This article explores a case of ancestor worship in Taiwan, within the southern sphere of Chinese culture. Ancestry as a system of belonging works as a fundamental grammar for building structural continuity in traditional China, yet the system displays a great deal of variation. The Hakka peasants of southern Taiwan are shown to honour, in an ‘unorthodox way’, several different agnatic lines of descent as forming an individual, while at the same time strongly collectivising the dead into one single unit. The latter works as a denial of the first pluralistic message.
Myron L. Cohen, ‘Variations of complexity among Chinese farming groups: the impact of modernization’, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Ser. II, Vol. 29, No. 3 (1967), pp. 638–644; Myron L. Cohen, House United, House Divided: The Chinese Family in Taiwan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 35, 46–48, 54.
See, e.g., Göran Aijmer, New Year Celebrations in Central China in Late Imperial Times (Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2003), Ch. 5, pp. 120–121, 145; and Göran Aijmer, ‘Women, kitchen and belonging in eastern China: idioms of continuity in Kaixiangong’, Sociologus, Vol. 55, No. 1 (2005), pp. 39–59.
See, e.g., Göran Aijmer, ‘Earth god wine and the meeting of the fluttering butterflies: rituals of early spring in late imperial China’, Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 46 (2003), pp. 25–42; and Göran Aijmer, ‘Landscape and mindscape in southeastern China: the management of death in a mountain community’, Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2 (2007), pp. 32–46.
Cohen, House United, House Divided, p. 151. A synthetic view based on comparing ethnographies of marriage rites in southeastern China is provided by Maurice Freedman, ‘Ritual aspects of Chinese kinship and marriage’, in Maurice Freedman (ed.), Family and Kinship in Chinese Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970), pp. 179–187. See also Maurice Freedman, ‘Rites and duties, or Chinese marriage: an inaugural lecture’, London School of Economics, London (1967).
Göran Aijmer, ‘Birth and death in China. Musings on a Taiwan corpus’, Ethnos, Vol. 49 (1984), pp. 5–42; Aijmer, ‘Women, kitchen and belonging in eastern China’; Göran Aijmer, ‘Counterpoint and social belonging: creator and creatrix in southwestern China’, Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2013), pp. 65–81.