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So far we have been looking at the ritual aspects of the family as similar or identical with those of the village. The village has patron gods, and so does the family. The village offers them sacrifices, and so does the family. In this way the village indebts the god to it, and the same is true for the family. When disaster befalls, the village exorcises it. So does the family.
But let us not press the analogy too far. A family, after all, is not just a shrunken village, nor is a village merely an inflated family. There are, in the family, certain principles of social organization which are not normally an important focus of life at the village level, and prime among these is the ideology of the descent line.
We saw earlier that the descent line, and the idiom of caring for the elderly and deceased, was a vital part of the imagery of family life. We saw that in an attempt to approximate the ideal of a continuous descent line, Taiwanese resort to social fictions, such as adoption, when nature does not provide male offspring. When we turn our attention to ghosts and exorcism we find that the same principles arise, for persons who die without having descendants, that is, without becoming a link in a continuous descent line, are to be deprived of the offerings their descendants would normally provide, to be tragically impoverished in the land of shades, and to make all possible efforts to induce the living to take note of their condition and, if possible, to correct it.
Normally, little attention is paid to such spirits. In a sense they come into existence only when they are needed to explain a disaster. But should disaster occur, the medium need only find one of to have died without offspring, or for other reasons to be without a descent line, and a ghost is immediately reified as the disaster. These structural anomalies are explanations in posse, which can be actualized when there is need for supernatural explanation.
How does one choose between a family ghost as an explanation for disaster and general ghosts of the kind we have just been discussing? Taiwanese answer that it depends on what kind of ghost happens to be causing the trouble, which is revealed by gods through divination. Behaviorally, however, regularities emerge that do not require either ghosts or gods for their explanation.
The most common disaster interpreted as involving supernaturals is sickness. When somebody is sick, one gives him household remedies, or other medicines recommended by a traditional herbalist or a Western-style druggist If recovery is not prompt, or if it is followed by relapse, a doctor is consulted, who administers Western-style medicine.1 It is only when medical science has been tried and has failed, or when the patient is troubled by disease after disease in rapid succession, or when several members of the family become sick with different diseases that supernatural causes are considered, and a supernatural is consulted.
Footnote 1. I insist on the term Western-style rather than simply Western because, although the commodities are themselves of Western invention and often Western manufacture, their application is somewhat different. Because many drugs are openly available in Táiwān which are sold only on prescription in the West, many Taiwanese readily use medicine more powerful than is usual in, say, the United States. Further, since instructions are normally not in Chinese or are not read (or both), there is a generally poor relation between drug and complaint. Doctors vary widely in licensing and quality, and rural people do not differentiate very precisely between a "doctor" trained for two months in the 1930s and one with a degree from an American or Japanese medical school trained in the 1960s. In general, doctors are perceived as people who give shots, and a session with a doctor which does not involve getting a shot is thought by many to be wasted money. Typically, the doctor's fee is based on his sale of medicine or a shot to the patient, and this may in certain cases also influence diagnosis and treatment. Impressive progress has been made and is being made in medical services in Táiwān, but it would he wrong to suppose that the presence or use of Western-style medical products implies either a standard of medical service or level and direction of popular knowledge comparable with that in the homelands of these products.
There is a tendency for some mediums to favor certain kinds of explanation. We have seen that if a man consults a kiō-á read by Guō Màodé, he is apt to find he needs a Xiètǔ. If he consults a certain medium in nearly Jiālǐ, it is likely that he is troubled by a family ghost. However, to be troubled by a family ghost he must first have a family ghost; that is, he must have a deceased family member who for some reason is outside a descent line. If he knows there is such a one among his family dead and he suspects it is the cause of his problems, he is likely to go to a medium whose god is known to be capable in handling family ghosts. If he does not have one, and suspects that he needs a Xiètǔ directed to more generalized forces of malice, he may consult Màodé.2 And often he consults several different oracles, trying to develop consensus among them or (seen another way) a solution he can live with.
Footnote 2. Màodé, by the way, also gives penicillin shots for a moderate fee.
