Sangren begins the book with an account of the market town of Ta Ch'i in relation to its cachement area (that is, the area from which people came to market there) from the 18th century onward. He then describes levels of religious participation, including cross-island pilgrimages to the Mazho (Matsu in the old romanizaiton he uses) temple at Peikang. As much as he can, Sangre obscures that his data comes from Taiwan, not from China.
Sangren criticizes overly schematic categorizations of spirits into the traditional tricohotomy gods, ghosts, and ancestors and questions the idea that the pantheons is modeled on an authoritarian central government (either the Kuomingtang dicatorship that ruled Taiwan at the time Sangred did his fieldwork or imperial Chinese governments that never had effective control of Taiwan before ceding the island to Japan in 1895). However, Sangred substitutes an equally a priori and rigidly schematic yin/yang contrasts to various phenomena and generalizes his structural analysis to all of China translating the terms Taiwanese used from Hokkien terms into Beijinghua "Mandarin" throughout. It is obvious that Sangren is far more interested in theorizing about a singular Chinese civilization than in observing and talking to the people he supposesdly was studying (Taiwanese). His work in general is long on theory, short on experience-near ethnography and individuals living in Taiwan.