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  • Building Temples in China: Memories, Tourism and Identities by Selina Ching Chan and Graeme Lang
  • Courtney Bruntz
Selina Ching Chan and Graeme Lang, Building Temples in China: Memories, Tourism and Identities. Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2015. viii, 178 pp. US $165 (hb). ISBN 978-0-415-64224-8

Offering an extensive analysis of revived Daoist temples dedicated to Huang Daxian 黃大仙, sociologists Chan and Lang draw on 15 years of fieldwork to examine local government contributions to temple rebuilding for tourism. Their work comes from the regions of Zhejiang 浙江 and Guangdong 廣東, and in addition to investigating local government involvement, chapters provide insight into transnational networks, issues of authenticity, management styles, and market forces.

This study adds to a growing body of literature regarding religious revivalism in post-Mao China. Such work includes examinations of tourism, economic development, and Chinese religions,1 the reconstruction of temples and religious practices in China,2 and relationships between the state and religion.3 Following market reforms, religious tourism emerged as a means of economic development. Tourist festivals began, e.g., an annual Guanyin 觀音 cultural festival at Mount Putuo 普陀山 and a Daoist cultural festival in Sichuan 四川, and colossal statues were built to distinguish sites and draw visitors, e.g., the Lingshan Buddha 靈山大佛, the 108-meter Guanyin statue at the Nanshan Buddhist Culture Park 南山佛教文化園, and the 33-meter statue of Laozi at Mount Mao 茅山.4 Chan and Lang's study adds to research on such developments, and complements ethnography providing invaluable insight into the restoration of Daoist rituals and local religious communities.5 What sets their work apart is its multi-site approach comparing Huang Daxian temples, and its focus on religious revivalism in the context of local [End Page 221] government initiatives. They reveal that in the process of sponsoring the rebuilding of temples, government officials did not intend to revive religious practice, but rather attract visitors for tourism. However, such efforts aimed at economic development inevitably included the reawakening of histories and legends regarding the Daoist deity. Furthermore, one determining factor regarding a temple's success in attracting visitors was its quality and diversity of religious services. Thus in competitive tourist markets, a temple's survival is based on a variety of factors including historical connections to Huang Daxian, location and ease of access, ritual performances, local government support, practitioner patronage, and temple management.

After describing their longitudinal fieldwork, the authors review legends regarding Huang Daxian, as well as historical veneration of the deity in Zhejiang and Guangdong. They then uncover recent revivalism, taking into account the efforts of local government officials, villagers, and Hong Kong practitioners who patronize new temples. What they find is that local governments, aimed at developing local economies, took on significant leadership in mobilizing "intellectuals and local historians, to reawaken legends, and to compile stories of [Huang Daxian]" (p. 45). This reveals that villagers and state officials have not had a contested relationship but instead one of cooperation. Furthermore, while government leaders, intellectuals, businessmen, and locals had varying agendas for reviving sites dedicated to Huang Daxian, they collectively reawakened religious memories. Memories are significant, for they are symbolic capital for "soliciting overseas investment and developing religious tourism. They are recalled and used as a tool by local governments" (p. 46), and when a site competes for authenticity, memories and historical evidence they provide justification (p. 47).

In addition to reviving memories, the prefectural-level city government of Jinhua 金華 (the deity's hometown) portrayed Huang Daxian as a component of cultural heritage. Because the Daoist immortal gained fame in Hong Kong, four Jinhua government organizations worked together to promote the city overseas. They branded Jinhua as a site of tourism, a producer of Huang Daxian products, and a location of intangible cultural heritage (p. 57).

This process of secularization is not unique to Jinhua, and the branding of religious sites as cultural heritage is an element of the development of tourism in China following market reforms.6 What seems to be unique about the development of tourism in Jinhua is that officials make use of the deity to create transnational networks and emphasize him as a symbol of shared identity. However, although...


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