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The Sacred Village: Social Change and Religious Life in Rural North China
288pp. January 2005
The Sacred Village: Social Change and Religious Life in Rural North China
Author: DuBois, Thomas;
Until recently, few villagers of rural North China ventured far from their homes. Their intensely local view of the world included knowledge of the immanent sacred realm, which derived from stories of divine revelations, cures, and miracles that circulated among neighboring villages. These stories gave direction to private devotion and served as a source of expert information on who the powerful deities were and what role they played in the human world. The structure of local society also shaped public devotion, as different groups expressed their economic and social concerns in organized worship. While some of these groups remained structurally intact in the face of historical change, others have changed dramatically, resulting in new patterns of religious organization and practice.

The Sacred Village introduces local religious life in Cang County, Hebei Province, as a lens through which to view the larger issue of how rural Chinese perspectives and behaviors were shaped by the sweeping social, political, and demographic changes of the last two centuries. Thomas DuBois combines new archival sources in Chinese and Japanese with his own fieldwork to produce a work that is compelling and intimate in detail. This dual approach also allows him to address the integration of external networks into local society and religious mentality and posit local society as a particular sphere in which the two are negotiated and transformed.

illus., maps

"An excellent and timely study, contributing to our historical understanding of the sectarian tradition as well as illustrating the revival of such traditions in contemporary China. The book is well written and highly readable. Professors of upper-level undergraduate courses in modern and contemporary Chinese history might well consider adopting it for classroom use." —American Historical Review (October 2009)

"Dubois’s approach to Chinese religion as a local and individual practice is highly engaging and enlightening. The book is a significant contribution to the fields of Chinese religion and local history. It is tightly structured and lucidly written, and it is bound to be a fascinating read for scholars of religion and local history, as well as undergraduates who want a good taste of rural China." —Journal of the American Academy of Religion (77:4, December 2009)

"An insightful, original study" —Choice, December 2005

"A distinctive and careful portrayal" —China Journal, July 2005

"Combining the historian’s emphasis on long-term social change with the ethnographer’s close observations of local society, Thomas DuBois provides unprecedented detail on the historical development of local cults and sectarian traditions in north China local communities. The Sacred Village presents a stimulating treatment of the impact state policies and organized religious movements could have on local communities. This book should attract a broad audience of readers, including specialists, undergraduates taking introductory courses on Chinese culture, and non-sinologists interested in studies of local communities." —Paul Katz, Academia Sinica

"Based on unusually rich documentary materials and extraordinary ethnographic access (to Cangzhou county in southeastern Hebei), this is a fresh and bold attempt to answer two big questions: what does religion mean in the everyday life of common peasants? and, what is the mental makeup that goes into peasant religiosity?" —Philip Huang, University of California, Los Angeles

Author: DuBois, Thomas;
Thomas DuBois is assistant professor of history at the National University of Singapore.
Read the introduction (PDF).