Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters

Gods, Ghosts, and GangstersBased on fieldwork in China and Taiwan spanning nearly two decades, Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters: Ritual Violence, Martial Arts, and Masculinity on the Margins of Chinese Society, by Avron Boretz, offers a thorough and original account of violent ritual and ritual violence in Chinese religion and society. Close-up, sensitive portrayals and the voices of ritual actors themselves—mostly working-class men, many of them members of sworn brotherhoods and gangs—convincingly link martial ritual practice to the lives and desires of men on the margins of Chinese society. This work is a significant contribution to the study of Chinese ritual and religion, the history and sociology of Chinese underworld, the history and anthropology of the martial arts, and the anthropology of masculinity.

“This is a magnificent exposition of a social world that was heretofore inaccessible to outsiders. Boretz provides both vivid description and insightful analysis of religion among the marginally criminal element in backwater areas of Taiwan, as well as among villagers in rural Yunnan. His presentation is lively, his mastery of the material is thorough, and his agile blend of relevant findings from anthropological and sinological literature makes this a delightful read.” —John McRae, Hachioji, Tokyo

Gods, Ghosts, and Gangsters is among the best ethnographies of China I have ever read. It is a model of anthropological writing that is at once engaging as literature and theoretically sophisticated. The author’s deep and thorough engagement with the people whose experiences he analyzes has resulted in a fascinating study that contributes greatly to our understanding of Chinese society. The decision to undertake extensive—and difficult—field work in two remote regions of Taiwan and Yunnan suggests that the nexus of ritual, violence, and masculine identity extends through much of the Chinese cultural sphere. Riveting and pathbreaking, the ethnography is thick with detail that will be extremely important for scholars working on such diverse topics as ritual, martial arts history, the construction of masculinity, and Chinese father-son relations.” —Meir Shahar, Tel Aviv University, author of The Shaolin Monastery

October 2010 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3491-3 / $29.00 (PAPER)