Elena Valussi

Fieldwork Notes 1st year (2017-2018)

This year I spent 2 weeks in Chengdu 成都 and Xinjin 新津 as part of my fieldwork on Sichuan religious diversity. My research focus was the Chunyang guan 純陽觀, located in Xinjin, 38 km south West of Chengdu, on the banks of a large river. A temple devoted to the Daoist divinity Lü Dongbin, it houses halls to divinities from all three religions, Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism and inscriptions throughout the temple explicitly discuss the unity of the three religions.

The temple is a great example of religious diversity, starting as a series of altars to local divinities in the 1880s, then changing into a temple dedicated to the Daoist god Lü Dongbin in the 1890s, and then, between 1909 and 1937, enlarging and morphing into a Republican era showpiece for Confucian virtues. The large comnpond also includes a large hall to the Buddhist deity Guanyin. During the war of resistance against the Japanese, it became an orphanage, and later it was used as a school. Possibly because of this hybrid nature, in the 1980s, when many temples that had found alternative uses were returned to their religious communities and restored, this temple was not returned to a religious order, Daoist or Buddhist, but instead it became a museum devoted to the war efforts. Thus, it went through a different trajectory from other temples, and in fact became a secular space, where non-religious, cultural activities are now performed. The temple has a large and very active tea-house, while the religious statues do not attract much attention or devotion.

I aim to write a religious biography of this temple, from its inception in the late Qing to now, detailing its transformations that traverse topical years between the end of the Qing dynasty, the anti-superstition campaigns, the destruction of the Cultural Revolution, and the restoration during the reform and opening period. It is possible to read this history inscribed in the walls of this very sleepy, hybrid temple and understand how its nature was transformed and influenced by the historical events around it. The past is inscribed in this temple in different layers of steles, inscriptions inserted in the walls, carved in beams, poems, and remnants of past events, religious, lay, official and unofficial. These inscriptions date continuously from the late Qing till today, rewriting history on the body of the temple. The stele inscriptions had never been transcribed and are quickly fading, thus this is a historical but also archeological work. At the same time, my research has taken me to local archives in Chengdu and Xinjin, which house official and unofficial documents about the construction and financing of this temple. Finally, I have conducted interviews of local scholars in order to complement the archival and on -site research. The research for this project has concluded and I am in the midst of writing an article on the history of the Chunyang guan.


Fieldwork Photos 1st year (2017-2018)


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