Funerary Ritual in post-Deng Rural Southern China
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Department of Anthropology, Harvard University
(Paper presented at 1998 Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting)
Multiple social processes such as modernization, ethnic mobilization, and state consolidation have resulted in vast changes in contemporary Chinese rural social life. Even the most conservative of ritual practices, namely funerary ritual, has been transformed as cultural practices adapt to the changing needs and expectations of villagers in the Chinese countryside. Based on fieldwork conducted in Meizhou Prefecture from 1993-1997, this paper will examine the funerary practices of a Hakka Catholic village to depict the changing nature of rural Chinese social relations. How has the continued participation in a Catholic community, one that was marginalized and persecuted through the Maoist period, affected social relations among villagers, between Catholic and non-Catholic neighbors, and between local residents and non-local Catholics? How have the Deng-era reforms shaped the cultural practices and lifestyle of these Hakka Catholic villagers? Has the emerging mobilization of Hakka ethnicity influenced the local life of these rural villagers? Through the lens of funerary ritual, this paper will argue that the challenges of transnationalism, modernity, and the evolving nation-state faced by the individuals and the village community as a whole are being met through transformed boundary mechanisms that define who is and who is not a member of this community. Faced with processes of deterritorialization and fragmentation, villagers reframe their community through the adaptation of cultural practices (such as funerary ritual) as they contextualize their place in history and implement their visions of the future.