2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 217

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]


The Nation-State and the Remaking of Urban Social Space

Organizer and Chair: Elana Chipman, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, USA

Discussants: Jean E. DeBernardi, University of Alberta, Canada; Paul Steven Sangren, Cornell University, USA

The papers in this panel examine the making and remaking of social and cultural spaces in a variety of Asian cities (in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong). We show how in each of our cases, nation-building agendas and changing public discourse have brought about both concrete and experiential transformations of specific social spaces. In two papers addressing Taiwan, urban revitalization or environmental legislation have transformed patterns of worship and subsequently, experiences of public space and places. In Singapore, the state’s re-shaping of Singaporean identity has changed ethnic Chinese religious organization, especially as it relates to native place associations. A final paper shows how the uses of information technologies are transforming perceptions of urban (cyber)spaces in three Asian cities. All four papers point to a relationship between evolving notions of urban citizenship on the one hand and experiences and expectations of public space on the other.

State, Space, Ritual: The Goddess of Mercy and Chinese Religious Landscape in Singapore
Chang-hui Chi, National Quemoy University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Globalization has created ruptures in the traditional fixity of culture and people in a given territory. People’s mobility has changed the cultural landscape and constitution of ethnic groups within a given country. For Chinese Singaporeans, place is intrinsic to the formation of social space and ritual construction in their host society, as they interpret their "Chinese" way of being part of it. Religious spatial formation plays a significant part in the making of "place." Chinese Singaporeans created social spaces of their own especially through the worship of the Goddess of Mercy, or Guanyin, amidst the state-building of Singapore. Guanyin temples of the Xiantiandao (The Way of Former Heaven) vegetarian hall have become prominent since Singapore’s independence. Over the same time, temples of native place associations have gradually lost worshipers. The worship of deities that have no ties to dialect group identity or hometowns also thrives as the Xiantiandao case shows. Nation-state building has thus had an impact on the religious practices of the Chinese diaspora in Singapore. The changing formation of religious social space reflects how the Chinese diaspora imagine their cultural community in response to the state’s shaping of Singaporean identity.

Gender, Space, and Mediated Memories as Contested Terrains: The Twenty-Five Maiden Ladies' Tomb in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Anru Lee, City University of New York, John Jay College, USA

Using the recent renovation of the Twenty-five Maiden Ladies’ Tomb in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, as an example, this paper examines the relationship between the role of the nation-state, often the most powerful and forceful player in steering the directions and agenda of social memory construction, and the people who are directly implicated in both the process and the outcomes of these memorial efforts. The Twenty-Five Ladies’ Tomb is the collective burial of the female workers who were drowned during a ferry incident on their way to work at Kaohsiung’s Export Processing Zone in 1973. The fact that of the seventy plus passengers on board all twenty-five who died were unmarried young women, and the taboo in Taiwanese culture that shuns unmarried female ghosts, made the Tomb a fearsome place. Feminist groups in Kaohsiung had tried in vain for years to change the Tomb’s image among the public by highlighting the patrilineal values behind this stigmatization. Their call, however, was not answered by the Kaohsiung City government until Kaohsiung was hard hit by Taiwan’s recent deindustrialization. In order to reinvent the city’s economy, the mayor’s office finally allocated money to clean up the gravesite and remake it into a tourist-friendly “Park Dedicated to People Dying on Job-Related Accidents.” As such, the gravesite was subsumed by the city government’s effort of culture-led urban revitalization. The gender implications of these women’s story were lost.

Burn your ghost money elsewhere: Urban citizenship and the dislocation of communal ritual in Taipei
Elana Chipman, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, USA

Over the past decade a growing concern with urban quality of life has dovetailed with the national agenda of transforming Taiwan into a modern nation-state that embraces sustainable development and environmental responsibility. As a result, urbanites have become supporters of innovative ritual practices that mitigate the air-pollution caused by the burning of ghost-money, especially during holiday periods such as the Zhong Yuang Ghost Festival. The mundane burning of ghost-money in front of shops and residences is frowned upon and, during holidays, neighborhood organizations cooperate with the Taipei city government in the collection and transportation of ghost money from local households and temples to centralized county-wide burning facilities. This paper argues that this shift in the location of ritual burning has implications for the imagination of community and social space in contemporary Taipei, especially to the link between locality and gods and ancestors. On the one hand, stronger notions of an urban citizenship linked to modernity create defined and homogeneous neighborhood spaces. On the other hand, hierarchical communal networks that traditionally assumed the participation of gods, ghosts and ancestors, have lost salience through the dislocation of the rites of sacrifice from specifically situated social spaces.