|5 Christian Souls and Chinese Spirits|
|图书名称：Christian Souls and Chinese Spirits:A Hakka Community in Hong Kong|
图书作者：Nicole Constable ISBN：
出版社：Berkeley: University of California Press 出版日期：1994年
Unlike many of their non-Christian neighbors in Lung Yeuk Tau, Shung Him Tong Christians are never seen visiting ancestral halls or Buddhist, Taoist, or other temples. They have no village shrine dedicated to the earth god, and at the Chinese New Year and other festival occasions they do not set out tables in front of their homes displaying generous offerings of food and incense. They do not decorate their doorways with lucky red paper couplets or images of door gods, and they have no household altar at which to worship the kitchen god. In the location where one would expect to find incense burning at an ancestral altar, instead there might be a photograph of a family gathering or a picture of an Anglo-Saxon Christ tending his flock. Shung Him Tong Christians do not consult astrologers or almanacs for auspicious dates for marriages or burials, nor do they hire feng-shui experts to advise them on the placement of new houses or the orientation of graves for their ancestors. They do not recognize or celebrate such festivals as the Hungry Ghost Festival (Yu Laan Jit) or the birthdays of various gods and goddesses, and they frown on or belittle those who do. One woman in her thirties told me that even as a child she was amazed that some people worshiped their ancestors. She and her sisters would hide in the bushes behind the millionaire's large horseshoe-shaped grave on the hill, and when his relatives bowed and made offerings "we would pretend that they were worshiping us!"
As was described in the previous chapter, Shung Him Tong Christians are extremely conservative and orthodox with regard to their Christian church service. The church building itself, and certain church ceremonies, are virtually identical to those of any number of other conservative Protestant churches in Europe and North America. They believe exclusively in one Christian God and are alternately hopeful, frustrated, intolerant, and pitying of those who refuse to give up the worship of ancestors or "false" gods and idols. These orthodox beliefs and practices are a source of pride to Shung Him Tong Christians, and they are critical of people who do not share their faith, including Catholics. One Catholic woman married to a devoted member of Shung Him Church complained that its members repeatedly try to convert her although they know that she faithfully attends a Roman Catholic church each Sunday. One week, when her husband could not attend church, Shung Him Tong elders pointedly asked him whether he was letting his Catholic wife lead him astray.
Although many obvious religious practices distinguish the people of Shung Him Tong from Chinese non-Christians, other beliefs and practices suggest a certain degree of affinity with their non-Christian neighbors. Church services are strictly Christian, but certain festival occasions are traditionally Chinese, as are certain aspects of life-cycle rituals. The first day of Chinese New Year, for example, rivals Christmas as the day with the largest church attendance of the year. Ching Ming, a spring festival in remembrance of the dead, occurs at about the same time of year as Easter, and the people of Shung Him Tong consider Ching Ming and Easter "equivalent" in certain respects.
Like their non-Christian neighbors in Lung Yeuk Tau, the people of Shung Him Tong also wear new clothes and haircuts to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and at the midautumn festival they eat special cakes and climb to a place where they can watch the moon at night. Like their neighbors, they are concerned with the proper burial and care of their ancestors; and despite the fact that they do not hire feng-shui experts, the physical construction of their village, like that of their neighbors, adheres to basic geomantic prescriptions.
One might easily dismiss the coexistence of such traditional Chinese and Christian religious practices as an illustration of the generalization that Chinese people are "pragmatic" about religious belief and practice, and that "when Chinese assume a monotheistic faith they tend to treat it in a polytheistic spirit," incorporating elements that are currently relevant to their lives and letting go of irrelevant elements (F. Hsu 1981:274). However, these behaviors are not so readily explained. There is in fact very little in Shung Him Tong that fits the strict definition of religious syncretism, in the sense of an integration of elements of one religion into another. Nor can the Christians of Shung Him Tong be said to treat their religion with a "polytheistic spirit."
The concept of religious syncretism does not adequately describe the belief system of Shung Him Tong Christians because they have created a distinction between Christian religious beliefs and practices and Chinese religious beliefs and practices, which they have reinterpreted as "secular." Their construction is more accurately described as a dual system of beliefs (Nash 1981:7) than a syncretic blending of two systems into one. In other words, Christian practices are maintained as strictly orthodox, and Chinese practices and festivals that have not been reinterpreted as secular are criticized, avoided, or deemed of little concern.
Why, one might ask, do Shung Him Tong Christians maintain this dual, segregated system of beliefs, and why do they feel the need to justify the continuity of their Chinese beliefs? One reason for these attempts at justification is the conservative manner in which early Basel missionaries presented Christianity. One very open-minded Basel missionary lamented to me, "The early missionaries forced Christianity on them in their own narrow terms … and they created a dislike by the converts for their own roots." Unlike some Protestant and Catholic churches in Hong Kong with doctrines more tolerant of the integration of Chinese features into Christian practice—allowing, for example, kowtowing and incense burning at the graves of relatives—Shung Him Tong prohibits such "indigenization."
It may be, too, that my questions prompted the people of Shung Him Tong to justify their actions more than would otherwise have been the case. One can imagine them needing to rationalize their behavior to an anthropologist or foreign missionary in discussions that would never come up with each other. However, this factor is not likely to have been greatly significant because it was usually my informants who brought up the continuities between their actions and beliefs and those of non-Christians.
Shung Him Tong Christians agree that their behavior resembles that of non-Christians on the surface, but their underlying motives, they insist, are always different. Although the motives they articulate seem very different from those of non-Christians, are they really? Do the practices described below, such as burning the possessions of a dead man, simply reflect a convenient means of disposal and a desire to "disinfect" the premises? Another interpretation is that Hakka Christians maintain certain Chinese practices as "insurance." In other words, they may not be so different from the non-Christians who they criticize as wanting to "have their cake and eat it too" when they invite the Christian pastor to say a blessing at funerals. In this Malinowskian sense, certain practices could be said to serve a psychological function by reducing the tension surrounding such stressful situations as illness and death. By burning the dead man's possessions they are indeed disposing of them, but they are also following the proper traditional Chinese procedure for ridding themselves of any possible lingering evil spirits.
One can easily argue that the continuity of Chinese non-Christian practices serves such psychological functions for individuals. More relevant, and more important to this study, is the question of what such practices say about dual Chinese and Christian identity. The maintenance of traditional Chinese practices by the people of Shung Him Tong is a way to assert—to themselves and others—that they are Chinese. The rationalizations that Shung Him Tong people are quick to offer, contrary to their apparent logic, do not indicate that the two systems have been easily reconciled. The constant need to segregate, define, and redefine boundaries and to rationalize the two belief systems reflects, instead, the tension that exists between them. The contradictions between their Chinese and Christian religious beliefs can be resolved only temporarily through such actions. A similar problem exists in attempts to reconcile the Christian and Chinese facets of their identity. People of Shung Him Tong would like to be "good" Chinese and "good" Christians, but in practice these two identities, like the belief systems they represent, give rise to certain logical contradictions.
There are three main objectives to this chapter: first, to describe certain Chinese and Christian beliefs and practices and to illustrate the way in which they coexist but are consciously constructed and articulated as discrete; second, to consider the extent to which this dichotomy successfully reconciles Chinese and Christian beliefs; and finally, to analyze the creation of this dual system for what it says about Hakka Christian identity.
Rituals for the Dead
James Watson has suggested that in late imperial China the standardization of ritual was of central importance in the "creation and maintenance of a unified Chinese culture" (1988:3). He asserts that "to be Chinese is to understand, and accept the view, that there is a correct way to perform rites associated with the life-cycle" (ibid.). In imperial China, according to Watson, there existed a variety of beliefs concerning death and the afterlife, but there existed a uniform structure of funerary rites, and "the proper performance of the rites, in the accepted sequence, was of paramount importance in determining who was and who was not deemed to be fully 'Chinese'" (1988:4).
While it is beyond the scope of this book to determine to what extent Chinese Christians follow the proper structure of funerary rites (1988:12–15), it is clear that Shung Him Tong Christians fail to follow at least two important requirements: they do not burn offerings for the dead, and they do not set up ancestral tablets. Such behavior may well prompt the accusation that Chinese Christians are not fully Chinese. But Hakka Christians—through their actions and beliefs—provide a powerful critique of such a "cultural" and ascribed definition of Chinese identity. Like many Chinese in the People's Republic of China who did not or could not strictly adhere to orthopraxy in their death rituals over the past two decades, they still assert that they are Chinese (Whyte 1988).
Although their non-Christian neighbors may consider them no longer Chinese since they have accepted a heterodox foreign religion (see P. Cohen 1963), people of Shung Him Tong say that adherence to Chinese religious belief and practice is not a necessary criterion for determining Chinese identity. Instead, they argue that there are certain secular Chinese beliefs, values, and practices that make one Chinese. They refer in particular to beliefs and practices that involve ancestors and that relate to history and descent. As one woman from Shung Him Tong explained, she and her fellow villagers share with all Chinese "certain basic Confucian values"—a need to care for and demonstrate respect for their elders, and a desire to maintain the line of descent. She implicitly argues, like Eberhard and many others, that "Confucianism is rather a system of ethical rules and moral behavior than a religion" (Eberhard 1952:6–7).
