Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for East Asian Anthropology
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: Persistence
This panel examines the ways in which death and its rituals are reconceptualized in Chinese-speaking Asia in response to cultural shifts and changing political economies. This includes issues of resistance and resilience within alternate Chinese-speaking modernities in the PRC, Singapore, Taiwan, and Tibet. The first two presentations examine boundary-making between multiple cultural regimes of ritual against the backdrop of State discourse. Eric Mueggler presents a 19th century native hereditary chiefly clan in the early 19th century. This ties into the importance of kinship and rituals, and requirements and prohibitions in the context of the modernizing agenda of the State. This is followed by Keping Wu's examination of boundary making and boundary crossing in Sino-Burmese-Tibetan Borderlands. In this exploration of villages in Northwest Yunnan that border Myanmar, we are witness to several religious traditions that have influenced death rituals since at least the 18th century. Wu addresses the ways in which these traditions are adopted and adapted in the context of contemporary requirements from the Chinese State. The next two presentations examine the marketization and professionalization of funerals in the PRC. Andrew Kipnis addresses China's funerary industry in the context of China's shift to profit making enterprises and urbanization. He outlines the resilience of workers in this traditionally stigmatized industry as they mandated a new structure that requires continued education and specialized job expertise. Lucia Huwy-min Liu also explores the market-driven logic of funeral professionals in urban China by pointing to the resilience of working-class subjects in a larger marketization of death. This relies on a reformulation of the self in maneuvering with legal and moral boundaries in the funerary industry. The final two presentations explore visual iconography and its cultural nuances. Ruth Toulson discusses the issue of Chinese mortuary rites in Singapore in relation to the cultural and psychological meanings of sartorial choices. This includes embracing physical discomfort as an expression of sorrow, and color coordination that allows people to identify the layers of kinship as well as ethnic identities of Chineseness in the Singaporean context. The panel concludes with Marc L. Moskowitz' exploration of visual meaning in the context of debates surrounding the practice of funeral strippers who perform on Electric Flower Cars in Taiwan. This form of funerary celebration has been labeled as backwards by urban elites but is arguably also an expression of modernity for those involved. Taken as a whole, these papers explore the rich tapestry of death rituals in Chinese-speaking Asia. This journey reminds us that modernity has many times, places, and meanings. We are also witness to the influences of shifting economic structures and governmental expectations in relation to a heightened emphasis on consumerism, as well as cultural innovations that flow from rural to urban settings, and back again. These discussions allow for a better understanding of the interplay of invention and resilience as tradition and innovation meet in local and transnational dialogues.