Gods and/or Ancestors: Practicing Lineage in Contemporary Singapore

In: Journal of Chinese Overseas
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This paper attempts to examine the roles and functions that lineages play in the social and cultural experiences of certain segments of Singapore’s Chinese community. Since Maurice Freedman argued over half a century ago that beyond the nuclear families and their immediate kin, the Chinese in Singapore normally did not organize themselves according to the ideal of lineage, researches on Chinese voluntary associations in Singapore have by and large overlooked the fact that the practice of organizing kinsmen around the ideas of lineage has persisted up to the present day. The paper looks at two cases — the Wengshan Hongs and the Bangtou Bais — of lineage practices in contemporary Singapore. The former highlights an intangible display of kinship consciousness in a religious space. Gods, rather than ancestors, are symbols that help to bind its kinsmen together. By comparison, the Bangtou Bai lineage is very explicit in the display of their common ancestry identity. The common surname association, the religious space, and the lineage space have been converged. It is the contention of the authors of this paper that the two cases can represent two major strategies of combining religious affiliations and memories of ancestors in a fast-developing urban environment.

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  • 2

    Michael Szonyi (2002) puts forward this approach most convincingly in his study of the lineages in Ming-Qing Fuzhou.

  • 6

    Ibid., pp. 74-86.

  • 7

    Ibid., pp. 83-84.

  • 8

    Ibid., p. 215.

  • 10

    Ibid., p. 170. The name for the six surnames as a group is The Hall of the Six Osmanthus (Liugui Tang 六桂堂). Legend has it that in the Five Dynasties period, the family, then residing in Putian 莆田, Fujian, was originally surnamed Weng, The chaotic situation during the changes in dynasties propelled the family to use different surnames to conceal their identity. In the early Song, the six brothers, each with a different surname, all passed the metropolitan examination. Thus, they named their residence the Six Osmanthus. The flowering of osmanthus coincided with the period of metropolitan examination in traditional China, and therefore it was used to represent examination success.

  • 11

    Ibid., p. 134.

  • 15

    Ibid., p. 171; Nanyong Hongzhi zonghui fuxing niansizhounian jinian tekan, pp. 66-79.

  • 23

    Ibid., p. 143.

  • 24

    Ibid., pp. 143-44.

  • 32

    Bai Qingquan ed., Souvenir Magazine of 50th Anniversary of Singapore Peh Clan Association (Singapore: Singapore Peh Clan Association, 1986), pp. 98-109.

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  • 33

    Bai Qingquan ed., Genealogy of Peh Clan, Pangtou Anxi Fujian China (Singapore: Singapore Peh Clan Association, 1986), p. 941.

  • 39

    Ibid., pp. 98; 112-13.

  • 40

    Ibid., p. 123.

  • 41

    Ibid., p. 102.

  • 42

    Ibid., pp. 73; 239.

  • 43

    Ibid., p. 69.

  • 46

    Ibid., p. 99; Genealogy of Peh Clan, pp. 153-68.

  • 47

    Ibid., p. 85.

  • 49

    Ibid., pp. 85-86.

  • 50

    Ibid., pp. 115-16; Souvenir Magazine of 50th Anniversary of Singapore Peh Clan Association, pp. 73-74.

  • 54

    Ibid., p. 320.

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