‘Religions of Beijing’ book review

Religions of Beijing. You Bin and Timothy Knepper (eds.), Bloomsbury 2020

This is a refreshingly accessible and bilingual treatment of religious settings practices and material culture in one city. It is a collaboration between American and Chinese academics and their students and focusses on 17 religious sites, Buddhist, Daoist, Islamic, Christian and folk religions. It is a rather unusual academic spinoff from the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and offers glimpses of religious beliefs today in China. These are characterised by great diversity and syncretism not least in the attitudes of attendees. Mrs Guo goes to her Daoist temple not as a believer but to be part of festivals, enjoy the music, meet people and to hope like everyone it will bring her luck. Elsewhere the Goddess of Sunlight from the East (nicknamed the old Grandma) blesses marriages and childbirth. The Mother Goddess of the Big Dipper keeps the records of people’s behaviour and morality. ‘By bringing a calm mind and  offering joss sticks, supplicants hope to be relieved of all disasters, live a long life and ultimately attain peace.’

Click image for publisher’s page

Interestingly some of the Daoist temples have embraced ‘public well-ness’ with taiji classes, lectures and an online presence on social media. At other temple ‘One’s attention is immediately caught  by  the  pleasant  tinkling  sound  of  the  bell  beneath the bridge. This is what is called “bell sound, good luck.” Sound is one important hallmark of religious  ritual,  with  the  sound  of  the  bell  creating  a  solemn   Daoist   ritual   atmosphere,   mentally   preparing  practitioners  to  enter  the  supernatural  world.’  

John Reeve


One comment

  1. Yes, this is a splendidly helpful introduction to the riches of Chinese religion and China’s multifarious places of worship. Of the 17 ‘temples’ described, 3 are mosques and 5 churches! It’s helped by many excellent colour photos, and especially by its approaching each temple not through the usual architecture or history, but through the people who work or worship there.

    Another book I found very helpful, and which takes the same approach, is Ian Johnson’s 2017 ‘The Souls of China: the return of religion after Mao.’



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