SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Dell'Orto, Alessandro (1998) Telling stories about the authority of place : Ethnographizing Tudi Gong in contemporary Taiwan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (36MB) | Preview


This thesis examines the cult of Tudi Gong, the 'spirit of the place,' both as a religio-social phenomenon of intrinsic interest, but also as an 'appropriate vehicle' and a 'fixed reference point' for exploring and analysing the dynamic social changes which have been occurring in contemporary Taiwan, and people's strategic adaptations to these changes. Despite the prevalence and popularity of the 'spirit of the place' among the people of Taiwan, there is a dearth of discursive attention to the figure of Tudi Gong in anthropological literature. In the six substantive chapters of the thesis, particular attention is given to the changing Taiwanese senses of place, community and identity, in addition, reflecting upon his ethnographic fieldwork, the author also engages in a theoretical discussion on ethnographic writing as well as on a number of key concepts related to the notions of place and space. In the first section of the thesis, the initial chapter presents the ethnographic data from Datong district in Taibei city with an emphasis on the various Tudi Gong temples and their connections with the local historical development of the places in which they are sited. The second chapter focuses on the small rural village of Yongxing in Nantou county. In particular, it dwells upon the place of Tudi Gong cults in the village and the villagers' senses of attachment to place/community. In the third chapter the author speculates on the extent to which the previous two chapters, although belonging to the same research topic, seem to show a substantial variation in the form of writing and in the way knowledge, understanding and senses of the places in question have been presented in an ethnographic account. The author notes that although anthropologists have discussed issues regarding the extent to which their writings may represent and shape places and cultures, the question of whether the places and cultures they study may shape and dictate the style and tenor of their ethnographic writing does not seem to have been coherently addressed in anthropological literature. The second section starts with a comprehensive as well as ethnographically detailed fourth chapter on the 'functions' and connotations of Tudi Gong in contemporary Taiwan. The following chapter draws on a wide variety of oral and textual materials as well as iconographies and representations of Tudi Gong in the various mass media (e.g. television, newspapers, etc.). By these means, the author hopes to give the reader a flavour of the ways the Taiwanese talk of, experience, represent and write about Tudi Gong in the practice of everyday life. It also seeks to make a contribution to the debate about representation in anthropology. Chapter six argues that the study of Tudi Gong in contemporary Taiwan is a relevant locus from which to understand and discuss local senses of place, community and identity as well as informing, from an unorthodox perspective, the analysis of Chinese religion in Taiwan's changing society. The conclusion combines the findings of both sections and challenges anthropology to reassess the position of an anthropology of place in the discipline.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:57

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item