Paul R. Katz (康豹): “Superstition” and its Discontents – On the Impact of Temple Destruction Campaigns in China, 1898-1948

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‘Superstition’ and its Discontents – On the Impact of Temple Destruction Campaigns in China, 1898-1948



For the original website and full article see here.

1. Introductory Remarks
Based on the growing awareness that important processes of change shaped the fate of Chinese religion during the last decade of the Qing and the entire Republican period, this paper proposes to examine temple destruction campaigns in China from 1898 to 1948, including the tearing down of temple buildings or appropriating their property to be used as schools or other non-religious edifices,as well as outlawing their ritual activities and the specialists who participated in them. We know that during this period China’s central, regional, and local governments frequently labeled temples and their rituals (especially festivals) as forms of “superstition” (mixin 迷) and launched a series of campaigns to both seize their property and to assert the state’s authority over communal society. Some of these temple cults have reemerged since the 1980s, but what happened in between is, in the current state of scholarship, anybody’s guess. Yet, the extent to which these facets of communal religion were destroyed during the 50 years covered by this paper makes a vital difference in explaining their revival or lack thereof.
These issues are explored as part of an Academia Sinica Thematic Research Project entitled “1898-1948: Fifty Years that Changed Chinese Religions” (「1898-1948:改變了中國宗教的50年」; 100年度中央研究院主題研究計), currently being undertaken with Vincent Goossaert (高萬桑). This project endeavors to place religion at the core of understanding modern Chinese history by assessing three forms of change: 1) Mutations of the communal structures of religion; 2) New types of elite religiosity; and 3) Innovative productions of religious knowledge. This paper belongs to the project’s first theme.
The paper is divided into three sections. The first provides a critical overview of the different campaigns that targeted temples and their rituals (not to mention other forms of traditional religious life), including “build schools with temple property” (miaochan xingxue 廟產興學), “eradicating superstitions” (pochu mixi破除迷信), and “rectifying customs” (fengsu gailiang 風俗改良), as well as related undertakings like the New Culture Movement (Xin wenhua yundong 文化運動) and the New Life Movement (Xin shenghuo yundong 新生活運動).
The second part of the paper considers the roles played by different actors who supported or opposed these campaigns, as well as the outbreaks of resistance their efforts could provoke. The third assesses the impact of these campaigns through case studies of those areas covered by the “Fifty Years” project, namely Shanghai 上海 and Zhejiang 浙江 urban centers such as Hangzhou 杭州,  Ningbo 寧波, Huzhou 湖州, and Wenzhou 溫州. This study draws on a widerange of sources (local gazetteers, archives, newspaper accounts, etc.) in order to trace for the first time and in detail how the famed temples and extravagant festival cultures in the above-mentioned cities were nearly reduced to ruin. Evenmore importantly, examining the specifics of these processes allows us to more carefully consider the following questions: What changed in temples and their ritual functions? What was lost and what was preserved, and why? Who were the key actors in these processes of historical transformation?