CHINA: FOLK RELIGION { 26 images } Created 12 Apr 2017

Chinese Folk Religion

Since the late Qing Dynasty Chinese folk religion has blamed for a host of the country’s woes, from being a source of China’s “century of humiliation” to hindering the nation from becoming a glorious communist utopia. During the Cultural Revolution it was the focus of vicious mass campaigns intent on destroying the traditional belief system and cultural practices. After Mao’s death the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took a more laissez-faire attitude towards religion. Since that time folk religion has made a surprising comeback.

Folk religion’s rapid resurgence reveals that sustained official antipathy did not successfully obliterate the practice, but instead drove it underground. Accurate statistics about religion in China can be difficult to come by, but one recent survey estimates that more than 417 million people practice folk religion. This number is 50 million more people than the adherents of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and Islam combined.

The CCP does not designate folk religion as an “institutional religion” like Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and Islam. Instead, it views folk religion as a set of traditional beliefs and practices. Because of this, believers who want to revive religious customs and local government officials who wish to increase tourism revenue may use the political strategy of classifying folk religious practice as cultural heritage.

Mazu (妈祖) is a popular folk goddess, the protector of seafarers. In 2009 UNESCO designated Mazu worship as “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” Registering Mazu as cultural heritage cleared the way for government officials to promote Mazu tourism. There are an estimated 200 million Mazu believers worldwide and thousands pilgrimage to her birthplace on Meizhou Island each year.

The following documents her birthday festivities on Meizhou Island, Fujian province.
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