16. Popular Religion & Gender


Anderson, Samantha, "Gender and Ritual in South-East China." In: Arvind Sharma & Katherine K. Young [eds.], Annual Review of Women in World Religions, vol. VI. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002. Pp.122-207.


Baptandier, Brigitte, "The Lady Linshui: How a Woman Became a Goddess." In: Shahar, Meir & Robert P. Weller [eds.], Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996. Pp.105-149.


Baptandier, Brigitte, "Façonner la divinité en soi: À la recherche d'un lieu d'énonciation." Ethnologies 25(2003)1: 109-151. (Note: On female mediums [xiangu] in Fujian province.)


Baptandier, Brigitte; translated by Kristin Ingrid Fryklund. The Lady of Linshui: A Chinese Female Cult. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Abstract: This anthropological study examines the cult of the Chinese goddess Chen Jinggu, divine protector of women and children. The cult of the "Lady of Linshui" began in the province of Fujian on the southeastern coast of China during the eleventh century and remains vital in present-day Taiwan. Skilled in Daoist practices, Chen Jinggu's rituals of exorcism and shamanism mobilize physiological alchemy in the service of human and natural fertility. Through her fieldwork at the Linshuima temple in Tainan (Taiwan) and her analysis of the narrative and symbolic aspects of legends surrounding the Lady of Linshui, Baptandier provides new insights into Chinese representations of the feminine and the role of women in popular religion. [Source: publisher's website]


Berg, Daria, "Reformer, Saint, and Savior: Visions of the Great Mother in the Novel 'Xingshi yinyuan zhuan'." Nan Nü. Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 1(1999)2: 237-267.


Bischoff, Friedrich A. "Sex Tricks of Chinese Fox-Fiends." In Hartmut Walravens [ed.], Der Fuchs in Kultur, Religion und Folklore Zentral- und Ostasiens (Teil II). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2002. Pp.1-6.


Boretz, Avron A., "Martial Gods and Magic Swords: Identity, Myth, and Violence in Chinese Popular Religion." Journal of Popular Culture 29(1995)1: 93-109.


Boretz, Avron Albert, "Martial Gods and Magic Swords: The Ritual Production of Manhood in Taiwanese Popular Religion." Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, 1996.


Boretz, Avron A., "Righteous Brothers and Demon Slayers: Subjectivities and Collective Identities in Taiwanese Temple Processions." In: Paul R. Katz and Murray A. Rubinstein [eds.], Religion and the Formation of Taiwanese Identities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Pp.219-251.


Boretz, Avron. Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters: Ritual Violence, Martial Arts, and Masculinity on the Margins of Chinese Society. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

Abstract: Demon warrior puppets, sword-wielding Taoist priests, spirit mediums lacerating their bodies with spikes and blades—these are among the most dramatic images in Chinese religion. Usually linked to the propitiation of plague gods and the worship of popular military deities, such ritual practices have an obvious but previously unexamined kinship with the traditional Chinese martial arts. The long and durable history of martial arts iconography and ritual in Chinese religion suggests something far deeper than mere historical coincidence. Avron Boretz argues that martial arts gestures and movements are so deeply embedded in the ritual repertoire in part because they iconify masculine qualities of violence, aggressivity, and physical prowess, the implicit core of Chinese patriliny and patriarchy. At the same time, for actors and audience alike, martial arts gestures evoke the mythos of the jianghu, a shadowy, often violent realm of vagabonds, outlaws, and masters of martial and magic arts. Through the direct bodily practice of martial arts movement and creative rendering of jianghu narratives, martial ritual practitioners are able to identify and represent themselves, however briefly and incompletely, as men of prowess, a reward otherwise denied those confined to the lower limits of this deeply patriarchal society. Based on fieldwork in China and Taiwan spanning nearly two decades, Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters offers a thorough and original account of violent ritual and ritual violence in Chinese religion and society. Close-up, sensitive portrayals and the voices of ritual actors themselves—mostly working-class men, many of them members of sworn brotherhoods and gangs—convincingly link martial ritual practice to the lives and desires of men on the margins of Chinese society. (Source: publisher's website)

Broadwin, Julie Ann, "Intertwining Threads: Silkworm Goddesses, Sericulture Workers and Reformers in Jiangnan, 1880-1930." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California-San Diego, 1999.


Brown, Melissa J. "The Cultural Impact of Gendered Social Roles and Ethnicity: Changing Religious Practices in Taiwan." Journal of Anthropological Research 59(2003)1: 47-67.


Bryson, Megan. Goddess on the Frontier: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016.

