The Significance of Wenzhou's "Ritual Economy" in China's Capitalism and Globalization

Mayfair Yang (University of California, Santa Barbara)

The lecture takes up calls by J.K. Gibson-Graham and other theorists to challenge the monolithic construction of “capitalocentrism.” Many scholars understand that Chinese state capitalism diverges in structure and operating principles from Western liberal capitalism, and even differs from the model of “East Asian Developmental State.” Few have examined how pre-capitalist forms of economic practice are uneasily incorporated within the Chinese state capitalist economy, where they continue to operate according to non-capitalist or even anti-capitalist principles, such as kinship ethics, divine and ritual debt-economies, and communal interests, even while they are also penetrated by capitalism. Based on fieldwork in rural and small-town Wenzhou on the coast of southeastern China, Professor Yang will examine what she calls a “ritual economy” of religious and kinship expenditures that harken back to pre-industrial commercial economies in imperial China. Today’s “ritual economy” traces back to the Song Dynasty, when Chinese popular religions and an indigenous market economy developed in tandem. This past extends its dynamic force to the present era of religious resurgence and China’s entry into global capitalism.


Mayfair Yang received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. She has been a faculty member in the Anthropology Department at UC Santa Barbara, and is now a Professor in Religious Studies Department and East Asian Studies Department there. Yang was Director of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia, and has been visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Harvard University, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, Beijing and Fudan Universities in China, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She is the author of Gifts, Favors, & Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China, and editor of Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions of Modernities & State Formation, and Places of Their Own: Women’s Public Sphere in Transnational China. Her forthcoming book: Re-enchanting Modernity: Ritual Economy & Religious Civil Society in Wenzhou, China (Duke University Press).  She is also working on a second, more theoretical book on Wenzhou religiosity and politics.

  • Mo, 20. Nov 2017, 18.00 Uhr

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