Recent Quest for Religious Roots: The Cult of Guangze Zunwang, Temple Networks, and Rivalries in Southeast China, 1978-2009

The establishment of the People’s Republic of China has led to the distancing of diasporic temple networks between China and Southeast Asia. The separation of religious connections became even more apparent with the onset of the Cultural Revolution. It resulted in the complete destruction of Shishan Fengshan Si (诗山凤山寺) and great damages to other Guangze Zunwang (广泽尊王) sacred sites. More significantly, it called a halt to temple networking between China and Southeast Asia from 1966 to 1976. Following the end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Open Door Policy in 1978, coupled with the Chinese government’s implementation of a more relaxed religious policy, inaugurated a period of religious rebuilding and revival in China. The religious revival in China, as Daniel Overmyer (2003: 1) puts it, is an aspect of “greater social freedom” which has accompanied the economic liberalization and development of the post-1978 period. Consequently, religious traditions in many parts of China have revived their activities and organizations in the last twenty years, rebuilding their churches, mosques, and temples. In this context of China’s Open Door Policy and the relaxation of religious control, Chinese overseas devotees of Guangze Zunwang from Singapore and Malaysia were able to visit China and make pilgrimages to the deity’s sacred sites.

This essay examines the issues surrounding the revitalization of Guangze Zunwang religious networks between Southeast China and the Chinese overseas in Singapore and Malaysia from 1978 to 2009. It demonstrates how the Chinese overseas’ search for the sacred roots of Guangze Zunwang has contributed to the rebuilding of the Shishan Fengshan Si in particular and the sacred temples of the cult of Guangze Zunwang in general. The resurgence of diasporic religious networks has facilitated the movement of financial resources and also allowed Chinese overseas to make regular pilgrimages and participate in the religious rituals in China. This renewal in religious ties has led to the proliferation of pilgrimages to the sacred sites in China, and exchanges from China to Singapore and Malaysia. While the pilgrimages and religious exchanges have benefited both the Shishan Fengshan Si and the overseas temples, they also resulted in the religious competition and inter-temple rivalries between the different principal sites of the cult in China.