Based on the growing awareness that important processes of change shaped the fate of Chinese religion during the last decade of the Qing empire and the entire Republican period, our joint research project proposes to systematically explore how the fifty years from 1898 to 1948, turned Chinese religion into what it is now: a modern, globalized religious culture. We also intend to place religion at the core of understanding Chinese modernization and modernity by adopting an interdisciplinary approach that enables fieldwork and oral histories to be used alongside written documents such as journals, archives, religious books, local gazetteers and folkloristic studies, etc.
This project takes stock of existing scholarship, but will also try to surpass it by assessing the role of not only intrusive state policies but also the inherent dynamics of social and religious change. In order to reach this level of comprehensiveness, we have decided to focus our investigations on one given region, namely Zhejiang 浙江 province plus the greater Shanghai 上海 area that served at its center during this period. We have identified three major forms of religious change in this region that previous research has overlooked: 1) Mutations of the communal structures of religion; 2) Innovative productions of religious knowledge; 3) New types of elite religiosity. Our research on each of these three themes is comprised of an overall survey and a case study. Each overall survey is grounded on a synthesis of the existing literature and published sources on that theme, so as to formulate coherent questions and analytical frameworks. Each case study consists of an in-depth exploration of precisely defined primary sources in order to answer these questions in a detailed manner.
Theme #1 will be comprised of a general survey of the “build schools with temple property movement” (miaochan banxue 廟產辦學), and a case study at the level of one prefecture, that of Wenzhou 溫州 in southern Zhejiang. Theme #2 will be feature the compilation of a catalog of religious books printed in Shanghai during the 1898-1948 period. Theme #3 centers on the creation of a comprehensive database covering the body of Republican-period local elites in Huzhou 湖州 and among the Huzhou community in Shanghai and beyond, while also tracing their involvement in all types of charitable and religious groups. Thus, our work qualifies as a regional study of modernization -- a key goal of our host institute, the Institute of Modern History (中央研究院近代史研究所) -- but, innovatively, it is a regional study of religious modernization. Our project is also closely related to the scholarship currently being undertaken by the Institute’s leading Research Groups (yanjiuqun 研究群), including those on urban history, women’s history, and the formation of modern knowledge (城市史研究群; 婦女與性別史研究群 ; 中國近代知識建構與知識傳播研究群)