2000 Student-Faculty Fellows: Kalamazoo College

People’s Republic of China:
Daoist Practice In Contemporary Beijing

Mentor: Brian Russell Dott, Department of History
Student Fellow: Jeffrey Michael Lung, ’01, Religion

Jeffrey Michael Lung

I must make it known that this project was an all-around wonderful experience. I learned more in these six weeks in Beijing than I did during my seven month stay the year before. Not only did I have the opportunity to return to Beijing, but I was also introduced to the world of field research. This project helped me realize how difficult field research can be. I learned how to be very patient and flexible throughout the process. I am beginning my final year of undergraduate work at Kalamazoo College and I now have a taste of what post-grad work will be like. By doing this project, new ideas have come about for future documentaries and I feel that now they can become realities instead of just dreams. I have the knowledge I need in terms of methodology, equipment and contacts to do something well, and for this I am grateful.

Prof. Brian Russell Dott

This research project allowed me to expand my teaching experiences in a unique manner. This summer the “classroom” was Beijing itself, the “texts” actual people and temples. At many points during our interviews I was learning along with Jeff. My research for the revisions of my dissertation benefitted from my time China this summer in two main areas. First, I was able to visit two important temples in the Beijing area which are closely associated with Mount Tai for the first time. Second, I was able to make a trip to revisit Mount Tai, where I was able to observe changes from and continuities with my last visit in 1995. I was introduced to several other scholars who study Mount Tai and was made an honorary member of the Mount Tai Study Association. Regarding my research for an article on the contemporary meanings of Mount Tai, I was able to incorporate questions into our various interviews for the joint research project. In the classroom I will now be able to update my observations, anecdotes and slides about contemporary China. I am a great advocate for including visual sources as an integral component of class time. To this end, I spent a good portion of the teaching supply budget on Video Discs about Chinese history, religion, art and culture.

Research Findings

The goal of our research was to document contemporary Daoist practice in Beijing. To this end we spent our time in Beijing observing and interviewing practitioners and scholars at temples, pilgrimage sites and research institutions. Daoism in Beijing is regaining the popularity and sacred spaces which existed before the Cultural Revolution. While the reopening of the Eastern Sacred Peak temple has not yet attained its previous level of practice, it does present Daoist history and folk-culture to Beijing residents and has become part of annual temple rituals. In contrast to the dichotomous distinctions between Daoism as religion and as philosophy prevalent in western scholarship, we found that the Chinese view of Daoism encompasses a religion, a faith, a cosmology, a philosophy, a history, a mystery, a life, and much more. As such, contemporary Daoism flourishes in Beijing as part of the inherited Chinese spirit. As one of our sources told us, “The Dao is Chinese, and all Chinese people hold this within them, whether they know it or not.”

Venues for Sharing

  • Presentation by Lung & Dott of the final, edited video to the Kalamazoo College community in April 2001.
  • Presentation by Lung & Dott of the final, edited video to the Kenyon College community in April 2001.
  • Lung will be submitting a proposal to present his research at the National Conference For Undergraduate Research to be held in Kentucky in March 2001.
  • This project is also an integral part of Lung’s Senior Individualized Project at Kalamazoo College. Lung’s SIP will consist of both the video and a written paper. Both of these will stay on file in the Religion Department’s library at Kalamazoo College.
  • Dott will be an adjunct faculty member at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA 1 next semester and will preside over a showing of the video in April 2001.