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De Jiao - A Religious Movement in Contemporary China and Overseas

Purple Qi from the East

Bernard Formoso

Publication Year: 2010

De Jiao ("Teaching of Virtue") is a China-born religious movement, based on spirit-writing and rooted in a tradition of "halls for good deeds", that emerged in Chaozhou during the Sino-Japanese war. This book relates the fascinating process of its spread throughout Southeast Asia in the 1950s, and, more recently, from Thailand and Malaysia back to post-Maoist China and elsewhere. Through a richly-documented multi-site ethnography of De Jiao congregations in the PRC, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, Bernard Formoso examines the adaptation of Overseas Chinese to sharply contrasted national polities, and the projective identity they build in relation to China. De Jiao is of special interest because its organization and strategies strongly reflect the managerial habits and entrepreneurial ethos of Overseas Chinese businessmen. It also utilizes symbols of the Chinese civilisation whose greatness it claims to champion from the periphery. A central theme of the study is the role that such a religious movement may play to promote new forms of identification to the motherland as substitutes for loosened genealogical links. The book also offers a comprehensive interpretation of the contemporary practice of fu ji spirit-writing, and reconsiders the relation between unity and diversity in Chinese religion.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page

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pp. vii


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pp. ix


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pp. xi


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pp. xiii

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pp. xv

My interest in De Jiao arose in 1993. At the time, I was doing ethnographic fieldwork amongst Chinese traders of a small town in northeast Thailand, and was led to the temples of this religious movement by the important services its priests provided locally, which included the organization of funerals in accordance with Chinese ...

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pp. xvii

Chinese words or expressions have been romanized according to pinyin. Only when words are widely known in a different orthography have I deviated from this phonetic system. Another exception concerns quotations from other sources, whose words are written according to alternative systems (Wade, EFEO). In such cases, I ...

Image Plates

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pp. 1-23

Compared to other religious movements which came out during the last century, De Jiao is small in size: in 2003 its active membership hardly reaches 230,000.1 However, the study of a small religious organization may be of great interest from the moment it highlights patterns and dynamics of a wider range. De Jiao, which appeared as a reaction to the Sino-Japanese War and against the emergence ...

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CHAPTER I: Purple qi Coming from the East

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pp. 24-55

According to legend, at the true moment when Lao Zi, straddling his blue unicorn buffalo, was delivering the 81 chapters and 5,000 stances of the Dao De Jing, a purple blow (qi ) crossed the sky by coming from the East. If the title of both the book and the present chapter makes reference to such an omen, it is because this symbol of ...

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CHAPTER II: Spread to the Southern Seas: Th e Buddhist Horizon

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pp. 56-78

The main assumption I support in this chapter and the following is that the strategies, activities, and organizational patterns developed by De Jiao in the various Southeast Asian countries where it spread highly reflect the political situation of the Chinese in those national contexts, as well as the main features of their acculturation, and ...

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CHAPTER III: Spread to the Southern Seas: Facing the Malay Muslims

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pp. 79-111

In comparison with the movement’s experience in Thailand, the spread of De Jiao in the Malay Peninsula was of a totally different kind. Whereas in the former the movement succeeded in maintaining formal unity, regardless of the struggles for leadership between its members, in Malaysia and Singapore De Jiao continually expanded since the ...

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CHAPTER IV: De Jiao’s Unity and Diversity

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pp. 112-138

The previous chapters have shown that since its early beginnings De Jiao developed by progressively amalgamating small-scale cult communities, and that the phenomenon gained in importance when the organization began to spread to Southeast Asia. Although enlargement, splitting, segmentation, and internal diversification are part of the usual dynamics of religions in complex societies, observable variations ...

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CHAPTER V: Th e Flying Vermilion Bird

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pp. 139-174

In previous chapters, spirit-writing appeared progressively to be the keystone of De Jiao. Almost everything in this religious movement, from the few “canonical” texts it has so far produced to the architecture of shrines, are issued by mediums. Even those among the Malaysian associations which suspended the activity in the late 1970s still rely on ...

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CHAPTER VI: Back to the Motherland and Towards the Global World

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pp. 175-207

In 1994, a divine message delivered at Zi Zhen Ge referred allusively to the reintroduction of De Jiao in mainland China. However, the decisive event which motivated some leaders to the attainment of this objective occurred in 1996, when an instruction came from Xie Tian Ge, the “Heavenly Pavilion for Mutual Aid” that the “honourable masters” ...

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pp. 208-216

De Jiao is one of the Asian new religious movements (NRMs) which formed part of the escalation in religious innovation following the Second World War. Although it was originally a local reaction by Teochew mediums to the occupation of China by Japan, De Jiao rapidly took another dimension, the turning point being the Communist ...


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pp. 217-219


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pp. 220-235


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pp. 236-245


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pp. 246-252


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pp. 253-259

E-ISBN-13: 9789971695798
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971694920

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 4 maps, 15 images
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: New