01/22/2015, 00.00
CHINA
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Shanxi: fight against "superstition" leads to hunting witches and feng shui masters

Shanxi's provincial authorities have launched a two-month-long campaign against superstitious activities, which includes the organisation of pro-science events. However, the practice of feng shui and witches and shamans are part of China's ancient tradition, and have become an important tourist attraction. Thus, some fear a negative grassroots backlash.

Taiyuan (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The authorities in Shanxi province (central China) have begun a crackdown against rural feudalism and superstition, primarily targeting feng shui masters, witches and shamans.

Over the centuries, various characters related to Taoist traditions have come to dominate Chinese culture. Early emperors were seen as shamans who, as "sons of God", could invoke the rains, launch the sowing season, and pray for abundant crops.

Even witches were highly respected because they could dominate the cosmic elements in favour of their protégés.

Feng shui (wind water in Chinese) is a philosophical system, a form of geomancy that seeks harmony among cosmic elements for the purpose of improving human wellbeing.  

Even today, the Chinese orient their houses, furniture, and burials to create harmony among the four elements: wind, water, fire, and air.

These traditions have defied the millennia and survived all of the country's revolutions, in particular the Cultural Revolution, the most iconoclastic episode towards things religious.

Now however, after decades of militant state atheism, urban and rural Chinese are going back to their ancestral beliefs.

What is more, traditional Chinese medicine and the practice of feng shui have become attractions for tourists and scholars alike, a valued part of the Middle Kingdom's cultural heritage.

Unmoved, Shanxi's provincial government have launched a two-month-long purge, targeting specifically rural areas where governmental inspection teams will carry out surprise visits, looking for anything that violates China's religion policies, especially anything that also has a commercial aspect to it.

If discovered, Xinhua warned, people involved in these activities will be "punished in line with the newly published guideline by the Shanxi provincial Civilization Office."

At the same time, in addition to criminalising feng shui, the authorities plan "a variety of pro-science events" for "Shanxi's rural areas to popularize scientific knowledge and improve local residents' ability to reason against superstition," Xinhua said.

In an unusual move, Xinhua cited various opinions on Shanxi's plan, noting that whilst fighting superstition was necessary, traditional culture deserved protection and negative grassroots reactions had to be avoided.

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