[URBANTH-L]REV: Lozada on Guest, _God in Chinatown_

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Mon Nov 21 20:37:22 EST 2005

American Ethnologist Volume 32 Number 4 November 2005

Book Reviews On-line

God in Chinatown: Religion and Survival in New York's Evolving Immigrant
Community. Kenneth J. Guest. New York: New York University Press, 2003. xi +
225pp. , map, photographs, tables, references, index.

Reviewed by Eriberto P. Lozada Jr., Davidson College

Given the centrality of globalization-economic, political, religious, and
cultural-to current anthropological interests, transnational fieldwork, once
an "experimental" practice, is now common in contemporary ethnographic
research. Kenneth J. Guest's study of Chinese transnational religious
communities is a good example of such ethnography. Guest concludes that
undocumented Chinese immigrants who journey to New York in pursuit of the
good life rely on social networks generated by their participation in
transnational religious communities. By facilitating the exchange of
information and providing financial support, Chinese religious communities
mobilize the social capital necessary for individuals' survival during the
immigration process. Although the scope of Guest's study is ambitious, he
also attends to the detailed particularities of these transnational
processes by presenting the voices of these immigrants who live globally. In
so doing, he demonstrates the heterogeneity of the so-called ethnic enclave
that is usually singularly identified as "Chinatown."

By relating the individual experiences and life histories of recent Fuzhou
immigrants to New York's Chinatown, Guest situates both the contemporary
situation of immigrants (legal and illegal, men and women) from China and
the history of Chinatown in the wider context of U.S. immigration history.
Although the social solidarity of an apparent shared Chinese ethnicity helps
immigrants survive in a foreign land, Guest shows how the internal dynamics
of New York's Chinatown, with its dense networks of social obligations, also
serve to establish a socioeconomic hierarchy-a hierarchy in which recent
immigrants find themselves at the bottom. Chinatown is not a harmonious
place for recent immigrants, a gateway for them to pursue the American
dream; instead, it is a highly stratified community where differences of
regional origin, language, educational background, and other socioeconomic
and political markers serve as mechanisms with which Chinatown's elite
economically exploits vulnerable newcomers.

Guest situates three of the seven chapters of this ethnography in Fuzhou,
describing the local history, diasporic traditions, and religious practices.
Fuzhou has a long history of emigration and economic integration with the
world capitalist system because of its relative distance from the national
capital and its proximity to Taiwan. Guest uses the discourse of orthodoxy
and heterodoxy to review the relationship between the Chinese state and
popular religious organizations, in which orthodoxy is defined by the state
and popular religious organizations provide the source for heterodoxy.
Historically, the Chinese state (either in its imperial form in dynastic
history or as a modern nation-state with the People's Republic) has been
highly circumspect of religiously inspired organizations because of the
politicization of religion in Chinese culture, a phenomenon that Guest
details at the local level through the example of an exorcism. This exorcism
was conducted by two female leaders of a charismatic Chinese Christian
community on a young woman who had developed mental problems after the
murders of her father and older brother (while her husband was away as an
immigrant in the United States). The competition between these two leaders
over exorcising the woman's demons, each exorcist with her own style and
method, led to a conflict that ultimately divided the religious community
and escalated to the point at which the local public security bureau had to
intervene. As a result, the local state bureaucracy declared the teachings
of John Sung, the founder of this charismatic community, heterodox. Although
one woman was removed from the leadership of the local public church, both
women continued to serve in their ministry-one through a locally tolerated
house church, the other more clandestinely because of the attention paid to
her by the public security bureau.

The remaining chapters bring readers back to the religious practices of
Fuzhou immigrants in New York's Chinatown. Here, Guest describes how
immigrants participate in Buddhist, Catholic, and Protestant communities
that build central networks for the immigrants' material and emotional
survival-networks that are both local and transnational. The activities of
the immigrants vis-à-vis China do not merely involve one-way transfers of
money back to China; their return visits to China also provide them with
legitimacy and increased status in New York. As a result of their dependence
on and involvement in religious communities, Fuzhou immigrants translate
their experiences in terms of the larger structures of meaning from

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