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How popular Confucianism became embarrassing: on the spatial and moral centre of the house in rural China

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In the past, most farmhouses in central China had an ancestral shrine and a paper scroll with the Chinese letters for “heaven, earth, emperor, ancestors, and teachers” on the wall opposite the main entrance. The ancestral shrine and paper scroll were materializations of the central principles of popular Confucianism. This article deals with their past and present. It describes how in everyday action and in ritual this shrine marked a spatial and moral center. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) the ancestral shrines and paper scrolls were destroyed, and replaced by a poster of Mao Zedong. Although the moral principles of popular Confucianism were dismissed by intellectuals and politicians, Mao Zedong was worshipped in ways reminiscent of popular Confucian ritual. The Mao poster and the paper scroll stand for a continuity of a spatial-moral practice of centering. What has changed however is the public evaluation of such a local practice, and this tension can produce a double embarrassment. Elements of popular Confucianism (which had been forcefully denied in the past) remain somewhat embarrassing for many people in countryside. At the same time urbanites sometimes inversely perceive the Maoist condemnation of popular Confucianism as an awkward survival of peasant narrow-mindedness—all the more so as Confucian traditions are now reinvented and revitalized as cultural heritage.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/29659/

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