Gene Cooper, “The Market and Temple Fairs of Rural China: Red Fire”
Summary: Gene Cooper’s new book is a multi-sited ethnographic study of market and temple fairs in the region of Jinhua, a city on the east coast of China and the home of Hengdian, “China’s Hollywood.” The Market and Temple Fairs of Rural China: Red Fire (Routledge, 2013) weaves together historical and ethnographic methodologies in a spirited account of the genealogies and contemporary practices of a variety of forms of performance at these local gatherings. After providing an extended background of the region, its religious institutions and perspectives, and on the history of temple fairs in general in Part 1 of the book, Part 2 moves into the economic, cultural, religious, and political dimensions that contribute to the “red fire” of temple fairs in Jinhua today. Cooper shows how the local fair can serve both as a Bakhtinian carnivalesque atmosphere (replete with elements of freak show and circus) and a site of everyday forms of resistance. The book also features a wonderfully detailed account of the arts of popular performance at the fairs, from small-cymbal narrative (xiaoluo shuo) to opera (wuju) competitions, and looks closely at the religious dimension of secular temple gatherings. Cooper’s lively voice infuses every page of the book and each moment of the interview.