C. K. Yang (1961) and Liu have described Confucianism as a system of "moral orthodoxy" that has coexisted with "religious pluralism" (1990:2). Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese "popular religion" all "flourished peaceably alongside Confucianism" (ibid.). As Liu explains, "This religious diversity coexisted with moral orthodoxy—moral because its precepts were primarily socioethical, and orthodox because such precepts were themselves linked to religious and cosmological notions" (1990:2–3). Although Christianity is obviously unorthodox in this regard, there are ways in which certain socioethical morals can be viewed as compatible. Focusing on Neo-Confucianism, de Bary has suggested that "the orthodox tradition, even more than a set moral code or philosophical system, was a life-style, an attitude of mind, a type of character formation, and a spiritual ideal that eluded precise definition" (1975:24). In light of such a statement, we can see why Chinese Christians might claim—despite their blatantly unorthodox practices—that they are orthodox with respect to Chinese rules of the "right and correct view."
Like non-Christian Chinese, Shung Him Tong Christians are especially concerned with filial piety, maintaining the line of descent, and the proper care and remembrance of the dead. Although Shung Him Tong people do not treat their ancestors in all the traditional ways, they commemorate them, show respect for them, and care for them in ways that they believe do not conflict with their Christian beliefs.
The Shung Him Tong Cemetery
In Hong Kong, where land is at a premium, some traditional burial practices have had to be altered, yet the burial and care of the dead is of no less importance now than it ever was. Unlike their Teng neighbors, the people of Shung Him Tong do not meet the legal requirements—documented residence prior to 1898—that entitle them to burial in the hills. Yet like the Punti, they have a strong sense of identification with their village and feel the importance of being buried just outside the residential section of the village, in the vicinity of their home, church, and kin.
The people of Shung Him Tong cannot take for granted that the village is theirs. Government restrictions remind them that they do not share the same privileges as the Punti, and they will not forget that in the past they were unwelcome outsiders whose residence in the New Territories might well have proven temporary like many immigrants before them. When the village was first established, people commonly returned to their native places in Guangdong to die, or had their remains transported back at a later time. With the establishment of a cemetery for the community, this practice became uncommon. By burying the dead in their own cemetery, the people of Shung Him Tong were better able to show respect to their ancestors, and they also demonstrated—to themselves and the Punti—their intention of remaining there permanently. In effect, they became symbolically rooted to the place. They might still engrave "Baoan," "Wuhua," or "Huiyang" on their headstones, but the native place in Guangdong is of secondary importance to Shung Him Tong, the place where the ancestors' bones lie permanently at rest.
"When a man's parents die, … [i]t is his duty with all his heart and strength" to locate a "propitious spot" for their burial (Freedman 1966:134). In Under the Ancestors' Shadow, Francis Hsu wrote that "a 'good' graveyard is the concern of every family, rich or poor" and that "a family which has to entomb its dead in a public graveyard is an object of pity" (1948:43). Although Hsu wrote of the people of Yunnan in the 1940s and Freedman quoted a nineteenth-century source, the same can still be said with regard to the people of the New Territories in the 1980s. The Shung Him Tong cemetery is a source of pride and security to the church members. As described in Chapter 3, the cemetery was established through the persistent efforts of early church and village leaders:
The people of Shung Him Tong are opposed to burial in public cemeteries because of the cost, because the distance from their homes might discourage visitation, and because they would not be buried among other Christians. In the huge public cemeteries, graves are automatically assigned the next available spot and are disinterred every seven years. People of Shung Him Tong are afraid that ancestors might be spread out in different cemeteries and lost in anonymity. In addition, for some elderly villagers, the negative connotations of low social and economic status are associated with burial in a public cemetery. Public cemeteries in Hong Kong carry the negative implications of "graveyards for the poor" described by Freedman (1958:77–78), whereas the Shung Him Tong cemetery resembles the "family sites" that house the rich (ibid.).
The advantages of the Shung Him Tong cemetery are its exclusivity, its affordability, and the fact that the entire family can be buried in one place. The elderly of Shung Him Tong are reassured to know they will be buried in a familiar place on the periphery of the village, surrounded by other Hakka Christians. They know that their descendants will always know where they are buried; graves at the Shung Him cemetery are permanent and therefore less likely to be neglected. Permanent graves are also important to the living as a concrete reminder of the connection between the past and the present.
The Shung Him Tong graveyard rules are different from those of other Chinese cemeteries. A sign posted outside the gate reminds visitors that Chinese traditions should not be followed, including graveside offerings of food and the burning of paper money, incense, and the like. Only flowers may be offered and flowerpots must have holes in the bottom to prevent mosquitoes. from breeding in the stagnant water. The cost of an assigned grave site is four hundred Hong Kong dollars; the cost of selecting a particular site, twenty-four hundred. Burial of ashes costs three hundred Hong Kong dollars, with an extra charge of two thousand Hong Kong dollars to choose a specific location.
Longtime residence in Shung Him Tong or kinship ties to the early families does not entitle one to burial in the cemetery. The Shung Him cemetery rules permit only church members and Tsung Tsin pastors who have served at Shung Him Tong (and their spouses, but not their children) to be buried in the cemetery. "Members" are those who were baptized or confirmed at the church. People who move away from Shung Him Tong, including those who move abroad yet wish to remain members, may attend another church but they must maintain "contact" with the Shung Him Tong by occasional visits or annual contributions. Burial in Shung Him Tong cemetery can be seen as the final and most reliable statement of community membership.
People were not disturbed or surprised that I spent time recording information from grave markers in the cemetery. I was told by Mr. C., an old friend of Luo Xianglin, that Luo also spent much time "connecting the past with the present," gleaning material for his research from the Shung Him Tong cemetery. To Luo it was not only a Christian cemetery but also an important source of Hakka history and a representation of collective memory. On each grave marker is written the name of the deceased, his or her years of birth and death, his or her place of birth if other than Shung Him Tong, and sometimes the date of burial. Names of spouses and children are also engraved on most markers. Black-and-white photographs of the deceased, four inches by six in size, are set into all but the oldest grave markers.
Like any written history, the Shung Him Tong cemetery reflects a particular view of history with its own bias toward those who are most powerful or influential within the community. In death as in life, some receive more benefit than others and status is not only recorded but also vied for (see also Freedman 1966:118, 142; Freedman 1958:77–78; Nelson 1974:274; R. Watson 1988:203-27). Unequal status is reflected in the location of the grave, the materials used to construct the grave and marker, and in the upkeep of the grave site (see also de Groot  1964:832-33). Preferred spots are those located at the center of the cemetery toward the top, but not too high and not too far to the sides, as these areas are easily overgrown by weeds. According to one villager, the preferred spot is high but not too high, visible and with an open view. Traditionally, she told me, Chinese people prefer to be buried on hills for fear that coffins at lower elevations will be damaged by water. Most of the founders of the village are buried in the center of the slope in the area that was once the top of the cemetery, surrounded by bushes. As descendants of these people are generally distinguished from newer members by their economic status, they are somewhat more likely to be buried in the higher and more central locations of the cemetery. As new space is cleared at the upper parts and sides of the slope, these spots become preferred in contrast to the assigned graves and the lower parts of the hill.
What Francis Hsu wrote of family graveyards in Yunnan also holds true for the Shung Him Tong cemetery if we substitute for the idea of a "family graveyard" a "community" one: "In principle, entombment should follow a certain order with respect to generation, age, and sex. Seniority in generation and age entails entombment on the upper terraces; if on the same terrace, a senior should be entombed at the left of a junior. A man and his wife should be entombed side by side; the man on the left of the woman. The left-hand side is regarded as the side of higher honor" (F. Hsu 1948:43–46; see also de Groot  1964:832).
However, in Shung Him Tong as in Yunnan, these principles are rarely observed in practice: "not only are tombs miscellaneously arranged but also husbands and wives are often placed at a distance from each other" (F. Hsu 1948:46). The ideal principles are not strictly followed because "individual achievements have become the all-important factor and may supersede all other principles of rank in the arrangement of tombs" (1948:47), as well as the problem of space.
In Hsu's study, important members of the lineage took precedence over those who ranked higher in order of generation, age, and sex. In Shung Him Tong the same principle applies: the founders of the community still occupy central locations in the cemetery, with the exception of Pang Lok Sam, who was buried in a Chinese-style horseshoe-shaped grave that he selected for himself on a private hillside across a small valley from the cemetery. Villagers of less wealth or renown are now buried in overgrown corners, and more recent members of the community who find site selection unaffordable appear to be buried in low spots and around the edges.
Overcrowding in the cemetery has recently become a cause for concern. Approximately ten people are buried in the Shung Him Tong cemetery each year, at which rate the forty or so remaining plots will soon be filled. People can no longer reserve grave sites so family graves can be together; the size of each new grave has also been restricted. Early graves in the cemetery were often larger than is currently allowed and a few were in the horseshoe shape common to the New Territories.
