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In the past twenty years, work on the local culture of central Hunan has been one of the most exciting sources for rethinking the nature and variety of Chinese local society. At the heart of this society is a kind of statuary found nowhere else in China—sculpted images of local people, primarily religious specialists of a wide range, but also parents and ancestors who, according to Confucian orthodoxy, should be represented by tablets, not statues. While the consecration ceremonies of these statues include rites that are common to all China, they are embedded in unique local ritual traditions. Based on two decades of international collaborative research, Alain Arrault focuses on some 4,000 of these statues and studies them on the basis of consecration certificates inserted in the statues, the earliest of which date to the sixteenth century.
Alain Arrault is a professor at the École française d’Extrême-Orient (French School of Asian Studies), attached to the Research Center on Modern and Contemporary China.
Lina Verchery graduated from Harvard Divinity School and studies contemporary Chinese Buddhist monastic life in China and worldwide. She is also a documentary filmmaker.