At our institute, doctoral research is pursued on a wide variety of topics. An overview shows you the range of research topics with their respective disciplinary approaches in fields such as religious studies, history, and anthropology.

Gebäude hinter dem Kaiserpalast in Beijing, Foto: Merle Schatz
Gate tower in the Forbidden City, Beijing. Photo: Merle Schatz

Current Dissertation Research

Interaction of Spirit-writing Cults and Local Society: A Case study of Chaozhou Area

This project is about the history of spirit-writing cults in the Chaozhou area, exploring how the nineteenth century movement of new spirit-writing cults exerted an impact on the Chaozhou area and trying to appraise the role of spirit-writing in local society. It consists of three parts. Firstly, it provides a brief history of spirit-writing as a communication means. Compared with the new type of spirit-writing groups, traditional literati conversed with deities or ancient poets in poetry through planchettes, and was primarily used for solving personal problems. The second section focuses on new changes of spirit-writing since the nineteenth century, that is, numerous new phoenix halls and charitable associations, publication and production of morality books, the prosperity of philanthropic careers, the popularity of the ritual of refining restless bones, etc. The final part comes to relationships among spirit-writing cults, philanthropy and local society. The preliminary research questions are as follows: How did the new type of spirit-writing cults begin in the Chaozhou area? How did it flourish in the first half of the twentieth century? What is the interaction between spirit-writing cults and local society? What is the relationship among various spirit-writing cults?
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The Transculture of China’s Engineers

Political scientists have remarked on the ascension of technocrats within the Communist Party’s rule after the Mao era. Given a parallel ascension of party technocrats in the Republic of China on Taiwan, there is reason to belief that the roots of this rise did not lie in the political structure of Socialist China, but in the two countries’ shared past. I am arguing that there were precursors to contemporary technocracy. However, there is insufficient research on the process in which technologists gained independence from their patrons and actively began to shape the emergent Chinese nation state.
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Urban Religion and Civil Society in the People's Republic of China

Can urban Chinese folk religious organizations be considered examples of civil society? And if so how do they differ from classic examples of civil society suggested by scholars?
This thesis posits that a study of sixty pilgrimage associations in the greater Beijing region centered on Miaofengshan will show that some of these groups are fragile examples of civil society, even as the government tries to coopt them as part of a national campaign to bolster legitimacy by embracing traditional faiths. And while these groups do not have direct political goals, they are part of a broader effort by religious communities to expand freedom of belief and individual agency over key moral questions that the state seeks to shape.
In addition, this work explores the role of invented traditions in today’s China. After more than a century of cultural destruction, state and society are racing to rebuild traditional teachings and faiths–Buddhism, Daoism, and folk religions. These players have differing interests: the state sees faith as a form of legitimacy, while the religious associations see it as a form of link that gives their members a sense of security and continuity with the past. But both are recreating an imagined or idealized past, one that can be useful in filling a widely perceived spiritual vacuum in 21st century China.
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Taxation and Modern China: Tracing the Discourse of Lijin in the Republican Period (1912-1949)

I am a Ph.D. student in Sinologie, Ostasiatisches Institut. My research interest is the political and economic history of China. My current research project, supervised by Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Kaske, is a historical study about discourse on taxation and its interaction with social relations in 19-20th century modern China, with a particular focus on the tax of Lijin.

Implemented in 1853, Lijin, literally meaning “one-thousandth unit of currency” in Chinese, was in practice a tax of one percent, or more, on the value of goods, located in shops and collected in transit. Seemingly insignificant, the tax would rise to be among the top three state revenues in Late Qing, and supported the nation’s early efforts in modernization. Lijin not only challenged the existing ideology and social relations, it also outlived the last Chinese monarchy and continued into the Republican era until its turbulent abolishment in 1931. In a period entangled by economic, political and social reforms, history would witness the state’s contradictory, yet helpless dependence on Lijin, making it an interesting case study for the fiscal history of China.

My research applies the method of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) in tracing the historical discussions on Lijin. It aims to outline the relation between Lijin and social relations in Qing Dynasty and Republican China (1912-1949), thus bringing new meanings to theories about taxation and modernization.
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