As there are relatively few spaces left in the cemetery, decisions must be made concerning its future. Some points are certain: unless families choose otherwise, none of the existing graves will be moved. People are encouraged to select cremation or burial in smaller plots of bones only; such options cost less. A shelter in which to house urns containing cremated remains might also be constructed. The problem, as two members of the cemetery planning committee explained, is that "Chinese people don't like to be cremated" (see also Whyte 1988). One possibility is to build up the sloping edges of the hill to increase the surface that can be used for graves. Another possibility that has been discussed is to stack coffins within one grave "Hong Kong high-rise style," or to disinter graves after a certain number years.
Superficially, Shung Him Tong funerals may be either more "western" or more "traditional" in appearance. Yet no matter how western, they still reflect concern with the proper, respectful, and safe disposal of the dead, as well as concern with the social ties that once existed between the dead and the living. These concerns are themselves not particular to the Chinese, but the extent to which they are articulated and the attention they are given may be considered characteristically Chinese.
Most families hold Christian-style memorial services at Shung Him Church or in one of the larger city churches. These memorial services may be seen as the equivalent of "conventionalized weeping speeches" in traditional Chinese funerals in which mourners express their relationship to the deceased, their own sentiments, and the glory of the deceased person's past deeds (C. K. Yang 1961:35–36; see also E. Johnson 1988:139). The deceased is remembered for his or her role in the family and in the church community. At one funeral, before the coffin was taken to the cemetery, a large framed photographic portrait of the deceased was carried around and displayed for all to see. A smaller copy of this photograph was later set on the headstone. As de Groot ( 1964:113-14) described in his nineteenth-century study, among the well-to-do a portrait of the deceased was often commissioned and later placed in a temple or ancestral hall. Its function similar to that of a wooden soul tablet, the portrait served as a place to house the spirit of the dead. Another perhaps less formal portrait might be hung in the hall of the house. This portrait was not believed to house the soul but was "intended to enable the deceased to live on among his descendants" (de Groot  1964:113). As one might expect, the people of Shung Him Tong do not believe that the portrait houses the soul, but many do hang portraits of the deceased in their family halls for the purpose of remembering them.
As in some funerals in Taiwan (cf. A. Wolf 1970), mourners might wear traditional mourning garb: white clothes, and hemp or burlap cloth draped over the head and shoulders of the sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law of the deceased (see also Freedman 1958:41–45; Ahern 1973:207-8, 211). This is often the case for church members of lower social classes. At other Shung Him Tong funerals, especially those of people with many urban, educated, or overseas Chinese kin, mourners are more likely to wear black suits and ties or black skirts and dresses. Yet even the more western appearance reflects some of the traditional mourning grades.
One man said that, when he was a boy in a Christian village in Wuhua over fifty years ago, one could tell how closely related people were to the deceased by the way they dressed, regardless of whether they were Christian. The first generation of descendants wore burlap clothes, the second wore all white with a burlap belt, the third wore just white, the fourth some white, and the (usually hypothetical) fifth, not considered related at all, would neither dress in mourning clothes nor be expected to attend the funeral. In those days, he said, "There was none of this yarn flower business," referring to the way of dressing at funerals in contemporary Hong Kong. Today, in western-style funerals, the sons and grandsons of the deceased wear black patches of material pinned to their clothes for several days, and daughters and granddaughters wear yarn flowers. Women wear white flowers for the death of their parents or their in-laws, green for the death of a maternal grandparent, and blue for a paternal grandparent, each color marking the proximity of the genealogical connection.
Friends and relatives of the deceased attend the funeral, as do some church elders and board members as an expression of respect for the deceased and out of concern for the survivors. The funeral procession starts at the church and proceeds, after the service, slowly to the cemetery—the coffin driven in a decorated van, and the people walking in a procession behind it. At the grave site, the minister speaks and leads a prayer and a hymn. The guests gradually leave while close kin remain at the grave, each throwing a handful or a shovelful of earth into the grave. In one case, in contrast to the traditional view of red as a joyful color appropriately worn only by those removed from the deceased by four generations (cf. A. Wolf 1970), the family members threw red carnations into the grave. At some funerals, the burlap mourning clothes are also placed over the coffin. Traditionally this was done in fear of the evil spirits that might pollute the garments, but Chinese Christians say they no longer believe such nonsense; the tradition, as one young woman said, merely marks closure.
At both Christian and non-Christian funerals, the family of the deceased distributes small white envelopes, each containing a sweet, a coin, and sometimes a needle. These, following Chinese tradition, are given to help take the bitterness out of the occasion (cf. C. K. Yang 1961:34) and, as Christians say, to mark the change, and to thank the guests for attending. Special envelopes of money are passed out to the workers who have been hired to dig the grave. Christians often use white envelopes made especially for this purpose with a biblical quote and a cross printed on the outside, rather than the usual term gat yi (lit., "lucky ritual").
Coffins are ordered from shops in town, and may be of either western or Chinese style. Chinese-style coffins are carved from one piece of wood and cost three or four times the amount of a "western" coffin. The younger generation finds western-style coffins more practical, but the older generation prefers Chinese-style coffins. Two older men recited the following popular rhyme when asked about coffins:
A necessary part of the funeral includes a simple banquet, to which all who attended the funeral ceremony are invited. While at birthdays, weddings, and other happy events eight to ten courses are served, funeral banquets in Shung Him Tong usually consist of five or seven "simple" dishes. Even numbers—except the number four, which is bad luck because it sounds like the Cantonese word for "death" (sei) —are associated with happy events, and odd numbers with sad ones. The number nine (gau) is also an exception because it sounds similar to the word for "plenty" or "enough." As Eugene Anderson notes, memorial feasts for the dead are similar to those for other life-cycle occasions, only "smaller" (1988:248). Funeral banquets in Shung Him Tong are not only smaller but involve "plain and simple" food. The abstinence from luxury foods is, according to de Groot, likely to be a vestige of an earlier time when mourners were expected to fast as an expression of sacrifice and grief ( 1964:647, 656). As Thompson explains, "The logic seems to be that the more the mourners fast, the more the dead can feast" (1988:74).
Several people from Shung Him Tong—including men, women, youth, and elders—pointed out to me that some practices surrounding the funerals of Chinese Christians resemble those of non-Christians. As noted earlier, however, Christians felt the need to justify their actions to me as "scientific and logical" as opposed to those of non-Christians, which they claim are motivated by superstition. This was particularly the case with practices involving death pollution. Holding a banquet immediately after the burial ensures that people do not return home and bring bad fortune into the house. A family from Shung Him Tong with whom I discussed this issue agreed that as Christians they "don't have to worry about that kind of thing." However, they have nonetheless taken the traditional precautions against the possible bad luck, and they are aware of the irony of the situation.
Among non-Christians the belongings of the deceased are usually destroyed, with the exception of objects of great value or objects that people have asked to have buried with them. Following non-Christian tradition, several Shung Him Tong people described to me how relatives were buried in a special suit of clothing, or with other favorite possessions (see C. K. Yang 1961:31–32; de Groot  1964:46–69). For Christians these objects might include a favorite piece of jewelry, or a Bible. Other items of clothing and personal belongings are often thrown away or burned. Burning, the traditional means of sending the possessions of the dead with them to the afterworld, is considered by Shung Him Tong Christians—as I was told by Yee Ling and another young woman—to be merely a good way to dispose of things, or, as a middle-aged woman explained, a means of "disinfecting."
When one member of Shung Him Tong died of cancer a few years ago, all of his belongings including his clothes and bed, were burned or thrown away, although his Christian relatives claimed they knew that cancer is not contagious. The village dumpster was just a few yards away from the house where the man died, but his relatives opted to burn most of his possessions. Several other people I spoke to remembered having been made as children, twenty or thirty years ago, to walk over a pot of burning herbs after attending a funeral. Non-Christians explain this as a way of keeping the spirits away from the house, while Shung Him Tong Christians, again in an attempt to secularize what appear to be religiously motivated actions, say it is merely a way to "disinfect" and prevent the spread of disease.
Tin, a Christian schoolteacher, offered the following legend of the origin of the Ching Ming festival: "In ancient China, a young man was told by a sage to take his family and go to the top of a mountain. He did so. Upon returning home, he found that all those who had stayed below were drowned. From then on people went to the top of the hills to visit the graves at Ching Ming."
Twice a year, at Ching Ming and Chung Yeung, Chinese people in Hong Kong and other parts of southeastern China traditionally visit their ancestors' graves. Ching Ming is in spring during the third month of the lunar calendar, and Chung Yeung is in autumn on the ninth day of the ninth month. In Hong Kong, Ching Ming (lit., "clear and bright") is the more popular of the two festivals. For about three weeks before and two weeks after the actual day of the festival, especially on Sundays when most people take a day off, the roads to the public cemeteries are extremely busy and traffic moves at a snail's pace. During the actual weekend of Ching Ming, official roadblocks are set up at the largest cemeteries and only pedestrians are allowed. Trains and buses are filled to capacity, and taxi and minibus drivers raise their fares. People bring things to burn at the grave site that will be of use to the dead in the afterworld—fruit, meat, sweet cakes, candles, paper money, and other paper offerings.
