Although ancestor worship has been widely acknowledged as one of the most significant cultural traditions in Chinese society, information about its nationwide popularity and followers’ sociodemographic characteristics is still not clear. Taking advantage of the first nationwide survey on Chinese residents’ spiritual life, this study examines: (1) the extent of popularity of typical ancestor worship practices, (2) the sociodemographic features of ancestor worship individuals, and (3) the “magical” elements of ancestor worship activities. Empirical results suggest that, first, the most popular ancestor worship practices in contemporary China are venerating the spirits of ancestors or deceased relatives and visiting the gravesite of ancestors. Ancestor worship practice participants make up over 70 percent of the adult population. Second, on average, males are more active in ancestor worship than females. Also, economic status is positively associated with ancestor worship participation. Nevertheless, urbanization and migration have a negative effect on people’s propensity of practicing ancestor worship. Third, the magical aspect of ancestor worship is less attractive to well-educated adults, but more likely to be followed by senior individuals.


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pp. 169-186
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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