Place, Space, and Politics in Chinese Religions

The Case of Chunyang Guan (純陽觀) in Sichuan

Elena Valussi
Loyola University of Chicago
Friday, February 19, 2021, 10:00 am Eastern Standard Time

Video link:

Chunyang Guan, a religious site in Xinjin 新津, Sichuan, presents a variety of religious elements, Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist existing side by side. The historical analysis in this talk reveals how these different elements accrued at different times, and how contemporary events changed the affiliation of this site on multiple occasions, leaving us with a site that is difficult to interpret. Chunyang guan is no longer a functioning religious site, but is currently a war museum and tea-house. However, it maintains the vestiges of its previous religious nature, clearly indicated by the statues dotting it, and inscribed on the dozen steles permanently pasted on its walls. Studying its complex history allows us a glimpse of the religious accommodation strategies, and of the tensions between religion and secularization.

Making use of stele inscription, newspaper articles and archival materials, I will describe the historical evolution of this site, and make use of two different areas of theorizing. The first is the hybridity of the religious space. I analyze the capability of this space to encompass different religious meanings at the same time and also at different times of its existence, influenced by historical events and local factors. The second is the intersection of sacred and secular forces in the making of a religious place. I discuss how religious and secular meanings can co-exist or succeed each other and how the religious and political cannot be artificially separated and are not disjointed.

Elena Valussi received an MA in Chinese Studies from the University of Venice, and an MA and Ph.D. in Chinese History and Religious Studies, from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. She is a senior Lecturer in the History Department at Loyola University Chicago. She has been a visiting scholar and researcher at the University of Venice, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.