Abstract: Dali is a small region on a high plateau in Southeast Asia. Its main deity, Baijie, has assumed several gendered forms throughout the area's history: Buddhist goddess, the mother of Dali's founder, a widowed martyr, and a village divinity. What accounts for so many different incarnations of a local deity? Goddess on the Frontier argues that Dali's encounters with forces beyond region and nation have influenced the goddess's transformations. Dali sits at the cultural crossroads of Southeast Asia, India, and Tibet; it has been claimed by different countries but is currently part of Yunnan Province in Southwest China. Megan Bryson incorporates historical-textual studies, art history, and ethnography in her book to argue that Baijie provided a regional identity that enabled Dali to position itself geopolitically and historically. In doing so, Bryson provides a case study of how people craft local identities out of disparate cultural elements and how these local identities transform over time in relation to larger historical changes—including the increasing presence of the Chinese state. (Source: publisher's website)


Bunkenborg, Mikkel. "Popular Religion Inside Out: Gender and Ritual Revival in a Hebei Township." China Information 26.3 (2012): 359-376.


Carlitz, Katherine, "Shrines, Governing-Class Identity, and the Cult of Widow Fidelity in Mid-Ming Jiangnan." Journal of Asian Studies 56 (1997) 3: 612-640.


Chen, Gilbert. "A Confucian Iconography of Cao E (Maiden Cao): Narrative Illustrations of a Female Deity in Late Imperial China." Nan Nü 18, no. 1 (2016): 84-114.

Abstract: This article examines the narrative illustrations of a female deity called Cao E (Maiden Cao), a work produced in eastern Zhejiang during the post-Taiping era. It focuses on the artistic composition and the cultural implications of this iconography. Using both textual sources and pictorial materials, this study investigates how this pictorial hagiography served as a forum through which a state-sanctioned local cult was visualized and perceived by a heterogeneous audience including itinerant officials, local elites, and illiterate commoners. The mixed audience had different understandings and expectations of Maiden Cao and her visual representation, among which gender-related issues were contested. The present study reveals a dynamic picture of how a seemingly orthodox work sponsored by local officials and elites could be sabotaged because of local people’s expectations of Maiden Cao, and her gender identity in particular. (Source: journal)


Chen Hsiu-fen. "Between Passion and Repression: Medical Views of Demon Dreams, Demonic Fetuses, and Female Sexual Madness in Late Imperial China.“ Late Imperial China 32.1 (2011): 51-82.


Cheung, Neky Tak-Ching. Women’s Ritual in China: Jiezhu (Receiving Buddhist Prayer Beads) Performed by Menopausal Women in Ninghua, Western Fujian. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.


Cheung, Neky Tak-ching. “Women’s Salvation and Collective Order: A Penitential Ritual for Deliverance from the Lake of Blood Performed in Hong Kong.” Journal of Chinese Studies 2014, no. 58: 287-314.


Chuu, Ling-in Lilian. "The Cult of Guanyin Who Brings Sons in China." M.A. thesis, University of British Columbia, 2001.


Cline, Erin M. “Female Spirit Mediums and Religious Authority in Contemporary Southeastern China.” Modern China 36.6 (2010): 520-555.

Abstract: Although studies of Chinese spirit mediums in Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan abound, there has been little work done on spirit mediums in mainland China today. Yet spirit mediums play an important role in religious life in southeastern China, and in some areas, spirit mediums are predominantly women. This phenomenon is significant not only because it allows women who are of relatively low status to hold positions of religious authority but also because female spirit mediums sometimes address community needs that are not addressed by other religious authorities.


Cohen, Paul A., History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. See esp. ch.4: "Magic and Female Pollution."


Colla, Elisabetta. “Preliminary Survey on the Identity of Mazu: Cross-Gender Polymorphism and Female-Centric Order.” In The Mazu Cult: Historical Studies and Cross-Cultural Comparisons, edited by Cai Jiehua & Marc Nürnberger, 129-145. Lisbon: Centro Cientifico e Cultural de Macau/Centro de História da Universidade de Lisboa, 2017.


DeBernardi, Jean. "On Women and Chinese Ritual Food Culture in Penang and Singapore." Min-su ch'ü-i / Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 168 (2010): 111-155.


Doran, Rebecca. “The Cat Demon, Gender, and Religious Practice: Towards Reconstructing a Medieval Chinese Cultural Pattern.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 135, no. 4 (2015): 689-707.

Abstract: This paper examines and contextualizes rituals and beliefs surrounding the cat demon (maogui). While the demon has been briefly discussed or referenced in earlier scholarship, there as yet exists no systematic attempt to understand how it is treated in various sources. The paper approaches the complex of practices and ideas associated with the cat demon as a unique and richly informative cultural phenomenon that is suggestive of tensions relating to gender and class. The paper begins with a close examination of materials surrounding the most famous and well-documented case of cat demon practice, that involving Dugu Tuo, the half- brother of Empress Dugu of the Sui (Dugu Qieluo, 544-602), before turning to medico-religious approaches and, finally, to transformations of the supernatural or demonic cat in post-Tang materials. (Source: journal)


Gernant, Karen, Imagining Women: Fujian Folk Tales. New York: Interlink Books, 1995.


Goossaert, Vincent. "Irrepressible Female Piety: Late Imperial Bans on Women Visiting Temples." Nan Nü. Men, Women and Gender in China 10.2 (2008): 212-241 (Special issue on “Women, Gender and Religion in Premodern China”).