Ideally, families are buried together at the same graveyard, and on the main day of the festival all important ancestors are paid a visit. But in today's Hong Kong this is rarely the case. Families may spend several days spread out over several weeks in various cemeteries all over Hong Kong and Guangdong visiting the graves of mothers, fathers, paternal and maternal grandparents, paternal uncles, and sometimes other relatives as well.
At a grave, most people in Hong Kong put the palms of their hands together with the fingers straight and move them up and down and bow. To the people of Shung Him Tong, the distinction between worshiping and commemorating the ancestor is crucial. Several people told me that the popular custom of kowtowing—bowing three times in sequence and making offerings—constitutes "worshiping" the ancestor. As Ming Lee explained, this is a heathen and superstitious activity equivalent to worshiping false gods and idols. When Shung Him Tong people visit the cemetery, they kneel and pray at the grave and present flowers as a demonstration of respect for the dead. They emphatically insist that this not be confused with worship.
One Tsung Tsin mission pastor explained that Christians "celebrate Ching Ming in the form of Easter." The difference between the way Christians and non-Christians celebrate is that non-Christians make offerings to their ancestors out of fear that, if they do not, the ancestors may cause them harm in the coming year. Christians say they do not believe in the power of ancestors. Instead, their concern is with remembering their ancestors and recognizing the line of descent. When asked if they celebrate Ching Ming, the people of Shung Him Tong generally say they go to the cemetery on Easter Sunday for Ching Ming festival. Some will say they celebrate Easter instead of Ching Ming. To all there is an equivalence: Easter is either equated with or substituted for Ching Ming. Easter Sunday always falls in the span of time in which Ching Ming is celebrated, and Easter and Ching Ming sometimes fall on the same day.
In Shung Him Tong on Easter morning, after the Sunday service, most of the church congregation parades slowly down the dirt road around the back of the village to the cemetery. This includes some who have no ancestors buried there, though a few do not go for that reason. The pastor, standing under the shelter of the large Tsui grave, delivers a short sermon and leads a prayer, and the choir sings a few hymns.
Each family is responsible for the upkeep of its own graves, and by the time of the Easter visit they have usually swept, removed the weeds around the grave, and repainted the inscription on the grave marker. During the Easter visit some people who did not come earlier are seen hastily pulling up weeds and tidying up their family graves. Most visitors bring bouquets of flowers to deposit at each family member's grave, and others are commissioned by friends and relatives abroad to deliver flowers on their behalf. There is a certain status maintained by those who are remembered at this time of year, and pity is expressed for those who have been forgotten, a fact made obvious by the overgrown, neglected appearance of their graves. Some years there is an Easter egg hunt in the cemetery and the tone of the event is very cheerful. Easter is considered a time for reunions, for remembering people, and, as I was told, for the reassuring thought that even if the descendants forget you and neglect your grave, you will be assured an annual visit from the choir.
After Ching Ming, in the monsoon rains and tropical heat, the graves quickly become overgrown with weeds and brush. Most are not cleared again until the following Easter, but Christians do not restrict their visits to Ching Ming and Chung Yeung as do most Chinese in Hong Kong. Some people also visit the grave on the anniversary of the death; other families go at Chung Yeung. Relatives who live overseas are likely to visit graves during the summer holiday or during their Christmas or Chinese New Year visit, despite the popular belief among non-Christians that the lunar new year is a time of renewal when death and related topics should be avoided. Shung Him Tong Christians are aware of such traditions, but in this case, again, they assert that as Christians they need not feel restricted by such proscriptions and superstitions.
Most Chinese I spoke to made a distinction between the spirits of their own dead ancestors and malevolent spirits or ghosts. Ghosts (in Cantonese, gwai) are generally thought of as the dead who are not cared for, who died in a tragic way—perhaps too young or violently—and who roam the world at certain times of the year causing trouble (see A. Wolf 1974a:7–9; 1974b:169-76; Feuchtwang 1974a; Harrell 1974; Wang 1974). While Shung Him Tong Christians claim not to believe in ghosts when asked outright, Christian children still tell stories of ghosts wandering around Chung Him School. Their ghosts suffered the same sorts of deaths as those in conventional Chinese ghost stories. At the school, ghosts are said to be the wandering spirits of those who died at the hands of the Japanese when the school was used as a prison and Japanese headquarters during the Second World War. Among these ghosts, it is rumored, there may even be some vengeful Japanese soldiers who died far from home. One's ancestors, as opposed to ghosts, are generally cared for and therefore are not likely to be malicious spirits unless they are neglected, or died in a terrible way, or left no heirs behind (see A. Wolf 1974b:164; Ahern 1973:199–200). Local non-Christians are also fearful of the ghosts of dead Christians.
In 1987 two brothers who were members of Shung Him Tong died a tragic death. They were farmers and did not live in the village. One brother had climbed into a well to repair an irrigation system. He became trapped by the mud and gases at the bottom of the well and was killed. His brother—in an attempt to rescue him—met with the same fate. Their only other brother had been killed two years earlier when he was struck by lightning. The circumstances of all three deaths were considered particularly horrible and frightening and the brothers were thought by non-Christians to be likely candidates for return as "hungry" ghosts. Even though the deceased were Christian, non-Christian neighbors were particularly concerned that the brothers' ghosts would return because they had died too young (in their late twenties) and "did not want to die," and because their Christian kin performed only Christian rituals. For several days neighbors were seen making offerings at the site of the accident. Thus, to non-Christians, even dead Christians are not exempt from becoming wandering ghosts. Acknowledging the horror of the situation, one older Christian woman said she had seen non-Christian neighbors burning offerings at the site of the well. "If I believed what they do," she said, "I would burn offerings as well."
The Hungry Ghost Festival is the yearly occasion when non-Christians make offerings and set up opera performances to appease and entertain hungry wandering ghosts. Although a major Yu Laan Jit celebration takes place less than a quarter of a mile from the church, church people have no interest in it. On my way back from the festival, en route to the village, I met a young man from the church. Horrified to learn where I had been, he explained to me as patiently as he could that the festival is "the work of the devil," and that only superstitious people participate in it. Christians need not concern themselves with ghosts, only with providing a "comfortable resting place" for the ancestors, remembering them, and paying them due respect. Not observing Yu Laan Jit is also a statement of Hakka identity. As Mr. C. explained, Yu Laan is strictly a Chaozhou festival, which Hakka learned about only when they moved in among other southern Chinese people.
Rituals for the Living
Rituals for the living are primarily Christian but include occasional secularized Chinese traditions. The church year follows the Lutheran calendar, which is divided up into the Christmas cycle running through Advent to the Epiphany, the Easter cycle running through Lent to Pentecost, and "the Time of the Church," which lasts until Advent resumes. Particular hymns and biblical themes and passages correspond with the different church seasons.
Superimposed over the Lutheran calendar is the lunar calendar of Chinese festivals. According to one informant, Chinese festivals are divided into two kinds: "festivals to enjoy oneself and those for the ancestors." In Hong Kong, events from both calendars are marked by public holidays. Christmas and Easter are by far the most important Christian church occasions, while the Chinese New Year is the highlight of the lunar year. Christian holidays are often equated with the most closely corresponding Chinese festivals. For example, Christmas is associated with the winter solstice, Easter with Ching Ming, and to a lesser extent Chung Yeung with All Souls' Day.
"While non-Christians celebrate the winter solstice, Christians celebrate Christmas," several church people pointed out. The winter solstice usually falls on December 21 or 22. In urban areas it is mainly a family event, "a day for staying home, making offerings to the ancestors, and enjoying a family dinner" (Law and Ward 1982:83; emphasis in original). In rural areas people can be seen making offerings to sacred trees or rocks, and in some villages this is a day for community members to have a meeting in the ancestral hall (Baker 1968:71, 136).
In Shung Him Tong, Christmas is the most important community occasion; plans for the celebrations begin at least a month before Christmas Day. The youth group arranges a potluck dinner, a party, the caroling schedule, and a talent show or film to attract young people from the neighboring areas on Christmas Night. Sunday school classes rehearse the special Christmas program. In the week before Christmas, the church building is transformed inside and out with Christmas lights, wreaths, a Christmas tree, and ornaments. Over the back wall of the church hall a Christmas tiding is spelled out in English and in Chinese. In 1986 it read, "Joy to the World."
On the Christmas Eve I spent in Shung Him Tong, about two hundred people—dressed more casually than usual—attended church. The children were the center of attention. The lights in the main hall were dimmed and they entered carrying candles and singing "Silent Night" followed by "Away in a Manger." When the children took their seats in the first two rows, the sermon was inaudible over their noise, but they were tolerated for fifteen minutes before being escorted out by the Sunday school teacher. The service was followed by a "tea party" downstairs in the kindergarten classrooms. People crowded into the decorated room to hear a short speech, recite a prayer, partake of refreshments, and participate in the official presentation of gifts to the young people who had done a service for the church such as teaching Sunday school or leading the younger youth groups.
