Rituals that accompany community celebrations in China come in two kinds: vernacular and classical. The reason why these two forms exist is not easily explained. To the two forms of liturgy correspond two kinds of specialists: the tao-shi (Taoist dignitary) and the fa-shih (Master of rites). Both are commonly called “master,” and their practices are often confused by laymen. In fact, the two traditions are opposite and rivaling, but they are also largely complementary. This article, which is mainly based on fieldwork in southern Taiwan during the 1960s, explores both traditions, but emphasizes the lesser known vernacular one. An attempt is made to assess how widespread this situation was in China, and how far back in history it can be traced. The story of Hsu Chia, Lao-tzu's illiterate servant, which is considered the origin of the vernacular tradition, is studied in detail.

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