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Uncertainty, risk, and merit-making. Tea economy and religious practices in a Southern Yunnan Bulang Community

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Ma,  Zhen
Religious Diversity, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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OA_Ma_2021_Uncertainty.pdf
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Citation

Ma, Z. (2021). Uncertainty, risk, and merit-making. Tea economy and religious practices in a Southern Yunnan Bulang Community. Social Analysis, 65(3), 88-109. doi:10.3167/sa.2021.650305.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-81F2-3
Abstract
The rising importance of the tea business among the Bulang people of Yunnan province, Southwest China, is intimately linked to Theravada Buddhist ideologies and practices. Non-reciprocal merit-mak- ing provides a sense of control, and this is particularly important in an increasingly uncertain economic environment. More and more people were ready to engage in high-risk trading, and new rituals emerged pre- cisely at a time when profit margins increased rapidly. The reinvention of local rituals helped people to control risk-taking and to morally legitimize ambiguous market behavior. The result is strong synergies between the ways uncertainty and risk are being addressed in the tea economy and in local religious practice: economic processes are changing religious practices just as much as religious practices are making a difference in economic behavior.