- freely available
Religions 2019, 10(10), 582; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10100582
2. A Community in North Shanghai
2.1. North Shanghai: The Setting
2.2. Miaotou Village
3. Entering a New Space
3.1. A Shift in Living Patterns
3.2. Moving in
4. The Ritual Crafting of a Community
4.3. Worshipping at Home
5. Displacing Boundaries
5.1. Enlarging the Ritual Space (1): The Huangluo Temple in Suzhou
5.2. Enlarging the Ritual Space (2): The Furongshan Shuangshaxian Temple in Wuxi
6. Transformations in the Spacetime
6.1. The Fluidity of “Home”
6.2. Fluidity, Resilience and Virtualization
Conflicts of Interest
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This phenomenon has been abundantly documented, while statistics present difficulties of interpretation, which accounts for diverging evaluations of its scale and exact significance. Though the general trend is clear, adaptive tactics devised by the migrant populations explain for rapid evolutions in numbers and trends. By 2010, there were 253 million rural residents who had left the agricultural sector (people defined as nongmingong 农民工), representing about 20 percent of the country’s total population. Among them, 159 million had migrated outside their place of household registration, the remaining 94 million having transferred from the agricultural to the non-agricultural sector without leaving their district, and over 100 million migrant workers were living in a city for at least six months in a year (Vermander 2014, pp. 153–56). In the last decade, more migrants have been finding work nearby their place of residency. Besides, in the last three years or so, Shanghai and Beijing have proceeded with the expulsion of a large number of migrants. At the same time, plans are underway for expanding residency permits to migrant workers and widening access to housing subsidies and other benefits, but priorities and strategies widely vary from one city to another.
From the beginning of the Reform and Opening policy until around 2013, approximately 88 million of peasants have been expropriated from their land and integrated into the urban fabric (Sargeson 2013). It has been noted that “rural land requisition and conversion for industrial use has been particularly inefficient because it has been largely driven by administrative decisions rather than market demand.” (World Bank and Development Research Center of the State Council, the People’s Republic of China 2014, p. 10)
This change has been progressive and convoluted: throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a series of reforms affecting the household registration system relaxed (but certainly did not abolish) restrictions as to the movement of people and rules concerning their place of residency.
A term also translated by some scholars as “sealed residential quarter”.
Jiaren Chen has conducted observation and interviews on the site from 2015 to 2019 continuously. Benoît Vermander has accompanied this research during the same period while conducting fieldwork in adjacent parts of Shanghai and developing questions and tools that led to the publication of (Hingley et al. 2016 and Vermander et al. 2018) prior to the present article.
Rudolph (2008) offers an excellent study on the way so-called “retraditionalizing” rituals can be read as an adaptative strategy devised by members of groups subject to rapid and challenging transformations. In the context of Southeastern China see (Chan 1998), which also offers interesting perspectives on the way community rituals work as reservoirs of local knowledge.
The same author insists on the duality between the “spirituality of the centered self” characteristic of the Chinese (male) literati and territory-based “sacrificial circles” that somehow were and are preserving the agency of women. (Lagerwey 2019, especially pp. 258–73). Among contributions offered by other scholars, Adam Yuet Chau insists on “relationality” as a defining category, Chinese people “doing religion” by establishing and maintaining relationships “between different categories of people; between people and all kinds of supernatural entities, be they deities, ancestors or ghosts; as well as between people, things, and spaces.” (Chau 2019, p. 192) Taking Chinese religion at its Late Qing stage, Vincent Goossaert and David Palmer perceive in it a system integrating traditions of individual salvation, moral living, spirit-possession techniques, kinship-based rites, and local cults (Goossaert and Palmer 2011, pp. 20–27). Note also that, in a book that came out at the time this article was being finalized, Jordan Paper makes “familism” the core of Chinese religion. He considers xiao 孝 (“filial piety”, or “family reverence” as he prefers to translate) the concept central to the understanding of “familism” (Paper 2019). This attempt, overtly general and ambitious, is less relevant to the present contribution than could been expected.
Note that within the compounds that constitute our case-study (see below), the use of this dialect remains predominant.
Though it constitutes the north-western corner of the Shanghai municipality, Jiading is considered as being distinct from North Shanghai.
