The article, “Spirituality in a Chinese Metropolis,” written by Lizhu Fan and James D. Whitehead, in the volume Chinese Religious Life (Oxford University Press, 2011), focuses on the spirituality of the urban residents of Shenzhen, a new city just across the border from Hong Kong. As a prosperous city with little history and little tradition, inhabited almost exclusively by migrants from other parts of China, Shenzhen offers clues on the future of religion in a hypermodern, urban Chinese context. The authors depict how Shenzhen residents actively turn to China’s spiritual heritage to give moral meaning to their lives in a competitive market economy.

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Fan Lizhu: Shenzhen — theory and reality

Sociologist Fan Lizhu who studies religion in China conducted years of field research in Shenzhen. In her article, “Spirituality in a Modern Chinese Metropolis”, Fan Lizhu describes how the Economic Reform in China during the 1980s ushered in more space of freedom in the modern city Shenzhen. Why did she conduct research in the Chinese metropolis? Are classical sociology theories applicable to the study of the real situation in Shenzhen? The city has found its way to prosperity under the Economic Reform; however, besides material success, what else do people need? Let’s see how Fan explains.

Fan Lizhu: Faith crisis after the Cultural Revolution

​After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the spiritual space in China appeared to be vacuum since religions were banned and destroyed in the ten-year struggle. ​In this clip, Fan Lizhu raises the question “After people lost their faith in revolution, what will they believe in?” and “Will the process of modernization in China results in people not needing the spirit?” Fan has given us a special answer.

Fenggang Yang: Dramatic social change causes religious seeking

Since the Economic Reform in the 1980s, contemporary China is experiencing dramatic social change where old ideologies of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism give way to modernization. Fenggang Yang says, “When there is a dramatic change, it creates more opportunities for individuals to think about the meaning of life.” So why am I here? Why am I in this situation? Now is the time to search for answers.

Fan Lizhu: The anxieties of success

No longer living in a state-planned economy, Shenzhen people had to face uncertainties in the market. Some encountered failures but some suddenly became successful.  ​In the clip “The anxieties of success”, Fan tells a typical story of a poor young man who started his gold-mining adventure in Shenzhen and turned rich at last, but he did not know where his luck came from. And how could he feed his “spiritual hunger” in the city? Please watch.

Fenggang Yang: Christianity as Westernization?

Christianity is a growing faith in cities of China, whose believers gather in McDonald’s and form bible study circles. Why do they meet in American fast food shops? Why do they believe in Christianity, a typically “western” faith? Fenggang Yang says, “Christianity empowers people to go against some of the traditional beliefs and practices that have become obstacles to changes. So it’s an empowering force for modernization.” All these happen in cities. Let’s see how Yang explains.