Modern and contemporary Chinese society (from 1800 to the present, for the purposes of this article) contains numerous types of religious specialists: Daoists, Buddhists, spirit-mediums, self-cultivation teachers, and so on. Most of these do not construct their authority on a charismatic basis, because the global division of labor in the Chinese religious economy divides leadership and authority among different persons. This article looks at the idioms (emic categories) the Chinese use to describe religious specialists and the division of religious labor. It suggests that situations of charismatic authority arise when one person can overcome the division of labor and be equally convincing in different idioms, thus able to meet all the expectations of the extraordinary from his/her followers. While potential charisma, evident in mastery of the various idioms, is rather common, situations where a charismatic relationship is in fact activated by both leader and followers are less so.
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