Gift exchanges are not a central part of the Christmas celebration in Shung Him Tong. Presents are generally not exchanged between friends and family members, but little bags of wafers, candies, and cartons of fruit juice are handed out to all who attend church on Christmas Day. This practice attracts young people from the surrounding villages who do not normally attend. There is also a random drawing of gifts by the Sunday school children. These gifts are all given "on behalf of the church" and appear to reward them for their regular attendance and church membership.
On Christmas Eve, the gift presentation is followed by the caroling expedition. It is a serious affair at which only religious Christmas hymns are sung, all in Hakka and always in four-part harmony, to the accompaniment of the pastor's accordion. During my stay, the group went from a government hospital in Fanling to the Jockey Club clinic in Sheung Shui, then to the Tsung Tsin mission home for the elderly in Sha Tin, where many elderly Hakka from the Tsung Tsin mission eagerly awaited their visit, and finally to the Fanling housing estates.
On Christmas Day, energy and excitement soared. Dressy clothes were worn and more than twice the usual crowd—over four hundred people—made its way to the church. The church hall was filled beyond capacity and extra seats were added in the aisles. An overflow of people had to stand outside the door to hear the sermon. In addition to relatives from Hong Kong, Kowloon, and further away, there were many people who attended church only on this occasion, and many who did not belong to the church at all. After the service a large catered banquet was held downstairs in the church for those who had bought tickets, at forty Hong Kong dollars apiece. About half of those who had attended the service, mainly the regular church members, were there.
Twelve people sat around each of the twenty tables, and there was no preplanned seating arrangement. Young people sat together at three tables at one end of the room, as did several young women with children. Few families made a point of sitting together, with the exception of those people who had invited family members who do not usually attend church. Several of the male members of the board of directors did not sit with their families and behaved as hosts, circulating among the guests and proposing toasts at each table with their glasses of soft drinks.
Since Christmas Day is a public holiday, it is a day for reunions and family gatherings throughout Hong Kong. But for the people of Shung Him Tong it is a church as well as a family occasion. While everyone attends the church service, most regular community members also attend the church banquet, but they may also have their own family celebrations, later in the day, at home or in restaurants.
The Chinese New Year
The first of January is not of any great importance to the people of Shung Him Tong, except that it is a public holiday. However, the Chinese New Year—celebrated at the beginning of the lunar year, which falls sometime between the end of January and the first two-thirds of February—is undoubtedly the largest celebration in all of Hong Kong. Preparation for the new year begins in the twelfth month of the old year, but the main celebration begins on New Year's Eve and ends on the fifteenth day of the first month. Most of the activity and celebration takes place during the first five days, after which time many people return to work; the seventh to fourteenth days are less eventful, and then the end of the new year festivities is celebrated on the fifteenth day with the lantern festival.
On the subject of the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, Ward writes that it is primarily "a family festival focussed on the home" (Law and Ward 1982:27), although at certain times there are crowds at temples and flower markets: "Morally the keynote is renewal. The old year goes and with it go old misfortunes and old wrongs; the new year comes and brings the chance for starting afresh. Socially it signifies reunion, the end of strife, the renewal of harmony. Personally and in business one hopes to pay off one's debts, tidy up all loose ends, and turn over a new leaf" (Law and Ward 1982:17).
Christmas is a major celebration in Shung Him Tong, but for non-Christians in Hong Kong it is largely a secular occasion and a commercial holiday. In the villages surrounding Shung Him Tong and in the nearby market, there is relatively little excitement over Christmas. The Chinese New Year, however, is a major occasion for everyone. A month or two before the new year begins, rows and rows of potted trees and plants are in evidence in nurseries and gardens all over the New Territories. As the end of the old year approaches, small orange and tangerine trees are transplanted and shaded or exposed to the sun in order that the fruit be perfectly golden and ripe. Farmers carefully tend their flowers and peach trees to make sure that they are at the earliest stages of bloom at the beginning of the new year. It is most inauspicious to have blossoms that are past their prime at the new year, as the partially open buds represent the promise of a fruitful and flourishing year to come.
At least two weeks before the end of the year women become especially industrious "renewing the house," an activity comparable to "spring cleaning." As the new year approaches all family members lend a hand painting and whitewashing walls, or at least repainting doorways and window frames, washing cars, and pounding mattresses. On the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth month, non-Christians believe that the kitchen god leaves for heaven to give a report on the family's behavior over the past year. They prepare special sweets for him and burn his image to send it to heaven. The sweets are believed to sweeten his words, or as one Christian put it, non-Christians believe they can "bribe him to say good things about the family."
During the last several days of the old year, the markets are transformed. Streets and alleyways are lined with potted pink, purple, yellow, and red chrysanthemums, peach trees, and orange trees. The shops and hawkers' carts selling incense and other funeral ritual objects are filled with bright red posters and banners—couplets, single lucky characters, door gods, red envelopes for lucky money, red ribbons, and rounded mirrors to decorate altars and doorways—the special new year purchases. Special foods, many of them also served by Christians at the new year, are sold at the dry goods store, such as candied coconut, lotus seeds and roots, and several other types of seeds symbolizing fertility (see Anderson and Anderson 1977:380; E. Anderson 1988). The price of chicken almost doubles as the demand goes up. By the last day of the old year, the market is louder, friendlier, and more crowded than usual. Almost everyone is there because the market and restaurants are closed for the first two days of the new year and because it is believed that no food should be prepared on those days. Outside the shops and houses, tables are set up with candles, incense, cooked rice, and chicken for the gods.
In much of Lung Yeuk Tau, the tables normally used for card games and mahjong are seen on front porches and in front yards laden with offerings. By New Year's Eve, food for the next two days has been prepared; the first banquet is held, and visits are made to temples and to the special, late-night flower market. Firecrackers, although illegal, are constantly heard in the rural areas. That night "lucky papers" are hung to decorate doorways—door gods are affixed to double doors, one large character is mounted over the top of the door, and couplets are arranged on either side—and at some houses outdoor lights are kept on all night.
Observance of the new year in Shung Him Tong is conspicuously different. Although Christians clean their houses and are caught up in the excitement of the new year, they do not have the same competitive attitude and propensity for displays as have other people in Lung Yeuk Tau. One does not see new paint on doors and fences, and lucky red papers do not appear outside their doorways; nor is one struck by the number of peach trees and orange trees. Although special care is put into the flower arrangements at church for New Year's Day, decorations are not given the same attention as at Christmas. Shung Him Tong people do, however, often have new haircuts and wear special or new clothes on the first of the year.
While non-Christians visit temples on New Year's Day, Christians go to church. Next to Christmas, the Chinese New Year draws the largest crowd to the church. The attendance on the morning of New Year's Day in 1988 was about a hundred more people than usual, about a hundred less than at Christmas, and also included a number of overseas visitors. Christmas draws many people from the surrounding villages who do not otherwise ever come to church. Some of these people might consider themselves "Christian" but are not considered such by the regular church members; others, such as my landlady's daughter, attend "for the fun" although they do not consider themselves Christian. At the Chinese New Year, more non-Christians are involved in their own family activities, and church ranks as a low priority.
May, a young Christian woman from Shung Him Tong, explained that the main difference between the way Christians and non-Christians celebrate the new year is "we hold feasts for new year and midautumn festival, but we never baaisahn [worship gods]." As she put it: "At midautumn festival when non-Christians have a feast and set out a table of food offerings for the gods, the Christians also look at the moon, eat moon cakes, and have a family feast, but they don't offer food to the gods. At new year it is the same; Christians still baainihn [pay new year visits], give out lucky money, but they don't set out a table for the gods or make offerings to the ancestors."
Non-Christians have a number of beliefs regarding the new year that Christians claim they do not share. One is that it is bad luck to mention topics relating to death during the new year celebrations. On the fifth day of the Chinese New Year the church evangelist and I were invited to attend a banquet at the home of a prominent Shung Him Tong family. The conversation turned to the topic of one of the old respected women of the village who had died several years earlier. She had refused to see a doctor or take medicine because "she placed her life in God's hands." Mr. P., the one recounting the event said, "I told her that God had given her intelligence to use to know when to go to a good doctor and take medicine." In the course of the discussion topics touched on included suicide and death. Finally one of Mr. P.'s daughters in her late twenties laughed and said with a tone of concern, "We shouldn't be discussing this at new year!" Her father's response to this was a cheerful, "It doesn't matter, we're Christians!" The evangelist chimed in a little more self-consciously with, "Christians don't follow such beliefs." Indeed, during the first few days of the new year, a few people, mostly those from far away, did go to the cemetery to leave bouquets of flowers and pay their respects to their ancestors.
One of the main activities of the Chinese New Year is baainihn, which means paying visits. Customarily, on the first day of the new year a married couple and their children will visit the husband's relatives, and on the second day the wife's. Non-Christians will not pay visits on the third day "because they believe you will get into arguments and fights if you do." Though I was told that "Christians do not believe this and they also baainihn on this day," the third day was the only one during the new year celebration on which I received no visits and no invitations, and on which people preferred to stay home and relax. Among Christians and non-Christians, younger people generally pay visits to older ones and present them with boxes of sweets or bags of oranges or other fruit.
