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Sunday, June 05, 2005

In the Name of Buddha: Local Pride and Religious Practice at a Sacred Site in Contemporary Rural China

Another interesting writeup on the same page, this time about the fox fairy spirit medium in northern China:
 

In the Name of Buddha: Local Pride and Religious Practice at a Sacred Site in Contemporary Rural China

Xiaofei Kang, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

On a research trip in 1997 I visited a recently renovated Buddhist temple in Buoluo town in northern Shaanxi. The temple is the pride of the whole town, known for a gigantic stone Buddha, carved out of a cliff, purportedly by a Tang Dynasty monk. As an officially designated cultural preservation site it has received substantial government funding since 1984. Among the eight guardians of the Buddha is a diamond king dressed as a traditional scholar. While official documents remain silent on this scholar guardian, locals identify him as a fox spirit. A few hundred yards away from the temple are the home of a spirit medium and a cave where the medium regularly invokes the fox spirit to heal visitors from the town and surrounding areas.

This paper studies the spatial arrangement of the temple, and the textual and oral narratives about the temple, the Buddha, and the fox spirit, as well as religious practices centering on the temple in the context of the religious revival in contemporary northwest China. Under the government’s patronage of the great stone Buddha, the people at Buoluo have sheltered a dubious medium cult for personal and local needs, developed a sense of uniqueness, and framed social networks beyond official ideological and institutional control. The case of the Buddhist temple in this small town in northern Shaanxi exemplifies how in today’s rural China official efforts to control traditional cultural resources are often diverted to construct local power and identity.

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