Buddhism, an Urban Village and Cultural Soft Power: An Ethnography of Buddhist Practitioners in Wutong
Keywords:Urbanization, religion, culture, Buddhism, soft power, religion and the state, Chinese religion
AbstractThe article presents an ethnography of Buddhist practice groups in Wutong village, an urban village in the Shenzhen metropolis area, relating to the village's predicament through the 1990s and until 2019. It discusses the relationship between two intertwined forms of soft power employed by the Chinese regime: 1) The push for cultural consumption within the framework of the re-development of urban villages. 2) The PRC’s re-definition of Buddhism as a culture instead of a religion. The author examines different lay Buddhist actors in the village, which operate within the current restrictive government policy towards religious groups. The ethnography of Wutong shows the non-dichotomic dynamic of suppression and support articulated by the state towards Buddhism's cultural and religious consumption. It focuses on the dynamic between state control and people's agency over their spiritual and religious realities, especially on the urban fringes. The article suggests that the urban art village can be understood as a sphere where lay Buddhists subvert state regulation by creating alternative Buddhist spaces for lay practice, in the form of cultural commodities. However, the article addresses the liminality of such urban spaces, which, aside from opportunities for religious entrepreneurship, also creates a state of precariousness for urban village inhabitants, including Buddhist practitioners.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Kai Shmushko
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