Local Religion in North China in the Twentieth Century

The Structure and Organization of Community Rituals and Beliefs


This book is a comprehensive survey of the structure, organization and institutionalization of local community religious traditions in north China villages in the twentieth century. These traditions have their own forms of leaders, deities and beliefs. Despite much local variation one everywhere finds similar temples, images, offerings and temple festivals, all supported by practical concerns for divine aid to deal with the problems of everyday life. These local traditions are a structure in the history of Chinese religions; they have a clear sense of their own integrity and rules, handed down by their ancestors. There are Daoist, Buddhist and government influences on these traditions, but they must be adapted to the needs of local communities. It is the villagers who build temples and organize festivals, in which all members of the community are expected to participate and contribute. With chapters on such topics as historical origins and development, leadership and organization, temple festivals, temples and deities, and beliefs and values.
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Biographical Note

Daniel L. Overmyer, Ph.D. (1971) in History of Religions, University of Chicago, is emeritus professor of Chinese religion and thought at the University of British Columbia. He has published many articles and six books, plus translations of them into Chinese and Japanese, including Precious Volumes: An Introduction to Chinese Sectarian Scriptures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Harvard, 1999).

Review Quotes

"Together [HO4 22, HO4 23 V.1, and HO4 23 V.2] make the persuasive case that without due consideration to religious life as a vehicle for communal organization and sociality and as a resource for individual and communal self-expression and identity, our analysis both of historical and contemporary China remains needlessly impoverished."
Michael Szonyi, Harvard University, Pacific Affairs: Volume 85, No., March 2012

"We will never have an adequate understanding of the attitudes and values of ordinary Chinese until this imbalance is remedied.This book, by one of the pioneers of the study of Chinese popular religion, is therefore most welcome. Although it has some shortcomings, it will give any reader interested in the subject a mass of detailed information and will suggest many new avenues for research."
David Johnson, University of California, Berkeley, The China Journal, No. 69 (January 2013)

Table of contents


Introduction: Themes and Contexts
I. Rain Rituals
II. History and Government
III. Leadership and Organization
IV. Temple Festivals
V. Gods and Temples
VI. Beliefs and Values
VII. Concluding and Comparative Comments

Glossary of Chinese Terms and Names


Those interested in China and Chinese religions in the context of local society and culture, as well students of Chinese society and of comparative religion.

Index Card

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