Accepted Paper:

An analysis on the Guanyin cult as "sinisization" in a multi-ethnic area of contemporary China: from the viewpoint of "ortho-syncretism"  


Chiyoko Nagatani (Kyushu University)

Paper Short Abstract:

Expanding Guanyin cult among ethnic minorities in China, is often seen as a sign of assimilation into Han-Buddhist culture. However, the modern classification on ethnic groups and religions has become inconsistent with reality. We propose a new viewpoint by adopting the concept of ortho-syncretism.

Paper long abstract:

Since late 90's, interest in religion has apparently risen among Chinese people, even PRC started to value religions for their social contribution. They highly evaluate Chinese civilization (Zhonghua wenming), centering Confucianism which are to be shared among all nationalities in China. However, the concept like 'sinisization' or 'Han-hua' is too rough to describe this situation, and also the stereotyped understanding about religions and ethnic groups, such as 'the Han believe in Confucianism, and the Dai believe in Theravada Buddhism', becomes invalid. In reality, the separating lines among ethnic groups and religions are more fluid.

To understand such situation, the concept "ortho-syncretism" is adopted. The concept by Timothy Light allows us to see religion not as a given objective system but a cognitive formation made by people. People are making their own religions by syncretizing many items out of traditional religions and even daily events.

For the concrete analysis, we investigate the case of expanding Guan-yin (AvalokiteĊ›vara) cult in Dehong, Yunnan. Dehong is the Dai and Jimpo Autonomous Prefecture, though the minority's population has been outnumbered by the Han immigrants. Expansion of Guan-yin cult is seen as an index of sinisization by Chinese scholars and local people, but in reality, this is a result of the more complicated interaction among various phenomena. In this presentation, we will clarify what "Sinisization" actually means by describing the new religious situation rearranged by people's interaction.

Panel P138
Religious practices in transition: ethnographical and theoretical studies of religions in multiethnic and/or multicultural situations