People of Shung Him Tong were not in agreement concerning the propriety of Christians using the traditional Chinese New Year greeting of gung hei faat choih (congratulations and wishes for increased prosperity). Some disapprove because it refers to a desire for material prosperity. Instead they say Sannihn faailohk (lit., "new year happiness" or "Happy New Year"). According to Yee Ling, "Some Christians greet each other with phrases which refer to wealth and prosperity, but the pastor certainly wouldn't." As Mr. C. put it, "We Christians don't say such things, because our rewards are in the next life so we don't worry about wealth in this world." Christian businessmen are likely to say it because of the expectations of their non-Christian associates. According to another man, "Christians aren't supposed to say 'gung hei faat choih' but many of us want wealth so we say it anyway! The pastor won't say it and neither will many church people."
While greetings at the new year may be a subtle sign of one's religious beliefs, they are also easily adjusted to meet the expectations of different audiences. A person might address church friends and the pastor one way and non-Christian friends and colleagues another. Pictures of door gods, couplets, and lucky papers, however, are eschewed as more concrete symbols of one's identity, as they are visible on the outside of gates and doorways.
As one older, retired Swiss missionary explained to me, he and other Basel missionaries who worked in China during the early part of the century forbade such heathen activities as hanging lucky papers. Today these are conspicuously absent from the doorways of Christian homes in Shung Him Tong. Door gods, Christians told me, echoing the words of the old Swiss missionary, are obviously contrary to Christian monotheistic beliefs. The absence of couplets was more difficult to explain, since some common couplets and single-character papers represent acceptable Christian concepts, particularly those that refer to "blessings" or "peace throughout the seasons." Christians are not prevented from having lucky papers on their doors, but as one man explained, "They have just lost interest in those things." The Swiss missionary's explanation was that although the message may in itself sound Christian enough, the practice is linked to the whole system of Chinese religion, which is contrary to Christianity.
Shung Him Tong Christians are disinterested in couplets not because of their literal meanings but because they see them as markers of religious identity. There is not anything inherently wrong with the message of some couplets—some are admittedly good Christian themes and several people pointed out to me that, in their native villages in Guangdong, couplets were "invented" citing Christian themes—but they are associated with a set of beliefs and values that Christians do not share. Couplets were the topic of several conversations and of the first Sunday sermon of the Chinese New Year. There is nothing wrong with making statements about health, wealth, peace and happiness, said the visiting pastor, but non-Christians only put up the characters asking for peace and blessings because they do not have them. Christians, on the other hand, are "already rich and noble" by virtue of being Christian—they may not have material wealth, but they lead rich and noble lives—unlike the non-Christians who put up such couplets in hopes of becoming wealthy and famous. As most Christians see it, the main problem is with couplets that "deal with money or getting rich" and express a desire for acquiring wealth "without working for it." The couplet "wong choih jau sau," for example, expresses a wish that money will come into their hands by indirect means (lit., "indirectly money [wealth] come to hand [received]"). To Tin, Yee Ling, and Mr. C., "indirect means" implies winning at cards, mahjong, or horse races, activities inappropriate for Christians.
Non-Christians put papers at their doorways to attempt to bring luck to their families, or to make statements about their families. In the past, I was told, scholars put obscure learned phrases on their doors to demonstrate that they were educated. When one family built a new house in the village next to Shung Him Tong, its members placed a paper around their doorway that read "laan gwai tang fong" (lit., "orchid cassia rise fragrant"). Tin explained the couplet to mean that "they were not dependent on their ancestors for their wealth. They were poor before and are now succeeding." The phrase was intended to reflect both what they are and what they hope to be. Likewise, the lack of lucky papers on Christians' doors reflects one facet of their identity.
As with beliefs concerning death pollution, people of Shung Him Tong are vividly aware of many of the non-Christian proscriptions and practices associated with the Chinese New Year. At the same time, they deny the relevance of such beliefs or attempt to define a strict boundary between what is and what is not acceptable Christian behavior. This strong awareness of what Christians do not and should not believe, juxtaposed with frequent attempts to reconcile, delineate, and rationalize Christian and Chinese practices and beliefs, illustrates that there is far more ambiguity regarding these two sets of belief, and the associated identities, than may at first appear.
Rites of Passage
Baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death in Shung Him Tong are marked by special church rituals, but births are not. In Shung Him Tong, as in other parts of Hong Kong, many believe that a mother should stay at home with her newborn for one month and not receive visitors who are not part of the immediate family (see also Topley 1974:234). The new mother should be fed special foods such as pickled ginger, pig knuckles and tendons cooked with eggs and ginger, and chicken cooked in wine, which are believed to give her strength. Births, particularly those of sons, are often celebrated with a banquet a month after the birth. In the past, the child received his or her name on that day. Besides a possible announcement at the Sunday service, no special or additional church celebrations occur until the time of a child's baptism.
Three or four times a year, groups of three or more people are baptized or confirmed at the end of the Sunday service. On one occasion there were three adults and four children; three of the children were babies and one was a boy about seven years old. Children may be baptized as infants but some parents prefer that their children be baptized when they are old enough to decide for themselves. Most children are confirmed when they are in their early or mid-teens. Adults who wish to join the church must be baptized but need not be confirmed. If they were already baptized at another church of a different denomination and wish to join Shung Him Tong, they need not be baptized again. Instead they take part in a short ceremony that is "like a baptism without the water." One man reminisced that in the 1920s and 1930s there were very large groups baptized at once, and often whole families were baptized together. Today the number of baptisms has decreased (see fig. 1).
Traditionally, all birthdays were celebrated on, and calculated from, the seventh day of the new year, but today in all of Hong Kong individual birthdays have become more important. While birthdays of elders, and men in particular, have long been considered significant by the Chinese, birthday celebrations for the young have only recently become more popular. The church plays a special role in the celebration of young people's birthdays. Youth group members hold two large birthday celebrations a year celebrating all the birthdays of youth group members that fall within a six-month period. As at Christmas, gifts given at these occasions are "from the church" and are distributed at random. Birthdays of individual youth group members are also sometimes recognized with a cake, a few gifts, and a small party. As with most Chinese, birthdays in Shung Him Tong are deemed increasingly important as a person grows older, especially the sixtieth birthday, which marks a complete cycle of the Chinese calendar. After the age of sixty, birthdays are celebrated by the entire extended family. On his ninetieth birthday, one man from the village held a huge celebration to which friends, relatives, and prominent people in Hong Kong were invited. This was considered a particularly extravagant event by any Hong Kong standards.
More than any other occasion, marriage ceremonies come closest to illustrating the dual or perhaps triple system of beliefs that exist in Shung Him Tong. Until recently, a marriage in Shung Him Tong might have included three different ceremonies: a church ceremony, a civil ceremony at the city hall, and a "traditional" Chinese tea ceremony and banquet. A few years ago the minister of Shung Him Tong received the legal right to perform marriage ceremonies so marriage at the city hall is no longer necessary.
During the year I was in Shung Him Tong there were only two weddings, one church and one village. The village wedding was on a Sunday while most people were at church. Because the groom and his family were Christian, although the bride was not, the pastor was invited to come and lead a prayer and hymn and give his blessings after the ceremony. The church wedding I attended resembled in all respects a traditional western church wedding. The bride wore an ornate white lace gown and the groom a tuxedo. A flower girl carried a basket of flowers and a little boy was the ring bearer. The bride's father walked her down the aisle and "gave her away." The minister gave a short sermon and led a prayer. Then the church choir sang, followed by the exchange of vows. The bride and groom placed their hands on a Bible and agreed to the vows and signed the wedding certificate. This was followed by another prayer and a hymn, after which the bride and groom proceeded out of the hall, followed by the minister, both families, the choir, and the guests.
After the ceremony an informal reception was held downstairs in the church. Photography was the main event. Bride and groom posed as they cut the cake and with each of the guests in turn. Following the church wedding, the bride and groom returned to the groom's parents' house for the tea ceremony. Again the photographer was given a central spot from which to record the event. The bride and groom each carried a cup of tea, which they served to his parents. The parents then handed them each a red envelope containing gifts of money or jewelry, told them to treat each other well, took a sip from the cups for the sake of a photograph, and then vacated their seats so the eldest brother and his wife could be served. They too feigned drinking the tea just long enough for a photograph, as did the next brother and his wife. And so it went down the line of descent, with each pair served in the same seats and the photographer busily snapping away. The bride's parents had been served before the church ceremony. Non-Christian brides and grooms kneel at the feet of their parents as they present them with tea, but Shung Him Tong Christians believe they "should not bow or kneel before anyone but God." After the tea ceremony, the bride changed into a red Chinese-style wedding dress and the family set off for the restaurant banquet.
The church ceremony and reception lasted only an hour, and like the tea ceremony, appeared hasty and superficial. The most important consideration appeared to be the photo-taking. While everyone from the church was invited to the church ceremony and reception, only the immediate family attended the tea ceremony; family, some church members, friends, and associates from outside the church community were invited to the banquet.