Miaotou Street was around 200 m long, one shop succeeding another. According to the recollections of our older interviewees, this was the street where, from 1949 till 1956, inhabitants of the village had to go in order to exchange their food stamps for actual goods.
The zhai system would warrant a more extended discussion, which we could not conduct to its term, though the developments that follow will bring some light unto the lived experience it referred to. Most of our information was provided to us by elderly women, who proved to be very familiar with some aspects of village life and structure, and yet extremely unclear about other aspects. One of the reasons is that, for a very long time now, interactions within the production brigade substituted for those among lineages. Besides, land ownership was a topic that, after production brigades were put into place, used not to be discussed, which negatively impacts the amount and accuracy of information now available as to the way residences, in Miaotou, were functioning as a system of corporate holdings.
The “Chen of the Wooden Bridge” were actually divided between the western and eastern riverbanks. In the representations of the villagers of Miaotou, people located on the West bank were “natives”, while residents of the East bank were migrants from Northern Jiangsu—and yet these “migrants” were settled in Miaotou for at least four generations.
Pengpu Town is not to be confused with Pengpu New Village (彭浦新村), which, though located not far away from the former, would warrant a different discussion.
Defined as residential areas surrounded by walls, fences, or green hedges (though they do not always impose strict access control—see Yip 2012), gated communities account for more than 80% of residential communities in Shanghai. See also (Qian 2014), which offers a sociological analysis of neighborhood enclosures as providing, among other features, “the instatement of moral standards and norms” (Qian 2014, p. 14. Our analysis will suggest that these standards are not merely those propounded by the state.) Note that in 2016, the State Council of the PRC issued a directive calling for an end to gated communities. The new policy met with much resistance. In Shanghai, the plan is to slowly ‘ungate” compounds through the design of more elastic and permeable boundaries (Wang and Pojani 2019).
Later in this article we will be discussed the term “family” and its adequation to the original Chinese (jia 家). In the context of this sentence, we could write “family clan,” or “lineage” (jiazu 家族). However, it should be noted that, whatever the dimension of the family unit considered, the people we have been conversing with speak of jia, or, sometimes of jiamen (家门), which (in the local context at least) is not much different, though jiamen resonates more clearly with the term “lineage”.
The term zhai—which is the one invariably used by the former residents—has also originally the meaning of “settlement” and, sometimes, of burial site, which testifies to the proximity of the concept with the ones of land, family and ancestors.
The stories collected include the one of the Headmaster of a primary school deciding at some point to revert to farming.
In a flourish typical of the rhetoric surrounding the urbanization process the multimedia center was celebrated as “the dream achievement of the Miaotou villagers in the process of urbanization.” (Anonymous 2007).
Recently renamed “Daning Tulips Park” (Daning yujinxiang gongyuan 大宁郁金香公园).
Moving north is inauspicious, as the city center is on the south. Even in the compound, people are reluctant to move from one apartment to another if the latter is located northwards of the former one.
At the time of the construction of the compound, six-story buildings were common in Shanghai, as the rules stipulated that elevators were a requisite only for buildings of seven stories or more.
We have already noted the opacity surrounding the allocation process. Official records indicate that the number of nuclear families entering the two compounds was more or less equal to the 1406 apartments that they comprise in total (Anonymous 2007) but doubts remain as to the time they were compiled as well as to their accuracy.
Notwithstanding the rules, it seems that some trading occurred after the first five years, but the scale of it remained modest.
We collected an account of the ceremony for the Xia residence. It took place in the auditorium of the production team. Ancestors were told about the demolition process. The ceremony lasted for around three hours, with eighteen Buddhist monks invited to chant the sutras. Relatives living in other residences were welcome to attend. Note that the inhabitants of the Old Xu and Small Zhang residences did not hold ceremonies, as the new compounds were located on the sites of their respective residences.
The fact that the nuclear family only decided on the day of moving into its allocated apartment is of course significant. However, the importance of the observation should be qualified: At that time, the inhabitants were speaking of moving to such or such apartment (“number ten”, “number twelve”): The lineage was going to occupy a number of apartments, but it was still as an (undivided) lineage that it was undertaking the operation.
Tin leaf ingots (xibo锡箔): spirit paper money used as funeral offerings and burned during the ceremony.
