Temple Demolition in Kunshan: Conflicts, Interdependences, and Dynamics

Yin-Chu Lu (Harvard University)

This thesis explores the power dynamics among the local government, Daoist Association, and local religious leaders in the process of temple demolition in contemporary Kunshan, Jiangsu, China. It is based on seven-months ethnographic research on 32 communal temples, 17 of which have been demolished and relocated into an official Daoist Temple in Shipai town of Bacheng, a village in northwest Kunshan, in Summer 2021. Contrary to the common conceptualization of temple demolition as the binary struggle between the dominant state and the resistant local religious communities, this essay highlights the conflicts and interdependencies among three major actors involved in the demolition process: the local government, the Daoists, and the local religious leaders. Though the state and the Daoist Association are demolishing communal temples under the rhetoric of setting up a standardized and modernized form of religion, social and economic concerns are also paramount. Instead of viewing popular religion or local religious leaders as powerless figures in the face of the state and the Daoist associations, my research suggests that local religious leaders negotiate their own agency and status in the temple demolition process, demonstrating their mobilizing and economic power.

Part of 04-13 Conservation and Destruction of Material Culture, Friday, November 03, 8:30 am–10:00 am