Feng-shui is a particularly interesting topic to examine with respect to what it says about the identity of Shung Him Tong people. To non-Christians, feng-shui is commonly believed to be a "theory of the forces underlying such natural phenomena as hills, watercourses, certain directions, etc. which affect human fate and therefore must be taken into careful consideration in choosing sites for graves, temples, and all buildings" (Law and Ward 1982:90). Reference to feng-shui was made many times by Shung Him Tong Christians in connection with such topics as the founding of the village, the beauty of the area surrounding Shung Him Tong, the establishment of the cemetery, graves, and houses, the good or bad fortune of particular people, and the location of the new church.
Several Shung Him Tong people told me that feng-shui is a "superstition," implying that it is a false belief, particularly if it is "taken too far" and is believed to be capable of influencing a person's success or prosperity. Others, including one church elder, described feng-shui as secular, "scientific" logic, or as an intuitive aesthetic sense that "all Chinese people know." Along with this "rational" and secularized view of feng-shui is an attitude of condescension toward those who "take it too far" and treat it as a religion.
Mr. C., a particularly conservative and pious Christian, expressed a very common sense view of feng-shui. The topic arose as we were discussing Hakka houses. While we were drinking tea, he began to sketch a horseshoe-shaped Hakka house, the kind he had seen when he was growing up in Wuhua. As he drew the decorations on the outside, he explained that the Hakka were stone carvers while the Chaozhou were wood carvers. Very rich Hakka would have carvings over the front entrance and some along the eaves of the roof. I asked whether such a house had good feng-shui and he answered:
He demonstrated this by seating himself straight and holding his arms out before him: "When I am at my house I should feel like a man looking out and sitting in his throne. Things should all be balanced." Then he fidgeted with one hand as if he imagined some imbalance: "Balance, that's all feng-shui is." The Chinese concept of balance, he explained, is connected with ideas of hygiene. By way of contrast he described an apartment in Luen Wo market where there are rows of rooms with few windows as "unhygienic." Old houses, he explained, had thicker walls and the tiles on the roof had air passing through them into the house so they reflected heat away in the summer. New houses have thin walls and can only reflect or repel the heat for a few hours before they absorb it and the whole house gets hot.
Non-Christians consider feng-shui an important factor in placing graves. A well-placed grave not only insures proper rest for the dead but can also assure the descendants success, prosperity, and the birth of sons. Several people of Shung Him Tong told me that outsiders believe that Shung Him Tong has very good feng-shui, which explains the large horseshoe-shaped graves located on the hill above the village. One is the grave of a multimillionaire who made his fortune in Malaysian mining. Many years ago he is said to have approached Pang Lok Sam to ask whether he could be buried there. As Tin explained, "Of course the villagers, being Christian, couldn't care about feng-shui, so they let him build it." Another man from Shung Him Tong told me the tale of one of the newer graves: another rich man asked permission to put his grave on the hill and was refused by the villagers—who as Christians disdained the idea of feng-shui —until "he offered to pay every family in the village a hundred Hong Kong dollars, and more to the church elders," after which he was allowed to build the grave.
Like many villagers, a relative of Pang Lok Sam commented on the beauty of the location of the Shung Him cemetery and said that it had good feng-shui, explaining that "Pang Lok Sam and all old people back then knew about feng-shui. Although he didn't hire a feng-shui expert to find the site, I think he knew it had it." The cemetery appears to follow the basic rules of feng-shui: it is located in one of the green contours or "veins" of the dragon, to the rear of the village. To the people of Shung Him Tong, the cemetery is in an ideal location that satisfies both those who openly believe in feng-shui and those who do not. Everyone agrees that a cemetery should be located on a hill and it should not be too close to the places of the living.
According to the founding legend of the village (see chap. 3), Shung Him Tong is located in a place where the feng-shui is very good. As one particularly pious and conservative Christian explained, on a certain level feng-shui is just common sense—"something all Chinese know intuitively." Thus it is no surprise that the son of Pastor Ling should have picked a good site: not only did he have an intuitive aesthetic appreciation of feng-shui, but he was also a trained engineer involved in surveying for the Kowloon Canton Railway.
The local people were opposed to the Christians settling at Shung Him Tong because their presence was expected to obstruct the locals' own feng-shui. But the locals were also afraid to settle there themselves because the site, although considered good, was also potentially hazardous. The Punti were surprised, according to one young woman, that no harm came to the Christians, because part of Shung Him Tong is located along the throat and head of the dragon, while another part sits on top of the pearl that the dragon holds in his mouth. As one Hong Kong feng-shui expert explained, "A house on the dragon's head can be risky: living on its brain is good, but a slight miscalculation could put the residents dangerously close to the beast's mouth, the source of strong ch'i [qi, energy or cosmic breath] and a huge appetite" (Rossbach 1983:37). Too much qi can prove as much of a problem as too little in causing misfortune. In the ideal site, the qi flows smoothly and the yin and yang are balanced (Weller 1987:173–84; Rossbach 1983:28; Feuchtwang 1974b:48–56).
Shung Him Tong is neatly nestled between two low-lying hills to the northeast and the southwest with Dragon Mountain sheltering its back to the southeast and the Phoenix River running across the front southwest to north. The village is oriented in the same direction as the older neighboring villages in Lung Yeuk Tau, which are believed to be oriented to best take advantage of the geomantic features of the area. The village is nestled in the embrace of the hills, which is referred to as the classic feng-shui "armchair" formation, or as the "dragon-protecting pearl" (Rossbach 1983:39–40; Freedman 1969, 1979; Knapp 1977:4; Lai 1974; Lip 1979). For Hakka Christians of Shung Him Tong, of course, this is out of practical rather than religious considerations.
Tales of the effect of feng-shui on the people of Shung Him Tong continue to circulate. According to one friend from Shung Him Tong, the Punti believe that one church member dug up the pearl from the dragon's mouth when he and his brother built their two houses and that this act brought them bad luck. According to another person the family had bad luck because they severed the tendons in the dragon's feet: "that is why the older brother got very sick and couldn't walk and then he died." Another person disagreed, insisting that it was not the tendons but the pearl that had been dug up; it was the pearl, she said, that "people say brought bad luck." Yet another person explained that the desecration did not cause the brother's death but rather the death of the church member's son, and the fact that he now has only one son. "But," he quickly added, "Christians don't believe this."
The most striking tale of feng-shui in Shung Him Tong involves an aborted attempt to build the new church; it is a topic that the villagers are hesitant to bring up because they do not want to "stir up conflicts again." By the late 1960s the church building had become too small and the board began the process of deciding where the new church would be built. Some people wanted the church high up on the hill and others wanted it on level land near the old church. A third group was in favor of putting it on the slope on the west side of the village, but that plan was not popular because the slope was too steep. Those who wanted the church located on the hill between Shung Him Tong and the neighboring village wanted it there, according to Mr. C., because it would be visible from far away and closer to non-Christian villages. Those who favored the old church site wanted it there because it would be more convenient and more easily accessible on foot. Their plan, they said, would also be cheaper because it would not require a new road for transporting construction materials.
The decision was made to build the church on the hill. A new lot, northeast of the village on a small hill overlooking the neighboring non-Christian village, was leased from the government and plans for construction began. As Freedman aptly wrote of feng-shui and Chinese architectural aesthetics, "Let one man in a village build a fraction too high; let him make a window or a door that can be interpreted as a threat; and he has a struggle on his hands" (1969:14). The attempt to build the church above the village was interpreted as a literal and figurative attempt by Christians to put themselves "above" their neighbors and to prosper or benefit at the expense of the non-Christian village (cf. Freedman 1979:203; Feuchtwang 1974b:118). According to one government official familiar with the incident, "The Lung Yeuk Tau Tengs were against the church on the hill … because they thought the hill was the source of their feng-shui and that the church would block it." As Tin explained, "It would be like the people of the church were looking down on them, looking down at their houses."
When on the first day of construction a child from the non-Christian village nearby became seriously ill—and died, according to some—a large group of Punti believed to be from Lung Yeuk Tau organized a roadblock and threw stones to prevent the construction team from passing. Rather than attempt to negotiate with their angry neighbors, the Christians abandoned the hill site and built the new church next to the old one on lower land, a plan that some Christians had favored all along. One man remembers that after this incident several fences were erected and many Shung Him Tong people were afraid to walk through Lung Yeuk Tau at night.
Several Shung Him Tong people explained that "any time the villagers complain about feng-shui —not just feng-shui but also graves, roads, and buildings—the government doesn't want to stir up trouble with the Punti" and they let them have their way. Like many people in the Hong Kong government, some Shung Him Tong people believe that feng-shui beliefs are used by indigenous villagers as a "good excuse to do or not do certain things." In the New Territories government records, there are numerous examples of Punti opposition to construction projects because the feng-shui of the region would be disturbed. There are also numerous records of "feng-shui complaints" being solved with financial settlements. Shung Him Tong people believe that, although non-Christians may in fact believe in feng-shui, they are also well aware of the economic benefits that they can receive through such claims. In the case of the church site, however, even money would not have solved the problem. As Tin explained, they "believed in feng-shui and just didn't want the church looking over their shoulders. I believe in feng-shui too, but not that it can make you rich or poor." As Freedman has written: "Chinese may cease to believe in and practice his [sic] traditional religion without abandoning his faith in geomancy. Be he Christian or atheist, fung shui retains its meaning and appeal. Geomancy is a 'science' for those who would have it so" (1979:195).
