The Introduction to this edited volume explores the concept of sainthood in the context of modern and contemporary Chinese history, illustrating that the idea and the practice of sainthood remain vital in spite of the Chinese state’s consistent commitment to secularism as part of its strategy of state-building. In addition to providing necessary historical and historiographical contextualization, the Introduction also discusses the three main dimensions of sainthood—charisma, hagiography, and religious leadership—and provides examples of how the particular figures profiled in our volume both drew on tradition and innovated, and stood up to and compromised with political authorities. Chapter summaries are followed by a brief comparison with similar cases outside of the Chinese world. Throughout, emphasis is placed on the creativity and vitality of religious leadership, which seems generally undaunted by the frequent indifference and hostility of state actors.
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