The panacea of culture: The changing fortunes and careers of China's Dongba priests

Zheng Xie, Yochanan Altman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - On the background of China's turn to a market economy and a consumer-driven society, the purpose of this paper is to recount the fortunes of the age-old religion of the Naxi people and their farmer-priests, the dongba. Design/methodology/approach - Detailed ethnography, including participant observation, the collection of life histories and interviews. Findings - The might of the tourist industry dominates the changes in the profession of the dongba priests, from a faith-based practice to a tourist-driven service; aided by a confluence of interests of relevant stakeholders: the Chinese state, the provincial governments, the Naxi elite. At the core is the transformation, in Chinese terms, from a superstitious religion to culture heritage. Research limitations/implications - Like all case studies and common to ethnographic-based research, the small scale of the research poses questions of generalizability. Practical implications - Shedding light on a little known aspect of the world's largest economy is of high relevance to business and management scholars. Social implications - The transformation of the dongba demonstrates how major societal changes that happen within a couple of decades affect a society and its economy and a central career track within it. Originality/value - The case study testifies to the encounter of a major modern industry: tourism, with an archaic religion in a remote corner of China, and the transformation of the latter as result.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-660
Number of pages12
JournalCross Cultural Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - 5 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


  • Career
  • Dongba
  • Ethnic identity
  • Lijiang
  • Minorities
  • PRC
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Tourism
  • Traditional careers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science

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