Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation

Article excerpt

Mayfair Mei-Hui Yang (ed), Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation, BerkeleyLosAngelesLondon, University of California Press, 2008, 464 pp.

Chinese Religiosities is a collective work edited by Mayfair Yang, aimed at analysing the impact of modernity on religious life and the secularising process in China. It contains essays by experts in various disciplines who have sought to present their contributions within the book's overall concern with relations between the modern Chinese State and the country's religious practices. This work also emphasises the problems of applying the category of "religion" to the Chinese context, and the misunderstandings and tensions to which it can give rise.

In the opening section, two writers address the relationship between religion and the secular order. Ya-pei Kuo analyses the transformations in the imperial cult prior to the secularisation of the Chinese state. She describes the development of the state cult of Confucius from the end of the Qing dynasty to the founding of the modern state, and concludes that its ritual innovations contributed towards the establishment of the nationalist lay state. For his part, Prasenjit Duara asks why the new Chinese nation state developed such rigorously anti-religious policies while, paradoxically, overseas Chinese had recourse to religion to reinforce their ethnic identity.

The second section contains essays from five contributors who explain how the discourse and the acts of the modern Chinese state have radically altered the structures of religious life. David Palmer and Benjamin Penny study the link between the contemporary conditions of religious life and the former religious traditions in the history of imperial China. They emphasise that the ambiguities in state discourses since imperial times with regard to controlling heterodox religious movements continue to play a major role in the reconfiguration of modern socialist ideology. Religion has even come to be seen as a possible support for the post-Maoist regime. Ryan Dunch examines the dialogue since 1978 between Chinese Protestants and Communist Party theoreticians, while bringing out the mutual influences between the two sides. The question of Islam is dealt with by Dru Gladney, who explains how the Muslim communities have more or less successfully handled their integration into the secularised state. …

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