The Temple of Memories: History, Power, and Morality in a Chinese Village

The Temple of Memories: History, Power, and Morality in a Chinese Village

The Temple of Memories: History, Power, and Morality in a Chinese Village

The Temple of Memories: History, Power, and Morality in a Chinese Village

Synopsis

This study focuses on the politics of memory in the village of Dachuan in northwest China, in which 85 percent of the villagers are surnamed Kong and believe themselves to be descendants of Confucius. It recounts both how this proud community was subjected to intense suffering during the Maoist era, culminating in its forcible resettlement in December 1960 to make way for the construction of a major hydroelectric dam, and how the village eventually sought recovery through the commemoration of that suffering and the revival of a redefined religion. Each chapter in this moving book addresses a particular problem of remembrance associated with the history of Dachuan's Confucian temple, its reconstruction, and its function in the transmission of ritual knowledge and religious values from village elders who remember the pre-Communist era to younger people for whom even the trauma of radical socialism is but a receding memory. This account of the struggle of a devastated community to resurrect its heritage, and thereby itself, gives us a vivid understanding of the complex interactions of memory, history, and religion.

Excerpt

From the Yongjing county seat, a six-kilometer paved road leads to a dirt path running through the relocated village of Dachuan. At the intersection of this path and a residential lane is an enclosure of high mud-brick walls with, on its southern side, an imposing gate with cast-iron handles. Once inside this gate, a towering wooden structure can be seen. The vertical plaque over its entrance signals that this is da cheng dian--the Monumental Hall of Great Accomplishment. Its beams, eaves, columns, and bracketings are clear-varnished, rather than painted as is often the case in Chinese temples, giving the building a wonderful golden glow. To its sides are classrooms for preschoolers and a watchman's office-cum-bedroom.

The reader will want to know why this sacred site is identified in this study as a "Confucius temple," and why its central building is called by the local people "Monumental Hall of Great Accomplishment." The Chinese term for "temple" is si in the Buddhist tradition and guan in the Taoist tradition. Neither is ordinarily applied to the buildings erected in memory of great men and ancestors, which usually are called ci and ci tang, respectively. In Chinese popular religion, the temples enshrining . . .

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