AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 299

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Session 299: Contemporary Haunting: How Ghosts Reconfigure Space, Memory, and the State in East Asia

Organizer: Wei-ping Lin, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Chair: Laurel Kendall, American Museum of Natural History, USA

Discussant: Laurel Kendall, American Museum of Natural History, USA

The imagery associated with ghosts --loneliness, suffering, and death--connotes the deepest fears of human beings, while the ghost’s erratic and insatiable nature mirrors our changeability, ambivalence, and desires. Thus, traditional cosmology situates ghosts in places where they can interact with humans but usually keep a safe distance from them. In contemporary times, however, expansion of the economy and state has increasingly caused humans to encroach upon and disrupt the world of ghosts, whose dislocations convey the anxiety, distortion and absurdity of the modern world. In this panel, we will re-examine issues of space, memory, and the state in terms of the relations between living people and ghosts. We will start with Wei-Ping Lin’s paper in which she explores the spatial separation between humans and ghosts and their mutual desire to penetrate each other’s boundaries in an exploitative way by describing a case in which people beg ghosts for lottery number predictions. Seong-Nae Kim discusses how shamanistic rituals preserved the hidden memories of the Jeju Island Massacre which prefigured the Korean War in 1950; the state’s recent public commemoration of this event competes to impose its own meaning on Korean suffering. D. J. Hatfield investigates ghost objects--hanging ropes, implements of accidental death, and pieces of clothing--to show how ghosts become entangled with urban redevelopment and national commemoration in Taiwan. Together, we aim to explore the multi-faceted and changing nature of ghosts and how they can enrich our understanding of the modern world.

Wei-ping Lin, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Some men in Wannian, a village in southwestern Taiwan, are so fond of gambling that they are not afraid to come into contact with ghosts and ask them for lottery number predictions. They often gather in the ghost temples outside the village to negotiate for numbers. One day, a man decided to take a serious risk: in order to communicate more directly with the ghosts so as to get the correct lottery number, he dared to spend a night in the temple of the mother-and-daughter ghosts -- the fiercest ghosts in the area but also legendarily the most efficacious. It is said that the next day several people observed him frightened almost into a state of paralysis, crawling back to the village! When asked what had happened, he trembled and replied: “the ghost mother said that only when I ‘marry in’ her family (zhaozhui) will she give me the number!” This story has been deployed by Wannian villagers as a warning to those who want to establish relationships with ghosts in order to benefit from them. This story illumines many aspects of human-ghost relationships. In this paper, I shall first give an illustration of the spatial separation between people and ghosts. Second, I will discuss the relevant ritual practices to show the acceptable interactions between them. I shall then investigate how much both human beings and ghosts desire to penetrate each other's boundaries in new and unorthodox ways, and show how these considerations shed light on the Chinese conception of the supernatural world.

Seong-nae Kim, Sogang University, South Korea

The Jeju Island Massacre of 1948 prefigured the Korean War in 1950 and the ideological battle of the Cold War. After Korean nation's division, anti-communism in the South effectively silenced the public memory of the Jeju Massacre for over half century, with the exception of the massacred dead speaking through shamans. During the military dictatorship before the 1990's democratization process, shamanic rituals were the only vehicle for expressing these hidden memories of massacre. Tragic deaths of family ancestors were textualized and historicized in a shamanic ritual genre called younggye ullim, or "laments of the dead." The shamanic ritual of calling the names of ghosts keeps intact family memory of the violent event. On the other hand, the recent public commemoration of the victims of the Jeju Massacre reconstitutes public memory of the event, inverting its meaning into political agenda of democratization. This paper examines contestations over the meaning of collective death and suffering between family and public memory of the Jeju Massacre in contemporary Korean history.

Donald John W. Hatfield, Berklee College of Music, USA

In this essay I trace the circulation of ghost objects—bones, hanging ropes, implements of accidental death, pieces of clothing, and paper money—showing how ghosts became entangled with urban redevelopment and national commemoration on Taiwan. During the last two decades, planners transformed Taiwanese cities as they repurposed urban spaces to make way for leafy parks, fine public buildings, and other markers of Taiwan's "cultural" status. In Lukang, a large cemetery was redeveloped as land for the new town hall, an athletic field, and the 2/28 Memorial Peace Park. Ironically, remains of 18th and 19th century townspeople were thus exhumed to commemorate a 20th century national trauma. When accidents and acute health problems beset contractors and administrators, rumors suggested that the new public spaces were out of place. Rather than focusing on the identity of the ghosts, such rumors centered on the displacement or improper treatment of physical remains. Alternatively, they focused on ruptures in normative means of exchange with ghosts. If these normative means of exchange created a geography in which ghosts had a proper place, ruptures in these exchanges figured anxieties about the place of Lukang as a heritage site in Taiwan’s national imagination, an imagination in which ghosts serve as the focus of tourist spectacles. Thus in their circulation ghost objects establish spaces of representation that are not so much opposed to national spatial representations as entangled with them, creating an uncanny otherness that provides in its economy resources for critique.