Bachelor of Arts
Religion and Philosophy
Department or Program Chair
Chase B. Clow, PhD
Philip Novak, PhD
In the last hundred years China has undergone massive cultural upheavals. In politics, the old imperial system gave way to Nationalism, then to strict Communism, and recently to a more moderated Communism that is trying to find a balance between state-controlled and free-market economies.
The cry, “destroy temples to build schools,” was first heard in 1898 as various forms of traditional Chinese religion were opposed by new agendas of modernization. For the next hundred years China witnessed what many historians believe to be the severest attack on religion in history. Ian Johnson writes: “Even before the Communist takeover in 1949, half of the country’s one million temples had been converted to other uses or destroyed. Over the next thirty years virtually all of the rest were wiped out; by 1982, when religious life was permitted to resume after the ouster of radical Maoists, China had just a few score temples, churches, and mosques still in usable condition—in a country that now had one billion people.” (Johnson).
My thesis will focus on the history of Tanzhe, one of Beijing’s oldest temples, during this tumultuous era. First, I will create the background for talking about this particular temple by carefully surveying Chinese political history in the 20th and 21st century. Second, I will closely recount and analyze the history of this particular temple against that larger background. My hope is show and clearly explain why the history of Tanzhe temple is in some ways typical and in some ways exceptional in relation to the recent fate of religion in China.