Li Yujie and the Rebranding of the White Lotus Movement
Li Yujie (1900–1994) was a walking contradiction: a student leader of the Shanghai May Fourth movement and a Guomindang member and technocrat in the Nanjing government, but also a cadre in Xiao Changming’s redemptive society—the Heavenly Virtues Teachings—and eventually the founder of two redemptive societies in his own right (the Heaven and Man Teachings and the Heavenly Emperor Teachings). Through a biographical study of Li Yujie, this article examines the complex appeal of redemptive societies to parts of the educated elite during China’s Republican period. The author focuses particularly on the period between 1937 and 1945, when Li retired to the sacred mountain of Huashan. There, with the help of Huang Zhenxia, a self-taught intellectual also employed by the Guomindang, Li sought to modernize the “White Lotus” teachings that he had received from his master by incorporating scientific insights received via spirit writing. Li believed that he was creating a new religion more adapted to the twentieth century. Both the texts produced on Huashan and the military and political elite that were attracted to these texts allow us to raise new questions about secularism and religion, traditional beliefs and science in the context of Republican-period China, thereby suggesting that the conflict between the modernizing state and traditional religious culture was not always as stark as we have believed it to be.
Keywords: Li Yujie, Xiao Changming, White Lotus, redemptive society, science and religion, Republican era, Nanjing decade