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Title: Sages, smokers, sojourners : the religion of the void in China and Southeast Asia
Authors: Soh, Esmond Chuah Meng
Keywords: Humanities::History
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Soh, E. C. M. (2021). Sages, smokers, sojourners : the religion of the void in China and Southeast Asia. Master's thesis, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: The Zhenkongjiao 真空教, alias the Great Way Within Emptiness 空中大道, refers to a Chinese religious movement whose emergence in twentieth-century southeast China and Southeast Asia was characterized by its rehabilitation of opium-addicts with meditation regimes and tea-drinking rituals. This thesis discusses the institutions, beliefs, and the rituals of the Zhenkongjiao in East and Southeast Asia throughout the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Firstly, I argue that the Zhenkongjiao’s religious and intellectual history was both inspired by, yet deviated from, ideas, concepts, and practices indigenous to Chinese religiosity. Secondly, this study challenges previous scholarship that historicized the Zhenkongjiao within convenient rise-and-fall narratives by demonstrating how the Zhenkongjiao’s leadership had been pro-actively situating itself within changing ontologies, epistemologies, and social needs since its inception in nineteenth-century China. Most researchers privileged social and political forces while skirting over the religious dimension of the Zhenkongjiao’s activities. Consequently, the Zhenkongjiao’s belief systems were essentialized as unchanging, without considering the possibility that such concepts may have had been tweaked or couched within novel discourses. Explanations which emphasized structural deficiency, passivity, or a reactiveness inherent to the Zhenkongjiao, left historical actors with little or no agency in captaining their own future. This study revises these interpretations by showing how the Zhenkongjiao’s supporters had been pro-actively situating itself within changing ontologies, epistemologies, constraints, opportunities and needs throughout time. This thesis problematizes a supposition that sectarian religions like the Zhenkongjiao could not adapt and transit into a new era of globalization, modernization and beyond by illuminating one among many other possible ways forward for similar institutions. The tenacity of the Zhenkongjiao in the face of these far-reaching developments in East and Southeast Asia is related to this thesis’s second contribution to the field of Chinese religion. Far from conforming to stereotypes of stasis and decline popularised in the incumbent scholarship of the movement’s vicissitudes, the Zhenkongjiao actively attempted to adapt its beliefs, rituals, and strategies in response to novel changes in postcolonial Southeast Asia. Examining the Zhenkongjiao from the perspective of intellectual and religious history – as this thesis will do – sheds light on the manoeuvrability of the movement in the face of novel developments, where systems of organisation, ideas, and ceremonies that were once indigenous to late-imperial and Republican China had been re-invented and found renewed relevance among the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia today.
DOI: 10.32657/10356/154293
Rights: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Fulltext Permission: none
Fulltext Availability: No Fulltext
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