The Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of History Department of History
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Research Grants/Awards

Title of Project:
Between Ghost and Ancestor: Grand Universal Salvation Rituals (萬緣勝會) of the Cantonese Chinese in South China, Hong Kong and the British Strait Settlements

Total Fund Awarded:
HK$619,971

Principal Investigator:
Professor CHOI Chi Cheung, Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Funding Source:
RGC General Research Fund 2011/12

Abstract of Research:
        This project studies the Grand Universal Salvation Rituals celebrated by the Cantonese Chinese in South China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. The Ritual was a response to the late 19th and early 20th century anti-superstition movement in China. Instead of pacifying wandering ghosts annually in the lunar 7th moon, the Ritual which shared similar religious function was publicized as a memorial event and organized irregularly by public Institutions. It was adopted by the Cantonese migrants in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia since the 20th century. The Ritual was organized in Hong Kong until the 1960s and is still organized by the Cantonese Chinese Institutions in the former British Straits Settlements, including Penang, Malacca and Singapore. This project will use an historical anthropological approach to reconstruct the history and current practices of the Ritual, from South China to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. It aims to find out how the deaths are remembered or forgotten by the Chinese overseas from the late 19th century to present day. I shall further discuss how popular religion as a cultural resource facilitates the consolidation of an ethnic community and as a mechanism to solve ritual dilemma of the Overseas Chinese majority of whom cannot afford an ancestral hall to accommodate spirits of remote distance.

        Ritual is a living tradition. It demonstrates human creative genius, and it is a means of affirming cultural identity of the communities concerned. However, it is also encounters rapid changes because of the process of modernization. The objectives of this project therefore are two:

1. to document the history of the Grand Universal Salvation Rituals in South China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia and
2. to understand the ritual foundation of Chinese cultural identities in the overseas.