Wednesday, October 15, 2014

[Friday Seminar Recap] Of Wives, Mothers, and Goddesses: Marriage, Childbirth, & Religiosity in Wenzhou Women’s Culture

Of Wives, Mothers, and Goddesses: Marriage, Childbirth, & Religiosity in Wenzhou Women’s Culture

Speaker: Mayfair YANG
(Professor, Religious Studies Department, East Asian Studies Department,
University of California, Santa Barbara)  
Time: 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, 16 September 2014  
Venue: LT5, Yasumoto International Academic Park, Chung Chi College, CUHK


The seminar
Professor YANG’s ethnographic presentation was based on her on-going fieldwork in rural Wenzhou, China, on the revival of popular religion. Professor YANG shared her observations on the changes in Wenzhou women’s marriage, childbirth and religiosity in the post-Mao era.

Traditionally, the groom’s family will offer brideprice to the bridal family before the marriage ceremony. In return, the bridal family will provide the dowry. Nowadays, the brideprice is less than the dowry. With the economic development, some bridal families even refuse the brideprice, as they consider the bride will be more respected in the groom’s family.

Professor Mayfair Yang
Even though the communist party enabled women to go out to work and promoted their social status after 1949, most married women in Wenzhou still perform a traditional gender role after marriage. They will stay at home to take care of the family and be the factory manager if their family owns an enterprise. Most Wenzhou women keep a low-profile and prefer that their husband or the family to take all the credit.

In the post-Mao era, the number of births started to drop after 20 years of rise. When the People’s Republic of China was just established in 1949, the average household size is 4.09 and increased to 4.8 in 1968. But after the one child policy, household size gradually declined to 3.9 in the 1990s. The popularisation of the nuclear family is also a result of the new housing setting and the rising real estate price.

Even though women are encouraged to engage in society after 1949, religious activities were strictly controlled or even banned by the communist government. Yet, women in Wenzhou, especially the older women, still participate in the religious activities in Buddhism and/or Daoism. They did this to pay the debt of sins and build merit for the afterlife, for personal or familial salvation.

The attendants
In Wenzhou, many religious organisations are initiated or lead by women. Professor YANG shared the stories of how her informants initiated and built a Guanyin temple, an 800-member Buddhist study society and a Taiyin palace. These women face difficulties to obtain the recognition from the official Daoist/Buddhist associations, without which they can be shut down. But, as popular religion is considered part of intangible cultural heritage in the Wenzhou/Fujian area, they gained a certain degree of legitimacy.

One of the major goddess the Wenzhou women worship is the Goddess Chen the 14th. Goddess Chen the 14th has a fearless, fierce and independent image. The stories of her are closely related to the current problems, including the official corruption. It also inspires a cross-strait Mother Chen festival, which has become a major semi-official event between Mainland China and Taiwan.

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