AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 711

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Session 711: 1898-1948: Fifty Years that Changed Chinese Religions -- Mutations and Adaptations of Communal Religious Structures - Sponsored by the Society for the Study of Chinese Religions

Organizer: Paul R. Katz, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Chair: David Ownby, University of Montreal, Canada

Discussant: David Ownby, University of Montreal, Canada

This panel proposes to explore the ways in which Chinese communal religious structures adapted to the political and social changes that shaped the last decade of the Qing empire and the entire Republican era. We know that as early as 1898-1911 the Chinese state launched a series of assaults on temples, both to seize their landed property and to assert authority over local society. Some (but not all) of these temples revived since the 1980s, but what happened in between is, in the current state of scholarship, anybody’s guess. Yet the extent to which communal religious traditions proved able to adjust in the face of state suppression during this era makes a vital difference in explaining their revival or lack thereof. Moreover, temples were not seized or destroyed at random; some (like City God temples) were prime targets due to their political significance, while others were left relatively unscathed. Temples in some areas fared better than in others, for reasons that we require explanation in light of the distinctive features of different local religious systems. In short, our panel attempts to go beyond temple destruction by delineating the inherent dynamics of how temples and their festivals responded and even innovated at the local level. The four papers in our panel approach these issues from a wide range of perspectives. Lo Shih-chieh draws on data about the Wenzhou Dragon Boat Festival to better understand this area’s political transformations during the late Qing and early Republican eras. Poon Shuk-wah’s paper focuses on the development of pilgrimage rites centering on the Dragon Mother Temple located in Yuecheng (Guangdong) during the Republican period. Vincent Goossaert explores how the organization of local Jiangnan society around Daoist-managed ‘central temples’ (like those to the City God) was affected by anti-superstition campaigns that often targeted these very temples. The paper by Paul Katz examines CCP elite memories of religious life in modern Wenzhou using newly discovered data from the early 1960s.

Deep Play: Dragon Boats and Wenzhou Local Politics (1890-1930)
Shih-chieh Lo, University of Connecticut, USA

Dragon boat races have long been understood—both popularly and within the academic world—as an essential component of the Duanwu 端午 festival (often called the “Dragon Boat Festival”) that is held across China to commemorate the ancient martyr Qu Yuan 屈原 (ca. 340 BCE - 278 BCE). It has been argued that this festival can be seen as an example of how a high level of cultural integration during the late imperial era fostered a Chinese national culture. In this paper, however, I utilize a local historical approach to problematize the above narrative by focusing on dragon boat races held annually in Rui’an (瑞安) county of Southern Wenzhou (溫州) Prefecture during late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Rui’an this competition has long been considered an essential part of a local Dragon Mother (longmu 龍母) cult. Moreover, local diarists and chroniclers report that this annual competition frequently sparked armed conflicts from at least as early as the late Ming dynasty. These circumstances raise important questions about the links between dragon boat racing and communal religious tradition in Wenzhou. By drawing on Clifford Geertz’s description of “deep play” in local politics, as well as rarely accessed local archives, this paper will trace the correlations between politics and religious traditions in modern Wenzhou in order to shed light on the political reconfigurations (the rise of local factions and local autonomy) that reshaped communal life during this turbulent era.

Thriving under an Anti-superstition Regime: The Cult of Dragon Mother in Yuecheng, Guangdong during the 1930s
Shuk-wah Poon, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

This paper will analyze the cult of the Dragon Mother (Longmu 龍母) during the 1930s, especially pilgrimages to her temple located in Yuecheng 悅城 (Deqing 德慶 County, Guangdong Province). The Dragon Mother can be described as the Goddess of the West River (西江), being venerated both by people living along its shores and merchants who used it to engage in trade between Guangdong and Guangxi. The Dragon Mother Temple, said to have been built before the Song dynasty, had become an important regional religious center by the Ming dynasty. During the Republican period, when anti-superstition campaigns were in full swing in various places of Guangdong province, the Dragon Mother Temple not only survived but flourished. Pilgrims from Guangdong, Guangxi, and even Hong Kong flocked to the temple on the eighth day of the fifth lunar month to celebrate the goddess’ birthday. This paper will explain the local political and social contexts of this important cult during the Republican era, including the role of pilgrimages in shaping the regional economy and the ways in which modern means of transportation enabled the cult’s expansion.

The Fate of the Daoist Bureaucracy in Jiangnan during the Republican Period
Vincent Goossaert, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France

My earlier work on Daoism in the Jiangnan area led me to analyze the territorial dimensions of socio-religious organization there as strongly linked to the Daoist bureaucracy. Specifically, late imperial village and neighborhood temples were integrated by various ritual mechanisms with Daoist-managed “central temples” (such as Chenghuang miao 城隍廟 or Dongyue miao 東嶽廟). These central temples were very often prime targets of anti-superstition campaigns from 1911 onwards. This paper will attempt to explore, based on several case studies, what happened to Daoist central temples in Republican-period Jiangnan, and how this in turn affected the socio-religious networks and practices (processions, temples alliances, ‘Heavenly taxes’ etc.) for which these temples served as focal points.

Writing a Place for Rites -- Visions of “Old Customs” in Wenzhou during the Great Leap Forward
Paul R. Katz, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper will examine elite memories of religious life in late Qing and Republican Wenzhou 温州 using newly discovered data from the early 1960s. It focuses on a lengthy (100,000-character) account entitled Historical Materials on Wenzhou’s Old Customs (Wenzhou jiusu shiliao 温州舊俗史料), produced in response to a nation-wide summons issued by the CCP government in 1959. During the tumultuous years of the Great Leap Forward, when numerous forms of religious life were suffering state suppression, local scholars and other elites worked to produce this still unpublished text, the original manuscript of which may be found in the Wenzhou Library (it was completed in 1960, but rejected by Zhejiang People’s Publishing House in 1962). In order to assess this work’s historical significance, I will trace the identities of the elites who composed it, while also considering the agendas they pursued during the compilation process. Consideration will also be given to the categorization systems used to classify “old customs”, particularly the extent to which they may have changed over time.