Re-enchanting Modernity

Ritual Economy and Society in Wenzhou, China

Re-enchanting Modernity

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 44 illustrations Published: May 2020

Author: Mayfair Yang

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia, Religious Studies

In Re-enchanting Modernity Mayfair Yang examines the resurgence of religious and ritual life after decades of enforced secularization in the coastal area of Wenzhou, China. Drawing on twenty-five years of ethnographic fieldwork, Yang shows how the local practices of popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism in Wenzhou are based in community-oriented grassroots organizations that create spaces for relative local autonomy and self-governance. Central to Wenzhou's religious civil society is what Yang calls a "ritual economy", in which an ethos of generosity is expressed through donations to temples, clerics, ritual events, and charities in exchange for spiritual gain. With these investments in transcendent realms, Yang adopts Georges Bataille's notion of "ritual expenditures" to challenge the idea that rural Wenzhou's economic development can be described in terms of Max Weber's notion of a "Protestant Ethic". Instead, Yang suggests that Wenzhou's "ritual economy" forges an alternate path to capitalist modernity.


“Mayfair Yang's wonderful ethnography reveals an alternative ‘ritual economy’ under the dizzying churn of market relations in China. It is attuned to giving, reciprocity, and the materialization of a social and spiritual life. While committed to wealth-making, the people of Wenzhou are by the same token committed to the health of their communal lives.” — Prasenjit Duara, Duke University

“Mayfair Yang's compelling account of the re-enchantment of everyday life in Wenzhou, China, reveals lines of flight through which re-ritualization reworks capitalist accumulation to produce new communal relations. A must-read for anyone interested in alternative possibilities for China's future.” — Kenneth Dean, Raffles Professor of Humanities, National University of Singapore


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Fall 2019 Sale
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Mayfair Yang is Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, author of Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China, and editor of Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernity and State Formation and Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China.

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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0827-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0775-3