The Market and Temple Fairs of Rural China

Red Fire

By Gene Cooper

© 2012 – Routledge

272 pages | 45 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:
Hardback: 9780415520799
pub: 2012-08-13
US Dollars$160.00

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About the Book

During the early communist period of the 1950s, temple fairs in China were both suppressed and secularized. Temples were closed down by the secular regime and their activities classified as feudal superstition and this process only intensified during the Cultural Revolution when even the surviving secular fairs, devoted exclusively to trade with no religious content of any kind, were suppressed. However, once China embarked on its path of free market reform and openness, secular commodity exchange fairs were again authorized, and sometimes encouraged in the name of political economy as a means of stimulating rural commodity circulation and commerce.

This book reveals how once these secular "temple-less temple fairs" were in place, they came to serve not only as venues for the proliferation of a great variety of popular cultural performance genres, but also as sites where a revival or recycling of popular religious symbols, already underway in many parts of China, found familiar and fertile ground in which to spread. Taking this shift in the Chinese state’s attitudes and policy towards temple fairs as its starting point, The Market and Temple Fairs of Rural China shows how state-led economic reforms in the early 1980s created a revival in secular commodity exchange fairs, which were granted both the geographic and metaphoric space to function. In turn, this book presents a comprehensive analysis of the temple fair phenomenon, examining its economic, popular cultural, popular religious and political dimensions and demonstrates the multifaceted significance of the fairs which have played a crucial role in expanding the boundaries of contemporary acceptable popular discourse and expression.

Based upon extensive fieldwork, this unique book will be of great interest to students and scholars of Chinese religion, Chinese culture, Chinese history and anthropology.


"Gene Cooper weaves together historical and ethnographic methodologies in a spirited account of the genealogies and contemporary practices of a variety of forms of performance at these local gatherings… The book also features a wonderfully detailed account of the arts of popular performance at the fairs, from small-cymbal narrative (xiaoluo shuo) to opera (wuju) competitions, and looks closely at the religious dimension of secular temple gatherings. Cooper’s lively voice infuses every page of the book and each moment of the interview." - Carla Nappi, New Books Network, January 2013.

"This book is unique insofar as it makes regional specific sources in modern temple fairs studies accessible, which can be used for regional comparison and general studies. Furthermore, it provides a good introduction to the rural economy, popular culture, and religion of the Jinhua region for students and scholars who are interested in Southeastern China." - Xiaobing Wang-Riese, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, Journal of Chinese Religions

Table of Contents

Part I: Background and Setting 1. Conceptual Framework 2. The field site – the Jinhua region – the geographic, historical and political economic background 3. Religion in Jinhua and Perspectives for Understanding it 4. Temple Fairs in Chinese History and Chinese Folklore Studies Part II: Unraveling the strands of the total social phenomenon 5. Secular Fairs - The Commercial/Economic dimension 6. The Popular cultural dimension 7. More Popular Culture - Wuju (Jinhua opera) 8. The Religious Dimension - the temple fair of Hugong Dadi 9. The Political Dimension – Macro and Micro 10. Fotang Town: the Resacralization of a Commercial Fair 11. Conclusions

About the Author

Gene Cooper is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California, USA.

About the Series

Asia's Transformations

The books in this series explore the political, social, economic and cultural consequences of Asia's twenty-first century transformations. The series emphasizes the tumultuous interplay of local, national, regional and global forces as Asia bids to become the hub of the world economy. While focusing on the contemporary, it also looks back to analyze the antecedents of Asia's contested rise. Asia's Transformations aims to address the needs of students and teachers.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General