Is Catholicism a Chinese Religion?
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Anthropology Program, Butler University
(paper given at the 2002 AAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC)
Since the 1860s when the first priests from the Missions Etrangeres de Paris arrived, Catholic practices have been an important part of the cultural identity and social practices of the people who live in a rural Hakka village in northern Guangdong that I call Little Rome. During the tenure of the American Maryknoll missionaries in the Republican period, Little Rome developed into a regional Catholic stronghold. Like other Chinese religions, Catholicism remained underground during the Maoist period, but resurfaced with the “reform and opening” policies of Deng Xiaoping. But how has Catholicism been transformed during this period of immense social change in Chinese history? Has Catholicism become a local Chinese religion? Based on fieldwork conducted in a Catholic village in Jiaoling County, Guangdong between 1993-2001, this paper will examine how Catholicism has become an integral part of what it means to be modern Chinese for the people in Little Rome. As participants in the flow of labor from rural villages to the regional centers of global capitalism in southern China, people in Little Rome are developing a uniquely Chinese modernity as they work and play, while adhering to the faith of their fathers and mothers. This paper will argue that the methodological techniques and analytical perspectives used by anthropologists, historians, religious studies specialists, and others who examine popular Chinese religion must be used to understand how world religions like Catholicism have become a part of Chinese culture. Through a close examination of the structure of everyday life in Little Rome, I will describe how Catholicism has become a popular Chinese religion.