The efflorescence of religious life in China over the past thirty-some years has been truly amazing. In the rural areas and small towns of Wenzhou, on the country’s southeastern coast, where I have conducted fieldwork for the past twenty years, one can find periodic religious festivals celebrated in the streets and see people hold their annual ancestor sacrificial rituals. New and restored deity temples, ancestor halls, Daoist and Buddhist temples, and Protestant and Catholic churches have sprung up at a similarly frantic pace. Yi Jing (易经, “Book of Changes”) diviners, fortune-tellers, geomantic fengshui masters, and spirit mediums all enjoy a prosperous business. Even in mega-cities like Shanghai, where most of the population is firmly secular, one still finds much religious activity. In 2012, I found the main City God Temple in Shanghai gleaming with new interior décor, funded by wealthy families who spend hundreds of thousands of yuan hiring Daoist priests to conduct rituals to ensure family health and prosperity. Furthermore, the growing field of religious studies in China no longer feels the need to restrict research to the safety of the historical past. A new generation of younger scholars conducts fieldwork on the rich and diverse religious life found in all corners of the country today.Read the rest of Gazing into the future.
Mayfair Yang is Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was born in Taiwan, and received her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at U.C. Berkeley. She specializes in the Anthropology of Religion, modernity and the state, China Studies, and Gender and Media Studies. She was Director of Asian Studies at University of Sydney, Australia in 2007-2009. She is the author of Gifts, Favors, & Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China (1994) (American Ethnological Society prize), the editor of Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity & State Formation (2008), and Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China (1999). She produced two documentaries: Through Chinese Women's Eyes and Public and Private Realms in Rural Wenzhou, China. Her book in-progress is titled Re-enchanting Modernity: Sovereignty, Ritual Economy, and Indigenous Civil Society in Coastal China.