Re-enchanting Modernity

Ritual Economy and Society in Wenzhou, China

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 44 illustrations Published: May 2020

Author: Mayfair Yang

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, Religious Studies

In Re-enchanting Modernity Mayfair Yang examines the resurgence of religious and ritual life after decades of enforced secularization in the coastal area of Wenzhou, China. Drawing on twenty-five years of ethnographic fieldwork, Yang shows how the local practices of popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism are based in community-oriented grassroots organizations that create spaces for relative local autonomy and self-governance. Central to Wenzhou's religious civil society is what Yang calls a "ritual economy," in which an ethos of generosity is expressed through donations to temples, clerics, ritual events, and charities in exchange for spiritual gain. With these investments in transcendent realms, Yang adopts Georges Bataille's notion of "ritual expenditures" to challenge the idea that rural Wenzhou's economic development can be described in terms of Max Weber's notion of a "Protestant Ethic". Instead, Yang suggests that Wenzhou's ritual economy forges an alternate path to capitalist modernity.


“Mayfair Yang's wonderful ethnography reveals an alternative ‘ritual economy’ under the dizzying churn of market relations in China. It is attuned to giving, reciprocity, and the materialization of a social and spiritual life. While committed to wealth-making, the people of Wenzhou are by the same token committed to the health of their communal lives.” — Prasenjit Duara, Duke University

“Mayfair Yang's compelling account of the re-enchantment of everyday life in Wenzhou, China, reveals lines of flight through which re-ritualization reworks capitalist accumulation to produce new communal relations. A must-read for anyone interested in alternative possibilities for China's future.” — Kenneth Dean, Raffles Professor of Humanities, National University of Singapore


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mayfair Yang is Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara; author of Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China; and editor of Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation and Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Part I. Introduction  1
1. From "Superstition" to "People's Customs": An Ethnographic Discovery of Key Questions in Wenzhou  1
2. The Wenzhou Model of Rural Development in China  32
Part II. Religious Diversity and Syncretism in Wenzhou  49
3. Popular Registry: Deities, Spirit Mediums, Ancestors, Ghosts, and Fengshui  51
4. Daoism: Ancient Gods, Boisterous Rituals, and Hearthside Priests  92
5. Buddhist Religiosity: The Wheel of Life, Death, and Rebirth  125
Part III. Religious Civil Society and Ritual Economy  159
6. Sprouts of Religious Civil Society: Temples, Localities, and Communities  161
7. The Rebirth of the Lineage: Creative Unfolding and Multiplicity of Forms  190
8. Of Mothers, Goddesses, and Bodhisattvas: Patriarchal Structures and Women's Religious Agency  224
9. Broadening and Pluralizing the Modern Category of "Civil Society": A Friendly Quarrel with Durkhelm  257
10. What's Missing in the Wenzhou Model?  The "Ritual Economy" and "Wasting of Wealth"  279
Conclusion  315
Appendix A. Chronology of Chinese Dynasties  321
Appendix B. Notes on Currency, Weights, Measurements, and Chinese Romanization and Pronunciation  323
Appendix C. Religious Sites Visited in Wenzhou by Author, 1990–2016  325
Notes  331
Glossary  335
References  345
Index  365
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0827-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0775-3