Wishing and Worrying in Beijing and Taipei, 2019

Event details


Date & time

Thursday 06 August 2020


Online - Zoom


Dr Benjamin Penny


Australian Centre on China in the World

This seminar is a kind of introduction to a new project that aims to use “religious” actions to produce information about what worries people in contemporary Beijing and Taipei. The material that I have collected are the “wishes” people have written on red ribbons (or their equivalents) on “wishing trees 許願樹” in both cities. My assumption is that what people wish for indicates – to some degree at least – what they are worried about. For example, a message reading “Please help me get a good result in my exam” probably indicates that the person who wrote it is concerned about their exam results. In 2019 I collected at least 100 messages from five sites in Beijing and three in Taipei. The wishing trees are all in temples, so another assumption is that the people who wrote the messages were acting with at least an idea that some kind of non-human assistance was available to them. In this seminar, I will introduce the phenomenon of wishing trees, my research sites, and preliminary results from my data.

About the speaker

Benjamin Penny is a historian of religions in China who has worked on medieval China, the nineteenth century and contemporary times. His most recent book is The Religion of Falun Gong (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012) and he is currently working on a monograph concerning expatriate scholarship in Shanghai after the first Opium War, as well as co-editing East Asian History. After studying at the Universities of Sydney, Cambridge, Peking and the ANU, Penny held a post-doctoral fellowship also at the ANU before moving to the Humanities Research Centre. Between 1999 and 2005, he worked as the first Executive Officer of the Herbert and Valmae Freilich Foundation, and from 2003 to 2004 also held a research fellowship at the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. Penny was appointed to the Division of Pacific and Asian History in October 2005 and in January 2010 became the Deputy Director of the new School of Culture, History and Language in the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific. In July 2010 he was appointed to the Deputy Directorship of the Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU. He was the CIW Director from 2016–2018.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.

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