Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China

Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China

Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China

Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China


This book-length ethnography of the revival of a popular religious temple in contemporary rural China examines the organizational and cultural logics that inform the staging of popular religious activities. It also explores the politics of the religious revival, detailing the relationships of village-level local activists and local state agents wtih temple associations and temple bosses. Shedding light on shifting state-society relationships in the reform era, this book is of interest to scholars and students in Asian Studies, the social sciences, and religious and ritual studies.


The gods were erected by peasants. When the right time comes, the
peasants themselves will throw away these gods with their own

—Mao Zedong

Research Questions and Overview of Main Themes

The reform era (from the early 1980s onward) of the People's Republic of China has witnessed a massive reemergence of ostensibly traditional Chinese folk beliefs and practices. For more than thirty years the Communist state had tried to eradicate cultural expressions of the old, preCommunist China, stigmatizing them as superstitious or "feudalistic," while building a new, socialist culture. Then Mao died, and the economic reforms began, accompanied by significant ideological relaxation. It is in this historical context that the folk cultural revivalism phenomenon is happening: all of a sudden people are busy rebuilding or renovating temples, ancestral halls, and graves that were torn down during the Cultural Revolution, reconstructing family genealogies that were burnt by the Red Guards, reenacting long suppressed rituals around births, weddings, and deaths, going to temple festivals, reading ritual handbooks and consulting fortune-tellers and geomancers, praying for male babies, or simply thinking feudalistic thoughts (see Wolf 1996). It is clearly not yet the time for the peasants to throw away the gods with their own hands, as Mao had hoped. What if the peasants want to keep the gods?

If many Chinese peasants today are engaged in popular religious practices that are traditional in appearance, one would like to know: What makes this repertoire of traditional beliefs and practices compelling for people today? How have various factors combined to enable the revival of religious expressions that are often still prohibited by law? This study attempts to answer these questions by providing an ethnography of the revival and social organization of one particular temple in rural Shaan-

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