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Article

Ancestors Are Watching: Ritual and Governance at Peck San Theng, a Chinese Afterlife Care Organization in Singapore

History Department, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Religions 2020, 11(8), 382; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080382
Received: 25 May 2020 / Revised: 10 July 2020 / Accepted: 20 July 2020 / Published: 24 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Chinese Temples and Rituals in Southeast Asia)
Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng 新加坡廣惠肇碧山亭 (hereafter PST) is a non-profit organization registered under Singapore’s Societies Ordinance, founded in 1870 by Chinese immigrants from three prefectures of Guangdong province: Guangzhou 廣州, Zhaoqing 肇慶 and Huizhou 惠州. Until the mid-1970s, it managed more than 100,000 graves spread over 324 acres of land. After the Singapore government acquired its land for urban development PST continued its service to the departed by managing a columbarium that accommodates urns and spiritual tablets. PST’s governing body is formed by regional associations of the three prefectures although these associations receive neither dividends nor shares from PST. Besides annually celebrated activities such as ancestral worship at halls, grave sweeping at tombs every spring and autumn and the Hungry Ghost festival PST has, since 1922, organized irregularly a Grand Universal Salvation Ritual (the Wan Yuan Sheng Hui 萬緣勝會) for both ancestors and wandering spirits. The ritual was held not only to generate income but was also designed to serve the afterlife of the homeless overseas migrants and also as an informal sanction to regulate the behavior of committee members. Based on PST’s institutional archives and participant observations, this paper analyzes the ritual over a period of 90 years. It argues that formal institutional behavior is checked and balanced by informal sanction constructed in the form of ancestors watching from above. This paper further argues that while filial piety is an essential Chinese cultural value, the Chinese people of Singapore rely on institutions such as PST to integrate their ancestors with individual characteristics into collective ancestors taken care of by the institutions, releasing them from the burden of daily ancestral worship. Religious charity and filial piety are equally important. View Full-Text
Keywords: Singapore; cemetery management; salvation rituals; ancestor worship Singapore; cemetery management; salvation rituals; ancestor worship
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MDPI and ACS Style

Choi, C.-c. Ancestors Are Watching: Ritual and Governance at Peck San Theng, a Chinese Afterlife Care Organization in Singapore. Religions 2020, 11, 382. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080382

AMA Style

Choi C-c. Ancestors Are Watching: Ritual and Governance at Peck San Theng, a Chinese Afterlife Care Organization in Singapore. Religions. 2020; 11(8):382. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080382

Chicago/Turabian Style

Choi, Chi-cheung. 2020. "Ancestors Are Watching: Ritual and Governance at Peck San Theng, a Chinese Afterlife Care Organization in Singapore" Religions 11, no. 8: 382. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080382

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