Goossaert, Vincent. “La sexualité dans les livres de morale chinois,” in Normes religieuses et genre. Mutations, résistances et reconfiguration, xixe- xxie siècle, ed. Florence Rochefort & Maria Eleonora Sanna, 37-46. Paris, Armand Colin, 2013.


Grant, Beata, "Patterns of Female Religious Experience in Qing Dynasty Popular Literature." Journal of Chinese Religions 23(1995):29-58.


Hall, Christine, Daughters of the Dragon: Women's Lives in Contemporary China. London: Scarlet Press, 1997. (See chapter 10: "Praying to Mao--Religion and Politics")


Hammond, Charles E., "The Demonization of the Other: Women and Minorities as Weretigers." Journal of Chinese Religions 23(1995):59-80.


Hinsch, Bret. "Prehistoric Images of Women from the North China Region: The Origins of Chinese Goddess Worship?" Journal of Chinese Religions 32(2004): 47-82.


Ho Yuk-ying. "Bridal Laments in Rural Hong Kong." Asian Folklore Studies 64(2005)1: 53-87.


Huang, C. Julia, Elena Valussi, and David A. Palmer. “Gender and Sexuality.” In Chinese Religious Life, edited by David A. Palmer, Glenn Shive, and Philip L. Wickeri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp.107-123.


Huntington, Rania, "Foxes and Sex in Late Imperial Chinese Narrative." Nan Nü 2(2000)1: 78-128.


Johnson, Elizabeth Lominska, "Singing of Separation, Lamenting Loss: Hakka Women's Expressions of Separation and Reunion." In: Charles Stafford [ed.], Living with Separation in China: Anthropological Accounts. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. Pp.27-52. [Note: On separation laments sung by women at marriages and funerals.]


Johnson, Elizabeth Lominska. "Women as Worshippers, Women Worshipped: A Hakka Community in Hong Kong." Min-su ch'ü-i / Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 168 (2010): 79-109.


Joo Fumiko. „Ancestress Worship: Huxin Temple and the Literati Community in Late Ming Ningbo.“ Nan Nü: Men, Women and Gender in China 16, no.1 (2014): 29-58.


Kang, Xiaofei. The Cult of the Fox: Power, Gender, and Popular Religion in Late Imperial and Modern China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Abstract: For more than five centuries the shamanistic fox cult has attracted large portions of the Chinese population and appealed to a wide range of social classes. Deemed illicit by imperial rulers and clerics and officially banned by republican and communist leaders, the fox cult has managed to survive and flourish in individual homes and community shrines throughout northern China. In this new work, the first to examine the fox cult as a vibrant popular religion, Xiaofei Kang explores the manifold meanings of the fox spirit in Chinese society. Kang describes various cult practices, activities of worship, and the exorcising of fox spirits to reveal how the Chinese people constructed their cultural and social values outside the gaze of official power and morality.

Kang's book uncovers and reinterprets a wealth of anecdotal historical texts and works of popular literature and draws on her own ethnographic research. She considers how the fox cult operated on the margins of Chinese society as well as the fox's place in the popular imagination. As a symbol, fox spirits have long been marginal and variable creatures with the ability to freely change their gender and age, appearing as both evil and benign. The Chinese people, as Kang demonstrates, have drawn on and manipulated the various meanings of the fox spirit to cope with and give order to the changes in their personal lives and in society.

Kang also pays close attention to the ways in which gender was used to construct religious power in Chinese society. Gendered interpretations of the fox were used to define the official and unofficial, private and public, and moral and immoral in religious practices. Kang's analysis of the history of the fox cult addresses central questions in the study of Chinese religion and society, including the dynamic between cultural unity and variation and the relationships of various social groups to popular religion. [Source: publisher's website.]


Kang Xiaofei. "Rural Women, Old Age, and Temple Work: A Case from Northwestern Sichuan." China Perspectives 2009/4: 42-52.

Abstract: This article examines the interface of religion, gender, and old age in contemporary China through the case of a group of rural Han elder women and their community temple in northwestern Sichuan. Without access to monastic resources and charismatic leadership, the women have made the temple a gendered ritual space of their own to obtain social company, spiritual comfort, and moral capital for themselves and their families. Neither victims of feudal superstition nor obstacles to modernisation, they are a dynamic transformative force in contemporary rural China.

Kang, Xiaofei. “Women and the Religious Question in Modern China.” In Modern Chinese Religion II, 1850-2015, edited by Vincent Goossaert, Jan Kiely, and John Lagerwey, 491-559. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2016. (Handbook of Oriental Studies, section 4: China, vol.32)

Kang, Xiaofei. “Women’s Liberation and Anti-Superstition in Wartime Communist Propaganda, 1943-1950.” NAN NÜ 19, no. 1 (2017): 64–96.

