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Sacred Shanghai

Sacred Shanghai

by Liz Hingley

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Sacred Shanghai by photographer and anthropologist Liz Hingley, explores the spaces, rituals and communities – in official, unofficial, public and private forms – that together weave the spiritual fabric of China’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.

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After decades of suppression during the Mao era, China has been undergoing one of the great religious revivals of our time. Unsettled by the pace of development and globalisation, millions are turning to faith for meaning and hope in the alienating mega cities that now dominate Chinese life.

Shanghai has around 26 million inhabitants and is the tenth wealthiest city in the world. Synonymous with consumerism, it is known for economic dynamism and architectural daring, and yet it is at the forefront of religious resurgence. The megalopolis is home to a multitude of religions from Buddhism and Islam, to Christianity and Baha’ism, to Hinduism and Daoism and many other alternative faiths, which are constantly growing and evolving.

‘Freed from being defined by where they were born, China’s urbanites have created new identities, discovering for themselves what they truly believe with the aid of new technologies, social media and a convergence of faiths and cultures. Some of this religious life takes place in skyscrapers and apartment blocks, but also in the pockets of the past that still dot Shanghai: a traditional New Year’s dinner, the persistence of burning paper houses, cars, and money for the dead, or a rambunctious music group announcing a wedding, birth, or funeral.

Faith in China may be vulnerable, yet its unwavering importance is beyond doubt. Its very presence in people’s hearts makes it impossible to eradicate. More than economics or politics, it is these moments that are the new heart of China.’
- Ian Johnson, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and specialist in Chinese religion from the introduction to the book.


LOOK Photo Biennial 2019
Until 25 September 2019
Shanghai Sacred is on display at Victoria Art Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool. Marking the 20th year anniversary of the twinning of Liverpool and Shanghai, in this unique installation images are suspended from a dynamic bamboo structure.

Book Launch at OPEN EYE GALLERY, Liverpool
Breakfast launch event for LOOK Photo Biennial at 11.45 on Friday 18 October.

BOP Bristol 19
Liz Hingley will be giving an artist talk at this new photobook festival hosted by the Martin Parr Foundation and the Royal Photographic Society at Paintworks Bristol. The talk will take place on Sunday 20 October at 11.45 followed by a book signing. Tickets and further information from

Published October 2019
120 x 164 mm, 224 pp
51 full colour images
Hardback paper-covered, foil debossed
Captions printed on a separate bible paper inserted into each page of the book
An original talisman is included
Text by Ian Johnson (bilingual)
ISBN 978-1-910401-38-5

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  • Liz Hingley graduated with a BA Honors in Photography from the University of Brighton in 2007 and was then offered a two-year scholarship at FABRICA, a cultural institute in Italy. Whilst at FABRICA she made Under Gods: Stories from Soho Road, published by Dewi Lewis (2011) and toured internationally. Her next project, The Jones Family, received the Catchlight Award, Prix Virginia, and Getty Editorial Grant. Hingley went on to receive an MSc in Social Anthropology from University College London in 2012 and moved to China. Between 2013-16 she was a Visiting Scholar of the Academy of Social Sciences and produced two books: Shanghai: End of Lines (Be-Poles 2013) and Shanghai Sacred (Washington University Press 2018). Her work has been published in Time, Le Monde, the Guardian, Financial Times, The Economist, and New Scientist, amongst others. Hingley is a trustee of AmberSide and curator at SIDE gallery in Newcastle. She is a Research Fellow at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) and The University of Birmingham.