Post 16: Daodejing & The Religious Economy

The Chinese people’s rediscovered fascination for religion seems particularly interesting because it primarily focuses around the economization of religion, which just so happens to be against the doctrines of many belief systems. Through the reading, I found the teachings of Daoism to entirely contradict the practices of many Chinese temples today. Daoism preaches against material possessions, yet modern Chinese people are extremely materialistic. Daoism’s strive for emptiness and The Way’s vagueness and obscurity do not seem appealing to many Chinese people today.

Instead, modern Chinese temples are run like businesses. Investors build temples in prime locations in order to draw visitors in hopes of stimulating local economies. Everything is focused on a return in investment as temples are built to appeal to visitors and patrons beyond simply acting as a place of worship. This materialistic approach to religion is commonly found all throughout China. This summer, I stayed in Shanghai and visited the City God Temple (城隍庙) and found the entire area around the temple to be commercialized. Although the City God Temple is technically a Daoist temple, none of what I saw remotely resembled the teachings presented in the Daodejing. As a tourist attraction, the City God Temple required tickets to enter (which could be said of any Chinese tourist attraction) and visitors prayed and left offerings at various shrines depending on what they were praying for (marriage, fertility, prosperity, etc.) All in all, these practices seemed rather capitalistic and superficial.

The resurgence of religion in China seems promising in filling the spiritual void, however, the superficial nature of modern Chinese people may undermine the efforts to promote a sense of “Chineseness” through religion.

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