Religion and Beliefs
Fishermen from the eastern part of Tai Lake constituted a marginalized group that was at the bottom of local social stratification. They used to have a boat life which made them hold their own social and cultural life. A large number of fishermen’s religious associations were founded around 1930s, and these played an important role not only for fishermen’s religious life, but also in regard to their-self-governance as a marginalized community. Since 1970s, the government-initiated resettlement project launched fishermen there into different fishing villages on land. During Post-Mao reform era, fishermen started to leave their fishing life behind and take up various occupations as land people. This period also witnesses the revival of their religious associations. Though the state control on popular religion is increasing in recent years, fishermen’s religious associations still play a certain role on self-governance, and their big temple festival has been legitimized in the name of “ Intangible culture heritage”.
This paper exams fishermen’s religious associations as a folk social institution in contemporary China. It looks at how these associations recreate a sense of fishermen’s religious community and identity which displays a certain amount of autonomy from the state authority in this transforming Chinese society, and fishermen’s understanding of their religious life. Through ethnographic research, this paper provides a thick description of these associations and their interaction of different actors in the local context; it also provides a lens through which to understand how religious transformation connects with other spheres of social transformation in modernizing China.