Abstract: This article seeks to bridge the hitherto disconnected studies of the “woman question” and “religious question” in the twentieth-century Chinese revolution. It focuses on the issues of women’s liberation and anti-superstition in Communist propaganda through Xiao Erhei jiehun (Young Blackie gets married), a popular novel by the Communist writer Zhao Shuli (1906-70) published in 1943, and examines its impact in comparative context in wartime Communist base areas. Drawing on the religious culture of the author’s native southern Shanxi, this revolutionary classic promoted freedom of marriage through attacking “feudal superstition.” The article compares wartime religious and revolutionary culture in Zhao’s rural Shanxi with the CCP’s cultural and political agendas in its headquarters of Yan’an. Despite its immense success, the novel’s original messages of women’s liberation and anti-superstition gradually became marginal in the early PRC years – both discourses gave way to the party-state’s higher ideological goal of class struggle, and were subsumed into the metanarrative celebrating the absolute leadership of the Communist Party and Mao Zedong. (Source: journal)


Kory, Stephan N. "Presence in Variety: De-Trivializing Female Diviners in Medieval China." Nan Nü 18. no.1 (2016): 3-48.

Abstract: This article argues that the relative absence and trivialization of female diviners apparent in medieval Chinese texts does not accurately reflect the presence of these figures in medieval Chinese society. It further contends that this dearth in representation is the direct result of a more comprehensive and sustained annihilation or marginalization of women in third- through ninth-century Chinese texts. Narrative accounts and the institutional perspectives on divination informing them are critically analyzed and compared to help de-trivialize the roles that female diviners played in medieval China. Comparative theories of divination will be considered to help expand the scope of our inquiry beyond activities explicitly identified as such, and the geographical, social, and practical variety one finds in medieval depictions of female diviners will be used as evidence of a much wider and more pervasive social presence than one finds today in received medieval records. (Source: journal)


Knapp, Bettina L., Women in Myth. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997. Note: See chapter 8: "China's Fragmented Goddess Images." (pp.169-200)


Law Pui-lam. "The Revival of Folk Religion and Gender Relationships in Rural China: A Preliminary Observation." Asian Folklore Studies 64(2005)1: 89-109. [Note: On revival of religious practices in the Pearl River Delta.]


Lee, Anru. “Women of the Sisters' Hall: Religion and the Making of Women's Alternative Space in Taiwan's Economic Restructuring." Gender, Place and Culture 15.4 (2008): 373-393.

Abstract: Against the background of Taiwan's recent economic restructuring, this article investigates the lives of a group of working-class women who were believers of I-Kuan Tao, a sectarian religion, and who had by and large decided to remain single in order to better practice their religious teaching. They lived together in an I-Kuan Tao temple. This article situates singlehood in the literature of resistance and sees it as a strategy of these women seeking an alternative lifestyle from the culturally prescribed roles of wife, mother and daughter-in-law. Three interlocking factors are particularly important to an understanding of these women's experience: cultural (the Taiwanese patrilineal family), religious (I-Kuan Tao), and economic (Taiwan's post-World War II export-oriented industrialization and its recent economic restructuring). Paradoxically, while trying to establish an alternative social space, these women were also seeking cultural legitimacy for their choice. Marriage resistance, in this case, was an act of both transgression and conformity. Yet the different readings that these women and their families applied to their situations, as well as the ingenuous strategies they deployed to solve their predicaments, also added new elements to the cultural repertoire which, collectively considered, might broaden the range of options for future Taiwanese women who attempt a similar life trajectory. In this article, I therefore caution against a totalizing understanding of the concept of resistance based on its final result, but call for a more nuanced analysis focusing on the process. (Source: journal)


Lee, Anru & Anna Wen-hui Tang. “The Twenty-five Maiden Ladies’ Tomb and Predicaments of the Feminist Movement in Taiwan.” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 39(3): 23-49.

Abstract: “The Twenty-five Maiden Ladies’ Tomb” is the collective burial site of the female workers who died in a ferry accident on their way to work in 1973. The fact that of the more than 70 passengers on board all 25 who died were unmarried young women, and the taboo in Taiwanese culture that shuns unmarried female ghosts, made the Tomb a fearsome place. Feminists in Gaoxiong had for some years wanted the city government to change the tomb’s public image. Their calls were not answered until the Gaoxiong mayor’s office finally allocated money to clean up the gravesite and, as part of the city’s plans to develop urban tourism, to remake it into the tourist-friendly “Memorial Park for Women Labourers”. Consequently, even though the tomb renovation seemed to indicate a triumph of the feminist endeavour, it was more a result of the Gaoxiong city governmurban revitalization. (Source: journal)


Lee, Anru & Anna Wen-hui Tang. “From the 'Twenty-five Ladies’ Tomb' to a 'Memorial Park for Women Laborers': Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Memory in Taiwan’s Urban Renewal.” Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology 75 (2011):37-70.

