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  • Author or Editor: Nathalie Kouamé x

Nathalie Kouamé and Vincent Goossaert


Throughout Chinese and Japanese history, state initiatives have led to the physical destruction of buildings of worship, for a large variety of reasons. The authors, historians of Japan and China respectively, attempt to analyse the whole breadth of such cases of destruction, asking how and why physical violence can be part of a religious policy. The notion of 'vandalism', created during the French Revolution to label the revolutionary state's destruction of church property and other symbols of the past, seems a stimulating way of thinking about this kind of violence that should not be taken for granted or as inevitable consequences of state control over religion. Far from incidental, the authors argue, destroying temples was often a purposeful, well thought out choice within a larger repertoire of ways to deal with religious institutions.The first part of the article sketches a typology of destruction according to context and motivation, ranging from an authoritarian reorganization of space (destruction might then be mitigated by reconstruction elsewhere) to targeted retaliation, to comprehensive repression. While not all types of 'vandalism' are attested in both China and Japan, cultural-political influences between the two areas, and some shared religious culture, make the comparison illuminating. The second part of the article deals with the symbolical-political meanings of the destructive praxis.