A World of Their Own
Daoist Monks and Their Community in Contemporary China
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Following the fate of a small Daoist community temple, the Wengongci in the town of Hanzhong, Shaanxi, the author examines the structure of the temple, the monastics living in it, its surrounding lay community, and the gods worshiped in its confines. In a second part, she outlines the individual’s path as a Daoist monastic today, from the choice of the religious life through the various forms of training to advanced ordinations and activities in the society. Her third part discusses the greater community of the Dao in terms of pseudo-kinship structures and gender issues.
The book is full of amazing detail and reliable, on-the-ground information on the actual practice of Daoism in China today. It speaks both with the voices of the monastics and lay followers themselves as well as from the analytical perspective of the anthropologist. A must for anyone interested in the true face of religiosity and spiritual practice in China today.
Adeline Herrou is a researcher at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, France. She grew up in Paris and specializes in Chinese anthropology and Daoist monasticism. She has been active in fieldwork in Shaanxi and Beijing since 1993. He main publication is La vie entre soi. Les moines taoïstes aujourd’hui en Chine (2005), the foundation of this new work.
A World of Their Own is a rich source of information on the life of Daoist monks in contemporary China, based on years of observation conducted by Herrou when, trained in the methods of anthropology, she lived among the nuns of a small monastery in Western China.
The monastic community of the Complete Perfection Order lends itself ideally to a classical anthropological study: Quanzhen monasticism constitutes a real tribe with its own sacred places, rituals, culture, boundaries and internal organisation; although it exists within society, it clearly and consciously holds itself distinct from it. This anthropological analysis of monastic culture is a significant innovation in the study of Daoism.
--David Palmer, Hong Kong University
Adeline Herrou's work is one of the most important recent publications in Daoist Studies. It provides a rare and masterful glimpse into contemporary Quanzhen Daoist monastic life, with particular attention to the lives, practice parameters, and local dimensions of specific Daoists and their communities. Utilizing ethnographic fieldwork in contemporary mainland China, it is one of the few studies to actually address Daoist lived religiosity and the textures of daily temple life, including the importance of community, place, and material culture. At last we have a reliable presentation of Daoism as lived and practiced by tradition-based Daoists.
--Louis Komjathy, University of San Diego
This book is vital for anyone who wants to know what it means to be a Daoist in contemporary China. The result of intensive ethnographic research in Wengongci monastery in Shaanxi province, Adeline Herrou's book is a compelling portrait of Daoist monastic life. Details range from practical concerns such as how Daoists organize their lives, deal with money, eat and dress, to religious matters such as meditation, transformation and immortality, and political issues of how the monastery relates to the local and national government authorities. These fascinating details are woven together into a sophisticated analysis of the world apart that Daoist monastics have created for themselves, including the internalized sexuality in which monastic sexual activity is sublimated into spiritual transformation, and leads to a uniquely Daoist imagining of gender relations within the community. This book is a key addition to the field of Daoist Studies and will be useful for any undergraduate course that seeks to explain Chinese religious life.
--James Miller, Queen's University