Abstract: This essay looks at the recent renovation of the Twenty-five Ladies’ Tomb, and examines the politics of the feminist movements and the politics of memory as they are expressed through different meanings of female ghosts, in southern Taiwan. People who were involved in the renovation process included the families of the deceased “twenty-five maidens,” the Kaohsiung city government, and feminist groups in Kaohsiung and elsewhere in Taiwan – most notably the Kaohsiung Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights – all of whom had different considerations and therefore diverse expectations regarding the future and purpose of the tomb. In Specters of Marx (2006), Derrida uses the idea of “specters” and “haunting” as consequences of historical injustice and tragedy metaphorically but powerfully. These two elements come together in our essay as well. However, the “ghosts” in our accounts are more literally ghosts with whom some (if not all) of our ethnographic subjects interact. They appear, express their sorrow, and demonstrate their grievances. The reestablishment of peace and order essential to residents of both the living world and the afterlife thus hinges upon mutual understanding and close collaboration between them. Yet, as meanings are constantly contested, so is the nature of the deceased’s requests. The different interpretations that the (living) socio-political forces give to the deceased’s needs open up new terrains of contestation for the memory of the past and the rights and obligations at the present. Ghosts are agencies that inform changes in the social life of the living. (Source: journal)

Lhamo, Yeshe Choekyi, "The Fangs of Reproduction: An Analysis of Taiwanese Menstrual Pollution in the Context of Buddhist Philosophy and Practice." History and Anthropology 14(2003)2: 157-178.


Li, Yuhang. "Oneself as a Female Deity: Representations of Empress Dowager Cixi as Guanyin." Nan Nü. Men, Women and Gender in China 14.1 (2012): 75-118.

Abstract: This paper discusses the practice of Empress Dowager Cixi’s embodiment of Guanyin, the most influential female deity in China. Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), the ruling monarch of Qing China, embodied this deity via different media such as painting, fashion, and photographs. This study demonstrates both the religious and historical consequences of Cixi’s particular vision of herself as Guanyin. It explains how Cixi combined theatricality with religiosity in different media and how she fashioned herself in both roles simultaneously as Guanyin and ruling empress Cixi. (Source: publisher's website)


Lu, Weijing. True to Her Word: The Faithful Maiden Cult in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Abstract: This path-breaking book examines the broad cultural, social, and gender meanings of the "faithful maiden" cult in late imperial China (1368–1911). Across the empire, an increasing number of young women or "faithful maidens," defied their parents' wishes and chose either to live out their lives as widows upon the death of a fiancé or killed themselves to join their fiancé in death. The book analyzes the familial conflicts, government policies, ideological controversies, and personal emotions surrounding the cult. Concentrating on the dramatic acts of spirit wedding and suicide, the faithful maidens' unique code of conduct, and the extraordinary life journey of "virgin mothers," Lu documents the ideological, psychological, cultural, and economic aspects of these young women's mentality and behavior, and the implications of this behavior for their families and the broader society. The book's narrative of the faithful maiden cult interweaves late imperial political, cultural, social and intellectual history, thus, providing a new window onto the history of the late imperial period. [Source: publisher's website]


Mann, Susan, Precious Records: Women in China's Long Eighteenth Century. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 326 pp. ISBN 0-8047-2743-9. Note: See chapter 7: "Piety" (pp.178-200).


Marshall, Alison R. The Way of the Bachelor: Early Chinese Settlement in Manitoba. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.

Abstract: The lives of early Japanese and Chinese settlers in British Columbia have come to define the Asian experience in Canada. Yet many Chinese men did not seek their destiny in British Columbia, but followed the railway east, settling in small Prairie towns and cities. The Way of the Bachelor documents the religious beliefs and cultural practices that sustained and leant meaning to Chinese bachelors in Manitoba. In the absence of women and family, these men opened the region’s first laundries and, by the turn of the twentieth century, developed a new kind of restaurant -- the Chinese cafe. They maintained their ties to the Old World and negotiated a place for themselves in the new through a process called Dao -- the way of the bachelor. At cafes and restaurants, churches and Christians associations, and the offices of the Chinese Nationalist Party, bachelors fostered a vibrant homosocial culture based on friendship, everyday religious practices, the example of Sun Yat-sen, and the sharing of food. (Source: publisher's website)


McLaren, Anne & Chen Qinjian, "The Oral and Ritual Culture of Chinese Women: Bridal Lamentations of Nanhui." Asian Folklore Studies 59(2000)2: 205-238.


McLaren, Anne E. Performing Grief: Bridal Laments in Rural China. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008.

