research topic to the cultural policies of the CCP. He completed his fieldwork during the frozen winters of northern Shaanxi Province for ten years during the 1980’s on New Year processions and local theatre, before beginning his research project on ritual theatre in South-west China during the 1990s.
The book is a translation of a Zhuang ritual manuscript called Hanvueng and it tells the story of a king who lost his wife and lived alone with his son, Hanvueng. The king eventually remarries and has a second son, Covueng. The first son is of good temperament and is taken advantage of by his younger half-brother, eventually becoming his slave. Over time, the two brothers become enemies and Hanvueng moves away. He returns as the old king is dying, but Covueng tries to kill him. Hanvueng calls upon the gods to save his life and gets his revenge. He goes up to live in the sky, leaving the younger brother to rule on Earth, who has to pay annual rent for the land. Being a ritual text, it also has a practical purpose – the text is recited during rituals after a family quarrels or in cases of unnatural death. These rituals can help to drive out the malevolent spirits that cause family quarrels, as well as ensuring that the spirits of the deceased are not stuck in limbo between the living and the spirit worlds.