Chapter 3 provides a short summary of the history and development of Chinese Underworld cosmology, from early notions of the bipartite nature of the soul in the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) to the influence of non-canonical morality tracts popularised during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing dynasties (1636–1912), most notably, the ‘Jade Record’, which provided the blueprint upon which contemporary perceptions of the post-mortal journey are based. The summary includes the Underworld as envisaged by early schools of Taoism, including the Celestial Masters, Shangqing and Lingbao traditions, and details the increasing influence of Buddhist cosmology on the development of orthodox Taoism, and on perceptions of the afterlife in the vernacular tradition.
Chapter 2 first details the framework of analysis, ‘self-perpetuating technologies of religious synthesis’, a theory which links combinations of societal catalysts to the development of specific religious trends. The ethnographic data illustrates that these ‘technologies’ are triggered in reaction to societal catalysts, resulting in religious transformations that function as ‘self-perpetuating mechanisms’ for the wider religious tradition. The individual ‘technologies’ are drawn from two discourses: first, the ‘politics of syncretism’, incorporating appropriation, absorption, acculturation, transfiguration, hybridisation and transfiguring hybridisation; and second, a broadening interpretation of Hobsbawm and Ranger’s ‘invention of tradition’, including the reinvention, reinterpretation, inversion and Sinification of tradition. The chapter then details essential information concerning the historical development of Singapore and Malaysia’s secular and religious landscapes. In highlighting Japanese massacres in both locations during the Second World War; religious harmony, urban redevelopment, the Master Plan for land use of 1965 and the subsequent destruction of cemeteries in Singapore vis-à-vis Malay ‘special rights’ and the active promotion of Malay interests under the New Economic Policy (1971) and the National Development Policy (1990), a diverse selection of societal catalysts later incorporated into the broader analysis are introduced. The chapter concludes with a summary of the book’s structure and chapter outlines.
The Introduction examines discourses which have influenced the research and provided the foundation of the study’s approach to fieldwork methodology and narrational style, thus offering an alternative to the conventional academic precedent in anthropology and Sinology of a denial of emic ontologies. Notable influences cited include Peter van der Veer’s ‘historical sociology’, Dennis Tedlock and Bruce Mannheim’s dialogic position on writing culture and recent theories emerging from the ontological turn concerning ethnographic research into non-human worlds. The latter include complementary theories from Philippe Descola, Martin Paleček and Mark Risjord, Morten Axel Pedersen and Michael W. Scott which have inspired the adoption of an underlying ontological approach relevant to the research of non-physical phenomena including, but not exclusive to, Chinese spirit mediumship and trance possession states, both of which are central to the Underworld tradition. The intention of evaluating practitioners’ contrasting understandings of religious phenomena to produce a new lexicon of descriptive phrases which encapsulates the essence of emic explanations while framing the metaphysical in religious and spiritual traditions in academic terms is then clarified. The Introduction concludes with details of when and where fieldwork was conducted.
Chapter 1 begins by outlining the book’s four primary narratives. First, the pivotal role of Underworld deities as channelled through their tang-ki; second, the history of Chinese post-mortal cosmology; third, city gods and the significance of Anxi City God Temple (Anxi Chenghuangmiao) in China; and fourth, an analysis of societal catalysts triggering religious change to explain the increasing popularity and channelling of Underworld deities in Singapore and Malaysia. Moving on to terminology, the decision to use ‘Chinese vernacular religion’ to describe the religion of the masses over either ‘folk religion’ or ‘popular religion’ is explained. The chapter concludes by explaining the composition and divisible nature of the human soul in Chinese cosmology; the process of deification whereby a human soul can achieve post-mortal deity status; and how a deity can be promoted, demoted, and exist in multiple pantheons.