Academic journal article Ethnology

Temple-Building and Heritage in China (1)

Academic journal article Ethnology

Temple-Building and Heritage in China (1)

Article excerpt

Building Huang Da Xian temples in Jinhua, in the Lower Yangtze Delta, is a "heritage" process, an interpretation, manipulation, and invention of the past for present and future interests. Local memories of the saint Huang Da Xian were awakened by Hong Kong pilgrims, and the subsequent construction of temples enacted the politics of nationalism with a transnational connection. The process of remembering the saint and constructing temples creates, mediates, and invents relationships between the locals in Jinhua and Chinese living in mainland China and elsewhere. The multiple meanings of temple- building are examined for mainland Chinese, Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the nation state. While the mainlanders treat new temples as places to perform religious activities, attract tourists, and develop the local economy, temple construction for the overseas Chinese is a nostalgic search for authenticity and roots. The state has utilized Huang Da Xian as a symbol of nationalism to reinforce a Chinese identity among mainlanders and all other Chinese. (Temple, heritage, tourism, religion, Wong Tai Sin)

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Temple construction and reconstruction in China have been common since the 1980s. At an individual level, temples are often understood to be built to solve anxieties and problems for people living in cities and villages. Temple revival is often for healing wounded cultures and recovering the status of individuals and clans (Jing 1996; Aijmer and Ho 2000). From a societal perspective, the revival of temples is also perceived as a process of recycling cultural fragments under new circumstances (Siu 1989:134), with religion a means to reverse the moral decadence and the commoditi-zation of relationships brought about by economic reforms (Weller 1987). Religious sites show the power dynamics between local authorities and the state (Tsai 2002; Watson 1985; Aijmer and Ho 2000; Hsiao 1960; Dean 2003:352). Ritual celebrations sometimes symbolize resistance against the state (Potter 2003; Feuchtwang 2000), through which the hegemonic model is challenged (Weller 1995; Sangren 1987; Dean 1998:277). Cults and religion also provide a site of "cultural contestation and competing local interests" (Dean 1998:281). While attaining a degree of integration with the state, local society preserves its uniqueness through a complex and diverse network of local and regional cults (Dean 1998:338).

Various forces within the state create or revive temples and grant different meanings to the practice of religion at the local level. But the role of overseas Chinese in reviving or creating religious activities and ritual celebrations has received relatively little attention. The discussions in Kuah (2003) and Woon (1984) of religious practices such as ancestral worship and building ancestral halls in South China mainly focus on the revival of lineage culture. Although Dean (1998) stresses that pilgrims from overseas played a role in the development of temples in Fujian, the emphasis there is on how these cultural symbols were utilized by villagers to form networks in the local community. The present study complements the studies just mentioned by revealing the multiple meanings of temples for people living in China and Hong Kong, and how they and the nation state utilize and appropriate the meanings differently. The temples were constructed as a result of a transnational (i.e., Hong Kong and Taiwan) concern with cultural heritage, the local economy, and tourism. (2) This article suggests that temple construction could be examined as a deliberate process of inventing heritage for tourism and economic development. Two questions will be addressed. How was the revival or invention of heritage triggered by transnational links and subsequently exploited by the locals, together with the efforts of the overseas Chinese and the state for multiple purposes? And how did the process of constructing temples and heritage create and mediate relationships between the locals and other Chinese in China and Chinese overseas? …

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