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Rearrangement of Traditional Religious Concepts and Practices in Contemporary China

Panel Chair: Chiyoko Nagatani | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Since the late 1990s, the government of China has been reevaluating religion and utilizing them for national unity and moral rebuilding. Chinese citizens seem to welcome the trend rather than rejecting it as a new type of propaganda. How is it possible under the banner of Chinese socialism? How are the governmental activities related to the everyday religious habits and practices of the general public? What do modern Chinese people think is the ideal or practical function of religious traditions? By accumulating concrete examples studied from the anthropological viewpoint, we aim to draw a new picture of emerging composition of religion on the canvas of contemporary lives of Chinese people. The positional differences of the three traditional religions, Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism will be depicted. We also believe we can understand the recycling process of religious ideas into secular sense of values.

Yukihiro Kawaguchi

Can Confucianism be the Civil Religion in China?: an analysis of political, academic and commoner’s discourses

Since early twentieth century Chinese intellectuals and the Communist Party had furiously criticized Confucianism as the root of feudalism and the obstacle of modernity. However in recent years “revival of Confucianism” are visibly promoted. Behind this background, the Party and elites intend to utilize Confucianism as the tool to enhance the morality or the axis of unity as a nation- state. Some argue that Confucianism should be authorized as “the state religion” or “the civil religion”. On the other hand, ordinary people rather eagerly practice funeral rituals or ancestor worship, which the Party and elites attempted to exclude from Confucianism. In this presentation, based on the discourse analysis and the field data, I will point out divergence between ideologue and folk practice concerning “the revival of Confucianism”.

Chiyoko Nagatani

New Buddhism for Chinese Local City Dwellers

Until the early 1980’s, in Marxist theory, Buddhism was almost seen as unproductive religion unneeded in the modern world. However in last three decades, there are many reports that Buddhism is being revived in many places in China. What are the characteristics of the new Buddhism in contemporary China? In this presentation, I focus on a Buddhist circle in Yunnan province. In the circle, different from the traditional one belonging to Guanyin temple, there are many male members and comparatively highly educated people including a doctor, teachers, and political cadres. They mainly observe Tibetan Buddhism service, but also accepting Mahayana Buddhism, Hinayana Buddhism and Confucianism. They take these thoughts as one traditional Chinese thought, and see Buddhism not as religion but traditional style of education. By listening to the circle members’ voice, I try to analyze what is Buddhism in people’s mind in the new era.

Yusuke Bessho

From ‘Ethnic Culture’ to ‘Ecological Culture’: New-reformed concept of ‘Primitive Religion’ in Contemporary Tibet

Because of the environmental damage caused by river disasters in the second half of the 1990s, environmental awareness of the Tibetan High Plateau has rapidly increased at the national level in China. In the context of frontier governance policies pertaining to environmental security, Tibetan religion is broadly claimed as an ecological culture. In particular, outside groups such as Chinese scholars, politicians, and domestic NGOs have highly evaluated some elements of Buddhist thought such as altruism and the abstention from killing, as well as the so-called 'primitive religion' (Yuan-Shi-Zong-Jiao) of Tibet. In their viewpoint, Tibetans' religious culture is idealized as an foundation of the sustainable system of environmental management and ecological life. After describing the total picture of this new cultural context, I will investigate their practical value and meaning for local social agents in the contemporary Tibetan society while considering the impact of governmental policies in their daily life.

Akira Nishimura


Akira Nishimura will address the issues raised in this panel.


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)