China's Leaders Harness Folk Religion for Their Aims

July 29, 2010

Author: Louisa Lim

Source: NPR

In China, folk religion has undergone a remarkable rebirth since the days of the Cultural Revolution four decades ago, when all religious worship was banned.

One example of a folk goddess that has gained an enormous following is Mazu, a sea deity believed to protect sailors and fishermen. Though she started as a local folk goddess, she has entered the Daoist and Buddhist pantheon, and is also known as Tianhou or Tinhau in Hong Kong.

Scholars say she has an estimated 160 million followers and 4,000 temples devoted solely to her in China.

The explosion of interest in this folk god reflects the results of a 2006 survey in China, which found that two-thirds of those who described themselves as religious were Buddhists, Daoists or worshippers of folk gods.