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The popular religion of female employees in cantonese opera Yeung, Tuen Wai Mary

Abstract

Cantonese opera (Yueju) is one of the most common regional operas performed in the Guangdong province. Within Cantonese cultural areas, before the establishment of the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, most Cantonese opera actresses had to endure the triple burdens of economic hardship and social immobility as well as religious prejudice. In order to obtain blessing for successful performances and to fight against life uncertainty, they often worshipped patron deities and ancestors, and observed occupational taboos. After the early 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party severely attacked the traditional patriarchal system and the popular religious activities, especially during the 1960s. These policies enabled the actresses to achieve upward social mobility but at the same time, enforced restrictions on their religious practices. However, in Hong Kong and other overseas Cantonese communities, the religious traditions of Cantonese opera are still preserved up to the present time. The overall objective of this thesis is to offer a thorough description and discussion concerning the taboos, beliefs and practices of female Cantonese opera performers. Moreover, based on materials that are obtained through historical analysis, interviews and fieldwork, this research also examines the uniformity and variation between the actresses' popular religious system and that of women in the larger society. In addition, four arguments are put forward in the Conclusion. First, female performers have to observe the gender taboos of the dominant culture and the occupational religious prohibitions of their own profession. Second, their popular religion can be characterized as a polytheistic system. Third, the roles of actresses in performances are clear evidence to show that the boundary between sacred and profane is blurred within the secular world. Finally, the subcultural religious system of the actresses in Cantonese opera contains some of the religious elements of the dominant cultural group but also has beliefs and practices of its own.

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