Mandarins and Heretics, Wu Junqing explores the denunciation and persecution of lay religious groups in late imperial (14th to 20th century) China. These groups varied greatly in their organisation and teaching, yet in official state records they are routinely portrayed as belonging to the same esoteric tradition, stigmatised under generic labels such as “White Lotus” and “evil teaching”, and accused of black magic, sedition and messianic agitation.
Wu Junqing convincingly demonstrates that this “heresy construct” was not a reflection of historical reality but a product of the Chinese historiographical tradition, with its uncritical reliance on official sources. The imperial heresy construct remains influential in modern China, where it contributes to shaping policy towards unlicensed religious groups.
Singing on the River by Igor Chabrowski, based on Sichuan boatmen’s work songs (
haozi), explores the little known world of mentality and self-representation of Chinese workers from the late 19th century until the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937). Chabrowski demonstrates how river workers constructed and interpreted their world, work, and gender in context of the dissolving social, cultural, and political orders. Boatmen asserted their own values, bemoaned exploitation, and imagined their sexuality largely in order to cope with their low social status. Through studying the Sichuan boatmen we gain an insight into the ways in which twentieth-century nonindustrial Chinese workers imagined their place in the society and appropriated, without challenging them, the traditional values.