Abstract: This is the first in-depth study of Chinese bridal laments, a ritual and performative art practiced by Chinese women in premodern times that gave them a rare opportunity to voice their grievances publicly. Drawing on methodologies from numerous disciplines, including performance arts and folk literatures, the author suggests that the ability to move an audience through her lament was one of the most important symbolic and ritual skills a Chinese woman could possess before the modern era.
    Performing Grief provides a detailed case study of the Nanhui region in the lower Yangzi delta. Bridal laments, the author argues, offer insights into how illiterate Chinese women understood the kinship and social hierarchies of their region, the marriage market that determined their destinies, and the value of their labor in the commodified economy of the delta region. The book not only assesses and draws upon a large body of sources, both Chinese and Western, but is grounded in actual field work, offering both historical and ethnographic context in a unique and sophisticated approach. Unlike previous studies, the author covers both Han and non-Han groups and thus contributes to studies of ethnicity and cultural accommodation in China. She presents an original view about the ritual implications of bridal laments and their role in popular notions of “wedding pollution.” The volume includes an annotated translation from a lament cycle.
    This important work on the place of laments in Chinese culture enriches our understanding of the social and performative roles of Chinese women, the gendered nature of China’s ritual culture, and the continuous transmission of women’s grievance genres into the revolutionary period. As a pioneering study of the ritual and performance arts of Chinese women, it will be of interest to scholars and students in the fields of anthropology, social history, gender studies, oral literature, comparative folk religion, and performance arts. [Source: publisher's website]


Moskowitz, Marc L. , "The Haunting Fetus: Greed, Healing, and Religious Adaptation in Modern Taiwan." Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica 86(1998): 157-196.


Moskowitz, Marc L., "Fetus-Spirits: New Ghosts in Modern Taiwan." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California-San Diego, 1999.


Moskowitz, Marc L., The Haunting Fetus: Abortion, Sexuality, and the Spirit World in Taiwan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001.


Moskowitz, Marc L., "Yang Sucking She-Demons: Penetration, Fear of Castration, and other Freudian Angst in Modern Chinese Cinema." In: David K. Jordan, Andrew D. Morris, and Marc L. Moskowitz [eds.], The Minor Arts of Daily Life: Popular Culture in Taiwan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. Pp. 205-217.


Nadeau, Randall L. , "Harmonizing Family and Cosmos: Shamanic Women in Chinese Religions." In: Nancy Auer Falk & Rita M. Gross [eds.], Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001. Pp. 66-79.


Nyitray, Vivian-Lee. “Questions of Gender in Tianhou/Mazu Scholarship.” In: Chang Hsun & Yeh Chuen-rong [eds.], Contemporary Religions in Taiwan: Unities and Diversities /Taiwan bentu zongjiao yanjiu: jiegou yu bianyi. Taipei: SMC Publishing, 2006. Pp.127-167.


Paper, Jordan, "Female Rituals and Female Priestly Roles in Traditional Chinese Religion." Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme 17(1997)1: 96-99.


Paper, Jordan, Through the Earth Darkly: Female Spirituality in Comparative Perspective. New York: Continuum, 1997. [Note: See Part II on Chinese religion.]


Pomeranz, Kenneth, "Power, Gender, and Pluralism in the Cult of the Goddess of Taishan" In: Theodore Huters, R. Bin Wong, and Pauline Yu [eds.], Culture & State in Chinese History: Conventions, Accommodations, and Critiques. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997. Pp. 182-204.


Rainey, Lee, "The Secret Writing of Chinese Women: Religious Practice and Beliefs." Annual Review of Women in World Religions 4(1996):130-163.


Russell, T.C., "The Spiritualization of Feminine Virtue: Religion and Social Conservatism in the Late Qing." In: Steven Totosy de Zepetnek & Jennifer W. Jay [eds.], East Asian Cultural and Historical Perspectives. Edmonton: Research Institute for Comparative Literature and Cross-Cultural Studies, University of Alberta, 1997. Pp. 135-151.


Sangren, P. Steven, "Myths, Gods, and Family Relations." In: Meir Shahar & Robert P. Weller [eds.], Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1996. Pp.150-183.


Sangren, P. Steven, Myth, Gender, and Subjectivity. Hsin-chu: Program for Research of Intellectual-Cultural History, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Tsing Hua University, 1997. (Hsin Chu Bank Endowed Lecture Series on Thought and Culture)


Sangren, P. Steven, "Separations, Autonomy and Recognition in the Production of Gender Differences: Reflections from Considerations of Myths and Laments." In: Charles Stafford [ed.], Living with Separation in China: Anthropological Accounts. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. Pp.53-84. [Note: Deals with popular stories about gods who must leave their families in order to achieve recognition. Nezha and Miaoshan are the case-examples.]


Shih, Fang-Long. "Generation of a New Space: a Maiden Temple in the Chinese Religious Culture of Taiwan." Culture and Religion 8.1 (2007): 89-104.


Smith, Norman, "Women and Religion in Jiangyong County: Views from Nüshu." British Columbia Asian Review 10 (1996/97): 121-178.


Song, Yoo-who. “'Breaking blood-pond (poxuehu)' Ritual and Women in China.” Asian Journal of Women's Studies 18.1 (2012): 62-86.


