China: A Religious State

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am

China: A Religious State
by John Lagerwey
Hong Kong University Press HK$125

John Lagerwey constructs a fascinating picture of religion in present-day China, at odds, perhaps, with the way outsiders might perceive it. Taoism, even though frequently viewed as being superstitious, has regained its position as the 'native higher religion'. Then, of course, there are the contributions of Buddhism and Confucianism, not to mention shamanism. From the fifth century, we are told, the state tried to fashion an orthodoxy that combined all of the big three. What is of interest here is the way religion has played out in practice at grass-roots level. Lagerwey, professor of Taoist history at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris and of Chinese studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, shows how local communities had their own festivals - often with gods of their own choosing. In other words, this was religion adapted by different peoples across the breadth and diversity of the land. China: A Religious State has been described as a 'path-breaking overview of Chinese religious tradition'. It certainly challenges the official version of history regarding the role of Chinese communal religions.