Feng-shui, like the other beliefs outlined in this chapter, demonstrates the way in which the religious beliefs and practices of the people of Shung Him Tong differ significantly from those of their neighbors. While all religious systems have internal contradictions and inconsistencies, what is important in this case is that the ambiguities between the two systems have allowed Hakka Christians to create a rhetoric for arguing that they are Chinese. The Chinese and Christian identities of the people of Shung Him Tong are expressed through their Christian religious practices and the Chinese practices that they attempt to define as secular. Their identity is also expressed in the management of their landscape and the construction of their village. To British administrators, government officials, and European missionaries, the physical appearance of the village communicates—among other things—a concern for Christian orthodoxy. To their non-Christian neighbors, it displays many traditional aesthetic qualities and concern for feng-shui.
In their day-to-day lives, through their treatment of ancestors, their celebration of Chinese festivals and rites of passage, and the physical construction of their village, Hakka Christians express their Chinese identity within a constrained framework of acceptable Christian behavior. Yet as we have seen, the Hakka Christian definition of Chinese identity differs from that of non-Christians. Christians attempt to create a Chinese identity divorced from Chinese religious beliefs and practices, and thus they are constantly in a position of having to rationalize and clarify the ambiguities—to draw and redraw boundaries between Christian and Chinese funeral practices, between Ching Ming and Easter, between the aesthetic and superstitious elements of feng-shui. Their ancestors are commemorated, not worshiped, and their festivals and rites of passage are reinterpreted as secular or Christian occasions. Similarly, the reinterpretation of feng-shui as "common sense" or as a purely aesthetic consideration is carefully spelled out verbally by Hakka Christians because their behavior—the construction of homes, church, and cemetery—suggests that they do subscribe to such a belief.
Although the particular beliefs and practices associated with the care of the dead in Shung Him Tong are not the same as those of non-Christians, the fact remains that these Chinese Christians are also concerned with their ancestors and their own conception of "proper" care. The church cemetery has not so much replaced the family cemetery as it has become a cemetery for the extended "church family." In much the same way, the importance of the church in people's minds has not replaced the importance of family and ancestors but has extended the family to include the entire Hakka Christian church community. Just as a family graveyard maps out the family genealogy, the church cemetery maps out the genealogy of the church community.
In contrast to the "dual" system of beliefs identified by Nash among Bolivian tin miners whose Catholic and "folk" beliefs coexist but are separated or "compartmentalized" in time and space (1979), the system developed by Hakka Christians attempts to separate Christian beliefs from all other religious beliefs and practices, which are rejected outright as false. In other words, Hakka Christians do not practice a syncretic religion that combines elements of Christianity with elements of Buddhism, Taoism, or Chinese popular religion. Nor do they restrict their practice of Christianity to particular contexts—certain times and circumstances. Instead, what they maintain of Chinese non-Christian religion has been transformed into a set of rationalized beliefs and values that they claim are compatible with Christianity. These "secularized" Chinese religious practices are most evident, as we have seen, in the cases of festivals and rites of passage, particularly those concerning death and feng-shui, because these are most closely tied to ancestors, genealogy, and history, and therefore to Hakka and Chinese identity.
As the examples above illustrate, Shung Him Tong's attempt to reconcile Chinese and Christian identities by way of rationalizing their respective religious beliefs and practices has not been easy, nor will it be entirely successful so long as Shung Him Tong villagers practice the type of Christianity they do, in which the two sets of beliefs are defined as mutually exclusive. This is not to say that their endeavors have been entirely unsuccessful, either; rather, the process is an ongoing one, as is the process of reconciling Hakka Chinese and Christian identities.
1. In a study of urban resettlement of a Hakka village in Hong Kong, Berkowitz demonstrates the adaptability of Chinese religion: gods who were not needed in the new setting were sent back to heaven, while others were assigned new duties (1969). See also Harrell (1974:204).
Similarly, Francis Hsu cites a letter written to a Beijing newspaper in 1947 in response to a request for personal experiences that relate to "how to conquer poverty." The person who answered wrote that becoming Catholic was "in short ... one of the ways of meeting an emergency. Just get baptized and don't worry about the rest.... Another way out is to go to the Relief Department of the Bureau of Social Welfare" (1981:272).
2. J. Watson outlines the following structures of Chinese funerary rites: In the "performative domain" are (1) "public notification of death by wailing and other expressions of grief"; (2) donning of the appropriate white attire for mourners; (3) "ritualized bathing of the corpse"; (4) "the transfer of food, money and goods from the living to the dead"; (5) "the preparation and installation of a soul tablet for the dead"; (6) "the ritualized use of money and employment of professionals" who perform ritual services; (7) "music to accompany the corpse and settle the spirit"; (8) "sealing the corpse in an airtight coffin"; and (9) "expulsion of the coffin from the community" (1988:12-15). In the ideological domain, the Chinese believe (1) in a continuity and similarity between this world and the next; (2) that there is no radical dualism between body and soul; (3) that after death there continue to be reciprocal relations between the living and the dead; and (4) that there must be a balance between the sexes even in death—thus the practice of posthumous or ghost marriages (1988:8-11). Watson stresses that the practices associated with death rituals were standardized and absolute, while the belief system was "loosely organized at best and rarely enforced" (1988:10).
3. As Whyte puts it, "In the enduring stress on the strong links and obligations between family members which persist beyond the grave, if not the ritual structure, modern Chinese urbanites can still express their essential Chineseness" (1988:316). The same can be said for the people of Shung Him Tong.
4. Baker describes the persecution of Christians in a village in Sheung Shui, several miles from Shung Him Tong, as follows:
5. By arguing that what is essential to Chineseness is not religious, they are constructing an identity that bears important similarities to the secular Chinese identity in the People's Republic of China (Whyte 1988). Also see Whyte for a discussion of the importance of "proper" burial practices and the redefinition of what is deemed proper in the People's Republic of China (1988:314).
6. Like the residents of Ch'inan, Taiwan, described by Ahern, the people of Shung Him Tong I spoke to did not consider the crowdedness of the public cemetery a drawback (1973:188).
7. Pang's grave was built on a site that he selected on his own private land before the rules were as strictly enforced as they are today. Pang's wife, however, is buried in the Shung Him cemetery. It is noteworthy that despite Pang's role in establishing the cemetery, he was not buried there. His horseshoe-shaped grave, covered with a shelter and adorned with red painted crosses, overlooks the Shung Him cemetery from the opposing hill. Some speculate that having his own spot conveyed more honor, others that he wanted the same rights as the Punti in the area, and still others that he might have thought the spot would be more permanent since it was on his own family property.
8. Photographs play an increasingly important part in funerals and weddings. When someone has died, photographs of the person in the home are often turned around for a few days, as Christians explain, out of respect. Another explanation not expressed by Chinese Christians stems from the Chinese belief that a photograph can capture one's soul and must be removed to allow the soul to travel to the afterworld.
9. Simple yarn flowers may be an adaptation of the proscription against wearing "fine" clothes such as silk. Although several detailed studies of mourning grades exist, I have found no explanation of the significance of the green color of the yarn flowers. As A. Wolf (1970, 189-207) found in Taiwan, rough cloth is worn by the closest relations, white by a generation further removed, dark blue by the great grandsons' generation, red by the following generation, and yellow by the next. These colors indicate increasing genealogical distance from the deceased. Wolf also describes a practice of placing a dead man in his coffin with coins in his pocket. Just before the burial the coins are removed and the children and grandchildren tie them to their wrists. The children generally use a white string and the grandchildren use a blue string (1970:199). It seems possible that these practices are related to the blue and green yarn flowers. As Wolf explains, blue is a "middle point on the scale, halfway between the extremes of joy [symbolized by red or yellow] and sorrow [the rough hemp fabric]" (1970:191).
10. As Ahern describes in Taiwan, red steamed cakes are passed out to funeral guests because red acts "as a prophylactic to ward off any danger from lingering contact with ghosts" (1973:174).
11. In Hong Kong it is acceptable for Catholics to bow to graves, but people of Shung Him Tong generally do not. Catholics, I was told, usually go on All Saints' Day in November, near Chung Yeung, rather than at Easter or Ching Ming.
12. People from Shung Him Tong did not seem to be aware that in some parts of China graves are visited as part of the lunar new year celebration or on the last day of the old year.
13. A looser interpretation might be that "flowers come up and have a fragrant smell."
14. Much has been written on this subject. See, for example, Ahern (1973), Freedman (1966, 1979), and Weller (1987).
15. The typical feng-shui site for a village, town, or city is facing south. "South," however, is always defined by the direction the site is facing:
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