Folk Religion in Contemporary China

Fenggang Yang and Anning Hu

in Chinese Studies

ISBN: 9780199920082
Published online July 2018 | | DOI:
Folk Religion in Contemporary China

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  • East Asian Studies
  • Asian History
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Folk religion has always been an indispensable component in the Chinese religious landscape; however, it is not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon, but rather common in all societies. Some scholars of Chinese religion have often referred to it as “popular religion.” We prefer to use “folk religion,” as it is in contrast to “world religions” or “institutionalized religions,” whereas “popular religion” in Western contexts may be in contrast to the “official religion” of certain Christian churches. A consensus definition of folk religion is almost impossible, and what has been studied as Chinese folk religion or popular religion is extremely diverse. Typical practices and beliefs of folk religion include feng shui watching, fortune telling, and ancestor worship, to name a few. In general, various beliefs, practices, and social interactions may be differentiated into three broad types of folk religion: communal, sectarian, and individual. Different types of folk religion may have different social functions and different trajectories of change in the modernization process. In the modern era, practices and beliefs pertaining to folk religion have been criticized for its antagonism with modernity. Later under Communist rule since 1949, folk religion has been suppressed as fengjian mixin (feudalist superstitions) and fandong huidaomen (reactionary sects and cults). However, along with the economic and social reforms since the late 1970s, folk religion has revived throughout China, even though the proportions of folk religious believers and practitioners remain substantially smaller than in Taiwan. The revivals of various folk religions in various parts of China have attracted attention from scholars in different disciplines and fields, including but not limited to religious studies, sociology, anthropology, political science, Asian studies, and cultural analysis. Only in recent years have there been quantitative studies of various folk religious beliefs and practices. This article assembles major studies that have a common focus on Chinese folk religion, providing readers with an overview of the current state of this field. It is not our intent to exhaustively include all studies, which, in light of the versatile practices and beliefs of Chinese folk religion, is almost impossible. Instead, we set our priority on timeliness, selecting and reviewing studies in this article that have implications for the contemporary conditions of Chinese folk religion.

Article.  5567 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Studies ; Asian History ; East Asian Philosophy ; East Asian Religions

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