The education of Taoist priests in contemporary Shanghai
This thesis is an analysis of the means by which Taoism as an ancient religious tradition is
reproduced in contemporary Shanghai - the largest commercial metropolis in 'post-socialist'
China. More specifically, it investigates the tension between "modern schooling" and
"traditional apprenticeship" in the state-sponsored formal schooling of Taoist priests organized
by the Shanghai Taoist Association through its affiliated school - the Shanghai Taoist College.
Through examining the institutional context, the teaching/learning practices, and the
politico-economic conditions of modem Taoist schooling, this thesis argues that the modern
Taoist schooling is actually a measure of Chinese government to impose its programme of
modernization by 'modernizing' or 'reinventing' rather than to 'perpetuating' Taoist tradition.
It tends to impart Taoist novices with a modern habitus, which is characterized by the
inanimate, alienating temporality and its associative knowledge paradigm corresponding to the
irresponsive, rigid, socialist public-supply economy. However, modern Taoist schooling does
not succeed in transforming current Taoist priests as its modernizing effect is first neutralized
by the most essential and most traditional module of their curriculum - ritual skill training -
and then further sabotaged by the traditional economic pattern that the graduate students must
adopt for survival. Hence, although modem schooling and its relevant institutions do effect a
major impact on official Taoism in current Shanghai, current Taoist priests nevertheless
gradually take up the characteristic habitus of their predecessors - with an the animistic,
responsive temporality, a knowledge paradigm based on practical skills, and a mixed
politico-economy that incorporates market economy, gift economy, and tributary economy. As
a result, despite some setbacks caused by the state's modernization programme, the traditions
of Taoism are still thriving - in various syncretic forms.