1. Taking a step and putting your foot down with out any agenda or plan. (Like in Bagua zhang)
2. These pictures and videos of the Goddess Mazu, in Taiwan.
3. The Chinese word for fist: quan. (By linguistic extension it also means a martial arts routine which can be performed.)
The answer is they are all different parts of a processional religious tradition. This tradition of performance and ritual cuts deeply across western conceptual categories of meaning.
A few days ago I wrote about Paulie Zink, and the difficulty I had making sense of his monkey style Daoist religious performance training. When we think of African religion, a dancing ritual expert is not so hard to imagine. How about a Chinese dance that is so full of unseen power that if word spreads it is about to be performed, people run home and lock their doors?
Kristofer Schipper in his brilliant work The Taoist Body, explains that people trained in monkey gongfu also played the monkey god (who steals the peach belonging to the Queen Mother of the West) in ritual performances which had a strong religious function for Chinese communities. Such performances were part of religious celebrations, festivals and processions associated with local temples and sacred history. He also talks about Daoist puppet masters:
"Puppets are rarely called in just for the show; their power is such that they are considered invaluable aids in the battle against evil influences. A troupe is called on to exorcise these influences in the event of disaster such as fire, flood, drought, or epidemics. They also come to purify newly built houses and temples or to consecrate important offerings, either to the gods or to the orphan souls. This is because the puppets do not just represent the gods: they are the gods."
"As a rule, a marionette ensemble consists of thirty-six bodies and seventy two heads. Together, these add up to 108, which corresponds to the total number of constellations. The puppets, therefore, represent all the essences of the universe. Before the play begins, the marionettes are consecrated in the same way as the statues of the gods and the tablets of the ancestors. They are thus infused with the spiritual force of the gods they represent. So fearsome is their strength that when they chase away demons with their chants and dances, and assail invisible devils with their miniature weapons, no one dares to look. The orchestra plays, the master puppeteer recites sacred formulas, the puppets move about, but the place in front of the stage remains empty and the common people stay home behind closed doors afraid that , in a panic, the demons might take refuge in their homes, or even it their bodies."
When a puppet god puts his foot down, does he have an agenda? Or is his foot embodying the Daoist idea of wuwei: nothing is done, yet like water, nothing is left unnourished?