Examining Fujian folk religion

 
Revival in China : Resurgence of Traditional Folk Religion Sweeping Countryside

Excerpt from Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1989

By DAVID HOLLEY

“DONGZHAI VILLAGE, China — Splashed on the entryway of the Shilun Buddhist Temple, fragments of once-bold but now barely visible yellow characters proclaim a fading message: “Eternal Loyalty to Chairman Mao. Utter Devotion.”

Inside the small roadside temple, the ghosts of Mao Tse-tung and his rampaging Red Guards seem long banished. Sticks of incense and peasants’ offerings of oranges are set before Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Painted on the altar is a guardian beast with green scales, hoofs and the head of a lion. Scenes from Buddhist stories cover the walls.

The Fujian countryside is dotted with innumerable tiny shrines, usually just a few feet in height, that honor local earth spirits. Most have been erected during the last four or five years.

Many villages have rebuilt old temples during this same period. Some are for worship of Buddhist figures. Others may be dedicated to local gods with special healing powers or ancient worthies of vague historical accomplishments. In some places, village committees have taken up collections to finance the construction. Wealthy Chinese overseas have also played a significant role in the religious revival…

Many urban intellectuals view the survival of folk religion as an indication of rural superstition and ignorance.

“We have advocated democracy and science for 70 years, but we have achieved little,” complained an intellectual quoted by the official newspaper China Daily. “Where are democracy and science when thousands upon thousands of rural people are rebuilding Buddhas and lavishing money on graves?”

But the resurgent religious activity adds color, excitement and emotional comfort to village life.

In Dongzhai Village, a committee of elderly peasants organizes periodic celebrations at a tiny temple dedicated to the “Ancestral Lord of the Clear Water” and his partner, “Number-Two Ancestor of the Clear Spring.” Images of these spirits, resembling imperial officials dressed in flowing robes, are set amid lesser figures on an altar backed by a majestic painting of a dragon.

Set off Firecrackers

On festival days, hundreds of children gather to set off firecrackers, which serve the religious function of frightening away evil spirits, and the people of the village bring offerings of pork, rice and steamed dumplings to set before the images. Most of the food is later taken home and eaten.

Speaking with a visitor during a festival to honor “Number-Two Ancestor of the Clear Spring,” Su Jianlai, a peasant man who seemed to be in charge, explained the purpose of the activity by quoting an eight-character literary phrase: “Sincere faith will bring assistance. All wishes shall be granted.”

Su said that this temple, destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, was rebuilt by the peasants without outside assistance.

Many villages in this strip of coastal China, however, receive financial help for various projects, including temple reconstruction, from Chinese whose forebears emigrated to Southeast Asia or other parts of the world. Many Chinese who have prospered overseas have managed to maintain old traditions with greater integrity than has been the case in China. As these distant cousins renew ties with their ancestral villages, they fuel not only economic development but also the revival of ancient customs.

The people of Xijiang Village, for example, speak highly of a Chinese man from Indonesia named Li Xiexie, who contributed most of the money to rebuild a temple honoring Hua Guang Fu, a figure said by villagers to have lived long ago and performed many good deeds.

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“… from Fujian, this “Si Hou” is one of the many local religious sects. Xi Hou means the Queen of the West or Goddess of the West. In Chinese legend, there was a Xi Hou Lian Lian (Lady Goddess of the West) who ruled over parts of heaven. Many temples were dedicated to her, especially in Fujian. In recent years, folk religion, such as Xi Hou, is very popular in the coastal region such as Fujian. People built temples to such a point that it was totally out of control. These folk religions do not register with the government for they are neither Buddhist nor Daoist.”– China: Information on the existence of a religion called Si Hou (Si Hu, Shi Hou, Shi Hu, Xi Hou) and its basic beliefs (follow-up to CHN27845.E of 1 October 1997)

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Fujian Famous Folk Religion

Famous folk religion from Fujian – Mazu is a widespread folk religion in Fujian, many of the faithfuls come from Taiwan and Fujian area.

Mazu is the patron goddess of sailors. Shrines can be found in coastal areas of Eastern and South-Eastern China. Today, belief in Mazu is especially popular in the South and South-East, including Fujian and the rest of Guangdong, Hainan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.

 

See also The Complex of Gushi Guangzhou in Folk Religion between Taiwan and Fujian Province by TANG Jin-pei

Abstract: The folk religion is quite prosperous between Fujian and Taiwan areas at present.The folk beliefs are interacting frequently between Taiwan,Fujian and the Central Plains area.Fujian and Taiwan civil worship only God,Kuan Yin,Guan Di,The traditional folk beliefs such as Kuan Yin,Guan Di,Tudigong had been spread from the Central Plains through the Gushi Guangzhou. Interim dissemination of the past.The holy kings opening Zhangzhou and Fujian theirself [s-i-c. i.e. =themself] were immigrants of Gushi Guangzhou.Zheng Chenggong and Shi Lang were descendants of immigrants from Gushi Guangzhou. There were many inextricable relations between Fujian origin gods and Gushi. It must have an active role to further strengthen the interaction of the folk religion between Fujian Taiwan and Gushi for economic,cultural and social development of Gushi County.

See also Chinese Folk Religion for a list of gods and goddeses

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