Information used in this paragraph can also be found in (Vermander et al. 2018, p. 115), with slight variations. The main difference between this previous version and the present one is that we are now able to ascertain that the information given to us at that time was directly linked to the experience of moving home underwent by the Miaotou villagers, an experience that has somehow (re)asserted a ritual standard.
By “larger community” we understand that of the villagers as structured by the zhai system. It would be wrong to contrast the two: the village presupposes the residence, and the residence the village.
The community building where these “chess rooms” are located has been recently renamed “Old People’s Home” (laoren zhi jia 老人之家), a testimony to the evolving demographics of the compounds.
At that time, Miaotou Village was still supervised by a “brigade” (dadui 大队) and not by neighborhood committees (juweihui 居委会) as is normally the case in urban settings. The brigade chief was a local, which helped to secure a grant for holding the ritual. (A shift in administrative structure did not occur before March 2019, when the administrative local structure of all the communities of Pengpu Town was normalized, following the standard juweihui model).
Mount Huaguo is a popular destination, advertised as the birthplace of Sun Wukong, the celebrated monkey of the novel Journey to the West.
See below our discussion of the distinction sketched here.
In Shanghai, the memorial tablet (paiwei 牌位) affixed in a temple nowadays seems to substitute for the ancestor’s tablet put into family temples or ancestors halls. These buildings disappeared during the Cultural Revolution, and in Shanghai, contrarily to what happened in other regions, they could not be revived afterwards. Temples also allow for lighting a lamp for the deceased. Additionally, they offer ritual spaces for attracting blessings on the living; one of the most popular ways of proceedings is to write on an “auspicious card” (jixiangka 吉祥卡): the name of the person needing special protection, and to put the card in the hand of the bodhisattva Guanyin (观音). Fees charged by temples generally cover one year of service.
Tomb-Sweeping Day, observed on April 5. In Shanghai, the traditional visits to family graves takes place approximately from two weeks before that day till two weeks after.
Dizang is the bodhisattva known for his vow to accomplish the task of emptying all hells before entering into the state of Buddhahood. It is usually in the Hall dedicated to him that memorial tablets are affixed.
The Huangluo Temple specializes in a ritual called wangsheng pufo 往生普佛, normally performed for the souls of people who have died very recently, but similar rituals, short in duration, take place for the souls of people who may have passed away a long time ago.
The Water and Land Dharma Service (Shuilu Pudu Dazhai Shenghui 水陸普度大齋勝會) is a solemn and elaborate Buddhist liturgy for the liberation of all sentient beings.
Once, women from the compound participated as volunteers to a ceremony held in Baohua Temple to the benefit of children of schools located nearby. They observed that the monks had invited ritual masters from outside, and drew their own conclusions from this fact.
Differences among temples are relative. However, although they continue to perform “traditional” services, the fact that the main Buddhist temples of Shanghai cater to the needs of a more affluent population and are part of the representation that “Global Shanghai” offers to the country and to the world creates a gap between their spiritual offering and the needs (as well as the means) of the people living at the periphery.
With accrued controls now taking place, holding such ritual activities becomes more problematic. Our informants congratulate themselves that, most inhabitants of the two compounds being “locals”, no complaint is generally registered when ingots are burned on the premises, while neighboring communities see such activities more and more severely restrained.
This is a day when offerings to the ancestors are made; it also coincides with the one celebrating the Awakening of the Buddha.
In local parlance, xianren refers to a woman who communicates with spirits and Daoist deities, and is expert at divination. In the present Chinese context, such persons are mentioned with much reticence. Even with acquaintances, one generally avoids to mention the fact that one may at times resort to them.
The plural is justified by the fact that rituals and festive occasions take place in Grandma Shen’s apartment as well as in the ones of her children.
The fact is not a novelty, as there are examples in some regions of ritual meals after lineage ceremonies where only male household heads participate. What is important here is that it constitutes an innovation for our villagers.
Thanks to two anonymous reviewers as well as to Stevan Harrell for their most helpful remarks on the multilayered reality embodied into the term “jia”.
This raises a set of questions that would trigger a complementary research: how are “cultural” or “ritual” intimacies that were first developed at home transferred into a public setting, for instance a temple? And how is a public setting “made” to feel like home through the transfer of these intimacies? (See the way Herzfeld 2015 frames similar issues.)
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