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Between Religion and Superstition: Buddhism and Daoism in Guangzhou, China, 1900–1937


Shuk-wah Poon is an Assistant Professor at the History Department of Lingnan University, Hong Kong.
The author would like to thank the two anonymous referees for their insightful comments and suggestions. She is also grateful to the Hong Kong Research Grant Council for the financial support of this study (CUHK 4572/06H).


This paper illustrates how Buddhist and Daoist monasteries in Guangzhou, with their legal religious status, situated themselves within the new concept of the modern nation-state, and how the distinction between religion and superstition affected ordinary people's religious lives. There were inherent tensions between religion and the modern nation-state, and the survival of Buddhism and Daoism was determined by their subordination to the state ideology and to political authorities’ regulation. However, the government did not regulate the form of worship in government-approved religious sites. Due to the syncretic nature of Chinese religion, the select few of the Buddhist and Daoist monasteries in Guangzhou, with government recognition as symbols of “true religions,” paradoxically served as a protective umbrella for the people to carry on with their “superstitious” practices. At the level of praxis, the line between religion and superstition was not as distinguishable as the government had envisioned.