Stafford, Charles, Separation and Union in Modern China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Abstract: In this original and readable book, Charles Stafford describes the Chinese fascination with separation and reunion. Drawing on his field studies in Taiwan and mainland China, he gives a vivid account of raucous festivals of reunion, elaborate rituals for the sending-off of gods (and daughters), poetic moments of leave-takings between friends, and bitter political rhetoric about Chinese national unity. The idioms and practices of separation and reunion - which are woven into the fabric of daily life - help people to explain the passions aroused by the possibility of national division. In this book, the discussion of everyday rituals leads into a unique and accessible general introduction to Chinese and Taiwanese society and culture. [Source: publisher's website]

Contents: Introduction: an anthropology of separation; 1. Two festivals of reunion; 2. The etiquette of parting and return; 3. Greeting and sending-off the dead; 4. The ambivalent threshold; 5. Commensality as reunion; 6. Women and the obligation to return; 7. Developing a sense of history; 8. Classical narratives of separation; 9. The politics of separation and reunion in China and Taiwan; Conclusion: the separation constraint.


Sun, Yanfei. "Popular Religion in Zhejiang: Feminization, Bifurcation, and Buddhification." Modern China 40, no.5 (2014): 455-487.

Abstract: Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a county in Southeast China, this article identifies three tendencies that have appeared in the revitalization of temple-based popular religion in the post-Mao period. These three tendencies—women taking more central roles in popular religion, the bifurcation between the ever increasing popularity and prosperity of a small number of temples and the decline in the majority of small village temples, and the tendency of popular religion temples to acquire Buddhist features—have consequently caused the character and terrain of popular religion to diverge greatly from the pre-1949 past. To explain these changes, the article argues that we have to come to terms with the two faces of popular religion: the communal/mandatory dimension and the individual/voluntary dimension that is largely associated with female devotees. All three tendencies have been taking place when popular religion temples’ bonds with village communities attenuated and their voluntary dimension moved to the forefront. The article attributes the weakening of the communal dimension of popular religion temples to the restructuring of rural society by the Maoist political campaigns and the post-Mao marketization. (Source: journal)

Szonyi, Michael, "The Cult of Hu Tianbao and the Eighteenth-Century Discourse of Homosexuality." Late Imperial China 19(1998)1: 1-25.


Tsai, S.C. Kevin. "Ritual and Gender in the 'Tale of Li Wa'." Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 26(2004): 99-127.


Ueno Hiroko. "Daughters and the Natal Family in Taiwan: Affinal Relationships in Chinese Society." In: Suenari Michio, J.S. Eades & Christian Daniels [eds.], Perspectives on Chinese Society: Anthropological Views from Japan. Canterbury: Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, University of Kent, 1995. Pp.48-66.


Watson, Rubie S., "Chinese Bridal Laments: The Claims of a Dutiful Daughter." In: Yung, Bell, Evelyn S. Rawski & Rubie S. Watson [eds.], Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996. Pp.107-129.


Weller, Robert P., "Divided Market Cultures in China: Gender, Enterprise, and Religion." In: Robert W. Hefner [ed.], Market Cultures: Society and Morality in the New Asian Capitalisms. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998. Pp.78-103. [Note: Excerpts from this article appear on pp. 32-44 in Development: A Cultural Studies Reader, ed. by Susanne Schech & Jane Haggis (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002)]


Weller, Robert P., Alternate Civilities: Democracy and Culture in China and Taiwan. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999 (See chapter 5: "Religion: Local Association and Split Market Cultures", esp. the section on "Women and Religion", pp.93-100)


Woo, Tak-Ling Terry, "Religious Ideals, Beliefs and Practices in the Lives of Women during the Reign of T'ang Ming Huang." Thesis (Ph.D.), University of Toronto, 2000, 243p.

Abstract: This dissertation will examine the socio-legal parameters and the various religious attitudes that influenced the lives of women during the times of Li Lung-chi. Contemporary religious teachings and practices, as well as the lives of women at court will be emphasized. Also of particular interest here is the divergence between the religious ideals and historical reality.

This is, therefore, a very broad study of what the three main teachings, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism conceived of as the nature of woman, what constituted a good or a bad woman, and what place and role a woman has in life and ritual. There will also be an analysis of the effects of certain women's failure to live up to an assigned set of ideals. For example, there will be some consideration of the aftermath of Wu Hou's use of Buddhism, followed by T'ai-p'ing Kung-chu and Yang Kuei-fei's use of Taoism.

The approach in this dissertation is an eclectic one; it uses historical, philosophical and sociological perspectives. The intent is not to offer a comprehensive account; rather, the hope is to achieve two main objectives. First, to render a sketch of the dissonance between the ideals and the practices of the three teachings as represented in their doctrines and philosophies on the one hand, and the behaviour of professed believers like the imperial women and the popular expressions in contemporary religious beliefs and devotional practices on the other.

Second, to examine how this dissonance, as reflected in the actions of particular women at court, might have affected the later interpretations and development of the teachings. Entire areas have, therefore, been omitted: for example, the ritual sections concerning women in the dynastic histories, Chen-yen (True Word or Esoteric) practices and their views on women, and the habits and accomplishments of courtesans.

