China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

5 - The Making of Sacred Reputation: A Historical Comparison

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Jacaranda II, First Floor

History never tires of repeating itself. While the memory of Chairman Mao’s deification during the Cultural Revolution is still fresh, a spontaneous and new deification of the Chairman is coming back to China, especially through various Chairman Mao temples built all over China. Although the specific forms and scope of deifications might vary, Mao in both eras was treated by some people as god. What does the comparison of Mao’s deification in the Cultural Revolution and contemporary China tell us in terms of making a sacred reputation? How to make and maintain such a reputation? Is top-down mobilization indispensable in this process? Combining archival study and the interviews and ethnography I conducted in Sichuan and Hunan provinces, I argue that communist mobilization is not an indispensable condition for constructing a sacred reputation. To endow a person with sacred status, one must construct a narrative and ritual/practice that illustrates a logic beyond everyday life. In other words, a participation in the transcendent narrative and practice is more important than believing in the deity. Moreover, examining the historical and ethnographical details in the two eras, one may find that the deification is more of a joint effort from both the top and bottom. Based on these findings, my research contributes to the field of collective memory and China studies by debunking myths and decoupling the saying, doing, and believing elements surrounding a sacred reputation.

Licheng Qian

Zhejiang University, China

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