Remaking social boundaries: The construction of benzhu worship in Southwest China

Asian Ethnicity, 2015
DOI: 10.1080/14631369.2015.1013174
Abstract: In the historical transformation of the state, benzhu worship in the Erhai lake basin, northwest Yunnan, an esoteric Buddhist practice developed in the period of Nanzhao Kingdom, has been continually reconstructed by the state and local agencies. As a result, social boundaries between the Han Chinese and the ethnic ‘others’ living in this multiethnic southwestern frontier of China have been constantly remade. This paper, through a review of the state’s interpretations and local agencies’ negotiations and contentions of the meaning and practice of the worship, is mainly intended to revisit the social and cultural consequences incurred by the transformation of the state, and highlight, among other things, how local agencies, average villagers in particular, have cautiously yet ingeniously exercised their agency since the 1950s by appropriating or recasting national and international discourses on ethnicity and diversity to serve their own ends.