Transforming Religious Networks between China and Southeast Asia

When Jifeng was working as a research fellow at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Germany, his research explores how the rise of China is restructuring the Protestant networks between Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and Southern Fujian in the twenty-first century, as part of the Indian and Chinese Religious Networks in South-East Asia project directed by Peter van der Veer and Kenneth Dean.


Ongoing project: Transforming Religious Networks between China and Southeast Asia

The resurgence of religious activity in reform-era Southern Fujian (Minnan), China, has been greatly boosted by its various transnational networks. Since the late 1990s, however, in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, the situation has changed. A number of overseas Chinese of Minnan origin went bankrupt and were consequently forced to cut their financial contributions to the religious recovery in their homeland. However, China’s economy was not badly scathed; it continued to develop and Minnan has become one of China’s most economically prosperous regions. This considerable change in economic situations has substantially reshaped the transnational ties and geopolitics.

Given the changing economic and political conditions, any investigation of the transnational religious networks needs dynamic and comparative perspectives. This research treats the religious networks as a dynamic process that has been reshaped by China’s rise and the consequently restructured relations between the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and Minnan, as well as looking at the effect of generational difference.

This project aims to answer the following questions: Affected by the transformation in their economic status, how do the overseas Chinese contribute to the religious activity in Minnan? How do the younger generations of Southeast Asian Chinese value their Minnan origin and are concerned about the religious networks? How do local governments in Minnan mobilize, even convert, transnational religious networks into their political resources for regime legitimacy and public diplomacy?

These three questions will be answered by three case studies. The bulk of the field research will be carried out in Xiamen and Anxi, Fujian, where three religious communities examined. Concomitant fieldwork is also essential in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia to investigate the changing situation of the overseas Chinese communities.



Max Planck Institute project: Indian and Chinese Religious Networks in South-East Asia