The Emergence of a Temple-Centric Society

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Aoe Historical Anthropology of Chinese Society Conference

28-30 September 2017

Room 220, Fung King Hey Building, CUHK

While it is now agreed that lineage China, in which villages were organized around ancestor halls, did not really become a prominent part of the landscape, even in South China, before the mid-Ming, far less attention has been paid to the fact these same villages—as well as market towns and county seats—came increasingly to be organized as territory around temples of the popular religion, as opposed to earth god altars or Buddhist and Daoist monasteries. From the Northern Wei on, when the state first decreed the creation of such monasteries in every county, monasteries had been the prime religious institutions receiving state funds. But with the takeoff of title granting to popular local gods from the 11th century on, while monasteries continued to enjoy state support, they increasingly could not compete with the god temples of popular religion. One result was that religious festivals, both in villages and in market towns, came to be organized around the local temples, and involve parades of the gods throughout the territory they protected and policed. Another result was the rise to prominence of local gods served by spirit-mediums and of local Buddhists and Daoists who came to be worshiped pretty much like any other local god (Dingguang, Chen Jinggu). Closely linked to these changes are the increasing prominence of popular forms of Buddhism (Pu’an, Yujia, Lingshan) and Daoism (the fashi) that incorporated local gods and even found ways to work directly with spirit-mediums.