What's Missing in the 'Wenzhou Model'?: Ritual Economy, Community-Building, & Georges Bataille's Notion of 'Sovereignty'

Dr Mayfair Yang (University of Sydney)

16.Oct.2008 09.00 - 10.00
LT16, Roger Stevens Building - Leeds

WUN Contemporary China Center Virtual Seminar


here has been much discussion of the "Wenzhou Model" of economic development both in China as well as among foreign China scholars abroad. Most discussions have focused on Wenzhou's entrepreneurialism, household industries, specialized commodities markets, growth of rural towns, and traditional private banking and credit system. Few have noticed an important but highly visible feature of the Wenzhou economic miracle: the revival and expansion of a "ritual economy" of deity worship, temple-building, life-cycle family rituals, traditional lunar festivals and community religious processions, Buddhist and Daoist rituals, Christian churches, ancestor sacrifices, religiously-inspired donation drives for community projects and charities, and divination and geomantic activities. All these ritual expenditures have been regarded by educated elites and officials as "feudal superstitions," "useless", and "wasteful." However, such ritual expenditures are crucial to counter-balancing Wenzhou's economy of private accumulation with practices of redistribution of wealth and community-building. Furthermore, they represent a local assertion of what Georges Bataille has called the freedom and right to "sovereignty," or transcendence from earthly entrapment through direct access to the divine world beyond.


Professor Mayfair Mei-hui Yang is Director of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney. She is the author of Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China (1994), which won the American Ethnological Society book prize; the Chinese translation was published in Taiwan by Nantian Publishing Co., and is forthcoming in China from Jiangsu People's Press. She is also editor of Chinese Religiosities: Afflictions Of Modernity & State Formations (2008), and Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China (1999). She has produced two video documentaries, Through Chinese Women's Eyes (distributed by Women Make Movies) and Public and Private Realms in Rural Wenzhou, China. She is at work on a monograph entitled Re-enchanting Modernity: Sovereignty, Ritual Economy, and Indigenous Civil Order in Coastal China.