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The panacea of culture: the changing fortunes and careers of China’s Dongba priests

Zheng Xie (Independent researcher, Shanghai, China)
Yochanan Altman (Department of Management, Kedge Business School, Bordeaux, France AND Department of Leadership, Work and Organisations, Middlesex University Business School, London, UK)

Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal

ISSN: 1352-7606

Article publication date: 5 October 2015




On the background of China’s turn to a market economy and a consumer-driven society, the purpose of this paper is to recount the fortunes of the age-old religion of the Naxi people and their farmer-priests, the dongba.


Detailed ethnography, including participant observation, the collection of life histories and interviews.


The might of the tourist industry dominates the changes in the profession of the dongba priests, from a faith-based practice to a tourist-driven service; aided by a confluence of interests of relevant stakeholders: the Chinese state, the provincial governments, the Naxi elite. At the core is the transformation, in Chinese terms, from a superstitious religion to culture heritage.

Research limitations/implications

Like all case studies and common to ethnographic-based research, the small scale of the research poses questions of generalizability.

Practical implications

Shedding light on a little known aspect of the world’s largest economy is of high relevance to business and management scholars.

Social implications

The transformation of the dongba demonstrates how major societal changes that happen within a couple of decades affect a society and its economy and a central career track within it.


The case study testifies to the encounter of a major modern industry: tourism, with an archaic religion in a remote corner of China, and the transformation of the latter as result.



Xie, Z. and Altman, Y. (2015), "The panacea of culture: the changing fortunes and careers of China’s Dongba priests", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 649-660.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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