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Special Feature

Social Mobility, Migratory Vocations, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association

Alice Yeh
p. 31-41


This paper explores how the confessional politics of Catholic identification has been mobilised into religious callings, from the village to the city and from China to Overseas Chinese communities. Building on fieldwork conducted in Hangzhou and New York City in 2018, I show how a Chinese Catholic migrant priest authenticates the spiritual purity of his vocation by using the legality and ease of transnational travel to legitimise his moral and economic upward mobility.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 8 October 2022. Accepted on 13 May 2023.


Full text document will be published online on June 2024.


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First lines

This paper submits that the clerical construction of spiritual authenticity via transnational mobility is among the affordances of a sinicized Catholicism. By “sinicized,” I mean less a Catholicism “with Chinese characteristics” than one that has had to adaptively respond to the program of sinicization associated with Xi Jinping’s 習近平 “New Era” (Madsen 2019; Masláková and Satorová 2019). In professing to “listen to” or “follow” God, members of the Chinese state-sanctioned Patriotic Catholic Association (PCA) defer domestic and international suspicions of spiritual impurity while moving upward socially and spiritually. To illustrate how sinicization enables outcomes that exceed its political aim to indigenise Christianity, I take as a case study a Chinese Catholic priest’s account of how God “planned” his passage to North America. This paper engages with a reflexive anthropology of Christianity (Cannell 2005; Robbins 2014) that accounts for the context-dependency of local (and global...

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Bibliographical reference

Alice Yeh, Social Mobility, Migratory Vocations, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic AssociationChina Perspectives, 133 | -1, 31-41.

Electronic reference

Alice Yeh, Social Mobility, Migratory Vocations, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic AssociationChina Perspectives [Online], 133 | 2023, Online since 01 June 2024, connection on 02 October 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Alice Yeh

Alice Yeh is the programme manager of the East Asia Program at Cornell University. Formerly, she was a teaching fellow in social sciences at the University of Chicago, where she completed her PhD in anthropology in 2022. 140 Uris Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, United States (

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The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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