The two main approaches are historical and philosophical; sociological observations are built on them. Sources include dynastic and general histories, canonical and apocryphal Buddhist scriptures, moral and philosophical treatises, as well as popular literature.

The limits imposed by the source materials will be obvious. Most of the data that is straightforward descriptions of women is limited to the imperial household, the court and the upper classes. Much of the information about the lives of ordinary women can only be inferred, and often unsatisfactorily, from popular literature and prescriptive treatises. In this way, this dissertation can only be an incomplete account of women and religion during the time of T'ang Ming Huang (Brilliant Emperor). [Source: Dissertation Abstracts International]


Woo, Tak-Ling Terry, "Women in Contemporary Chinese Religions." In: James Miller [ed.], Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006. Pp.207-234.


Wu, Yi-li, "Ghost Fetuses, False Pregnancies, and the Parameters of Medical Uncertainty in Classical Chinese Gynecology." Nan Nü - Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 4(2002)2: 170-206.


Xu, Man. “Gender and Burial in Imperial China: An Investigation of Women's Space in Fujian Tombs of the Song Era (960-1279).” Nan nü 13.1 (2011): 1-51.

Abstract: This paper examines how Song dynasty (960-1279) contemporaries viewed women's place in the afterlife. It analyzes archaeological reports on women's and men's tombs in Song Fujian as well as relevant writings by Song era Neo-Confucian scholars. Despite Neo-Confucians' strong emphasis on gender segregation among the living, both textual and material evidence show that the increasingly hardened gender hierarchy did not carry over into the afterlife. Prescription of gender distinctions in burial practices is virtually absent from neo-Confucians' writings. The structure of tombs implies that communication between women and men after death was expected, not suppressed. Similarities overwhelm differences among women's and men's grave goods, which resemble each other in both object categories and decorative motifs. Women's place in the afterlife was not a reflection of the hierarchies on earth but a new construction. (Source: journal)


Yan Jinfen. "A Feminine Expression of Mysticism, Romanticism and Syncretism in A Plaint of Lady Wang." In: Elise Anne DeVido and Benoît Vermander [eds.], Creeds, Rites and Videotapes: Narrating Religious Experience in East Asia. Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute, 2004. Pp.49-72.


Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui, "Goddess Across the Taiwan Strait: Matrifocal Ritual Space, Nation-state, and Satellite Television Footprints." Public Culture 16(2004)2: 209-238.


Yi Jo-lan. „Gender and Sericulture Ritual Practice in Sixteenth-Century China.“ Journal of Asian History 48, no.2 (2014): 281-302.


Yi, Sumei, “The Making of Female Deities in North China, 800—1400.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, 2009.

Abstract: In order to study the multiplicity and controversy in the making of female deities, this dissertation takes both a longer perspective, the six centuries from 800 to 1400 as a whole as opposed to a single dynasty, and a broader perspective, writing about female deities in collections of hagiographies and making offerings to them and praying to them in local temples (traceable largely from temple inscriptions) rather than a single coherent body of texts. It starts with a search for continuities and transformations in representations of female deities and moves to an exploration into temple cults to female deities in North China. The examination of female cult deities includes an analysis of views and practices of various actors (the state, elites, clergy, and ordinary devotees) and influence of gender as well as a case study of the Two Transcendent cult in southeastern Shanxi.


Zeitlin, Judith T. The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007.

Abstract: The “phantom heroine”—in particular the fantasy of her resurrection through sex with a living man—is one of the most striking features of traditional Chinese literature. Even today the hypersexual female ghost continues to be a source of fascination in East Asian media, much like the sexually predatory vampire in American and European movies, TV, and novels. But while vampires can be of either gender, erotic Chinese ghosts are almost exclusively female. The significance of this gender asymmetry in Chinese literary history is the subject of Judith Zeitlin’s elegantly written and meticulously researched new book.

Zeitlin’s study centers on the seventeenth century, one of the most interesting and creative periods of Chinese literature and politically one of the most traumatic, witnessing the overthrow of the Ming, the Manchu conquest, and the subsequent founding of the Qing. Drawing on fiction, drama, poetry, medical cases, and visual culture, the author departs from more traditional literary studies, which tend to focus on a single genre or author. Ranging widely across disciplines, she integrates detailed analyses of great literary works with insights drawn from the history of medicine, art history, comparative literature, anthropology, religion, and performance studies.

The Phantom Heroine probes the complex literary and cultural roots of the Chinese ghost tradition. Zeitlin is the first to address its most remarkable feature: the phenomenon of verse attributed to phantom writers—that is, authors actually reputed to be spirits of the deceased. She also makes the case for the importance of lyric poetry in developing a ghostly aesthetics and image code. Most strikingly, Zeitlin shows that the representation of female ghosts, far from being a marginal preoccupation, expresses cultural concerns of central importance. [Source: Publisher's website]

Zhou Yiqun. "The Hearth and the Temple: Mapping Female Religiosity in Late Imperial China, 1550-1900." Late Imperial China 24(2003)2: 109-155.