So the Yao (or Dao in Vietnamese) maintained a story about themselves which they got from early Chinese sources. This story claims that they are descended from a dog-man named Panhu and is recorded in texts that are called either the “Charter of Emperor Ping” (Pinghuang quandie 評皇券牒) or the “Passport for Crossing the Mountains” (Guoshan bang 過山榜).
In the previous post I mentioned that there are some similarities between the structure of this story and that of The Tale of the Hồng Bàng Clan. While these two stories are similar in that they were both created from extant textual information and both have a similar storyline, the way that these two stories have historically been “read” over the past few centuries is very different.
The “Charter of Emperor Ping” and the “Passport for Crossing the Mountains” were recorded on long scrolls that also contained pictures of some of the figures mentioned in the story and imprints from what are claimed to be imperial seals.
The pictures of people are strikingly similar to images that we find in Daoist iconography. This is not surprising given the fact that the Yao did adopt various Daoist practices and beliefs. Therefore, in his book on the Yao and Daoism (A History of Daoism and the Yao People of South China), Eli Alberts has argued that these Yao texts likely played a role as ritual objects.
More specifically, what Alberts and other scholars have argued is that these texts were likely displayed on various ritual occasions for (illiterate) people to see.
Meanwhile, anthropologist Peter Kandre found in the 1970s that the “descent from Panhu” story was “sung” as part of the marriage ceremony among some Yao communities in northern Thailand at that time. He also recorded information about elaborate ceremonies for Emperor Ping (the emperor who granted Panhu his daughter) that included the sacrifice of a pig in the emperor’s honor, etc.
These Yao documents were therefore very much “alive.” They were “performed” in rituals that were vital for Yao communities wherever they went.
By contrast, the text that contains the Tale of the Hồng Bàng Clan, the Lĩnh Nam chích quái liệt truyện, does not appear to have been “read” in anything like this way at all.
So how do we account for the fact that these texts that were similar in their creation and their content were read in such different ways in their respective societies? Why was the Panhu story a “living” aspect of Yao culture no matter where Yao lived, whereas the Tale of the Hồng Bàng Clan does not appear to have played such a role among the Việt? What does this tell us about these two societies and their supposed ancient histories?