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Superstitious Regimes

Superstitious Regimes

Religion and the Politics of Chinese Modernity

Rebecca Nedostup

ISBN 9780674035997

Publication date: 04/01/2010

We live in a world shaped by secularism—the separation of numinous power from political authority and religion from the political, social, and economic realms of public life. Not only has progress toward modernity often been equated with secularization, but when religion is admitted into modernity, it has been distinguished from superstition. That such ideas are continually contested does not undercut their extraordinary influence.

These divisions underpin this investigation of the role of religion in the construction of modernity and political power during the Nanjing Decade (1927–1937) of Nationalist rule in China. This book explores the modern recategorization of religious practices and people and examines how state power affected the religious lives and physical order of local communities. It also looks at how politicians conceived of their own ritual role in an era when authority was meant to derive from popular sovereignty. The claims of secular nationalism and mobilizational politics prompted the Nationalists to conceive of the world of religious association as a dangerous realm of “superstition” that would destroy the nation. This is the first “superstitious regime” of the book’s title. It also convinced them that national feeling and faith in the party-state would replace those ties—the second “superstitious regime.”


  • Superstitious Regimes offers a penetrating analysis of the complex confrontation between the Chinese Nationalist regime and the many faces of Chinese religion, largely during the Nanjing Decade...The broad outlines of this struggle are well known, at least to scholars of Chinese religion. Nedostup's signal contribution is to examine in much greater detail a number of case studies from the Nationalists' base area in Jiangsu, grounding her work in an impressive variety of legal cases, archival materials, memoirs, newspapers, and magazines. Her efforts on this front are nothing short of herculean...This is a superb study, deserving of wide readership. Its evidence and insights should be incorporated into more general studies of the Republican period, which have tended to treat religion as a side story. For scholars and China-watchers fascinated by the current religious revival in China, this volume is yet another proof that the Communists inherited rather than created their religious problems, and a model of the sort of research we should attempt to carry out in the context of contemporary China. Finally, Superstitious Regimes is a profound reflection on the nature and limits of secularism as part and parcel of the experience of modernity.

    —David Ownby, Journal of Asian Studies


  • Rebecca Nedostup is Associate Professor of History at Boston College.

Book Details

  • 450 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center