God Aboveground: Religion and State in Postsocialist China
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Anthropology Program, Butler University
(paper given at the 2001 AAA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC)
In a rural Hakka village in northern Guangdong, Catholicism survived over thirty years of persecution during the Maoist period underground due to the leadership of Catholics who were raised when American missionaries and Catholic rituals were a part of everyday life. After the initiation of “reform and opening” policies from the Chinese state, Catholicism resurfaced in 1983 under the leadership of these “martyred” generations. Since then, new generations of Catholic leaders who grew up in the reform era are facing different challenges to their Catholicism than their elders — global capitalism, deterritorialization, and intensive consumption patterns. Although the church is now aboveground, Catholics must still negotiate their everyday religious practices with the state. Based on fieldwork conducted in a Catholic village in Jiaoling County, Guangdong between 1993-2000, this paper will examine why the postsocialist Chinese state continues to be concerned with the political administration of religion. The Chinese state’s targeting of religion as a key domain of political control is not unique to the current regime of communist party leaders, but has also been a historical feature of Chinese imperial dynasties and the pre-communist Republican state. Through an examination of how official categories of “religion” and “superstition” are reflected in contemporary religious practices, this paper will also address how Chinese state policies towards religion have also strongly influenced global relations, as seen in the diplomatic debates over the persecution of Chinese Christians and Falungong practitioners and the human rights discourse in China.