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Let us now turn our attention to some specific instances of families being haunted by ghosts of their deceased members and the ways in which these problems are solved. We might conveniently start by considering a phenomenon called by the Chinese "hell marriage" 冥婚 which we might more happily designate "spirit marriage" after the term most commonly used to designate the bride, "female spirit" 女鬼.3
Footnote 3. The more literary and more precise term is "lonely maiden" 孤娘, pronounced homonymously with the term for "young maiden" 姑娘 as Gūniáng / ko·-niûn. The homonymy is dramatic, but can be confusing enough in spoken language to explain the preference for the term "female"spirit in Bǎo'ān.
Spirit marriage occurs when a girl who has died in childhood appears to her family in a dream some years later and asks to be married.4 A groom is found by the family by laying "bait" in the middle of a road. This usually takes the form of a red envelope (used in China for gifts of money). A passer-by sooner or later picks up the envelope, and immediately the family of the spirit come out of hiding beside the road and announce to the young man that he is the chosen bridegroom. If he refuses, he is of course in danger of vengeance by the ghost, but his enthusiasm for the venture can be increased by an offer of a large dowry if necessary.5 The ghost is married to him in a rite designed to resemble an ordinary wedding as closely as possible, although the bride is represented only by an ancestral tablet. No affinity is established between the groom and his spirit-wife's family in this way, and the only obligation he and his family have is to accommodate the ancestral tablet of the bride on their family altar and to provide it with sacrifices as though the spirit bride had married in life.
Footnote 4. Some of the following material on spirit marriage is also examined in Jordan 1971b.
Footnote 5. Wú Yíngtāo (1970: 143) reports that in some cases the natal family hires a go-between to find a poor country lad as husband, rewarding him with such a generous dowry that he can use it as brideprice when he takes a human bride later. I know of no such cases in Bǎo'ān, but the variant seems credible. Eberhard (1968:153) notes at least one case in antiquity of a ritually dangerous parcel being passed on by leaving it on the ground for an ill-starred finder. Apparently the custom is not confined to postmortal matchmaking.
This at least seems to be the traditional form, and it is the form of spirit marriage described by Li (1968) on the basis of his fieldwork in Zhānghuà. In Bǎo'ān and the surrounding area spirit marriage occurs differently. The ghost seldom appears in a dream to her parents to demand a husband. In the cases with which I am familiar she strikes misfortune upon her natal family or the families of her married sisters. This usually takes the form of sickness of one or more family members. When the sickness is not cured by ordinary means, the family turns to divination and learns of the plight of the ghost through a seance. Usually several sessions are held with different gods before a marriage is finally agreed to by the living. The most common oracle to which problems of spirit marriage are put is the female medium of a so-called Little God6 in Jiālǐ. This particular god's tâng-ki specializes in spirit marriages and has a stock of equipment for their performance which can be rented by the day. Therefore, in deciding to consult the Little God, an individual or a family is fairly clearly anticipating a spirit marriage, and it will be one of my assumptions in what follows that a spirit marriage is initiated by the family involved.
Footnote 6. The term "little god" 小神 is used to refer to divinized spirits of local people, whose oracles are consulted primarily by women for information on the rearing of children and other of the family's affairs that are entirely or largely under the governance of women. We shall have more to say of them later on.
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Another point in which spirit marriage in Bǎo'ān differs from the spirit marriage Li describes is that in recent years virtually all bridegrooms have been the husbands of married sisters of the ghost brides. This is a point we shall consider in detail below.
Finally, the ritual itself has been elaborated somewhat in Bǎo'ān (and other villages that have access to the Little God), for the bride is no longer represented only by her ancestral tablet, but by a paper, wood, and cloth dummy, who represents her ina more graphic way and, to me at least, increases her dramatic value considerably.
In his book on Taiwanese customs, Lín Cáiyuán (1968) has described "hell marriage" as dying out (p. 110). During the time I lived in Bǎo'ān, however, such marriages were enjoying great popularity throughout the region., And although informants often could not recollect similar marriages from their childhood, everyone seemed aware of their frequency at the present time.
But spirit marriage, for all its "popularity" in southwestern Táiwān today, is not something local people take pride in as they are proud, say, of lunar New Year or of the triennial festival at Xīgǎng. On the contrary it is rather a shameful thing. Lóu Zǐkuāng (1968: 24) writes:
… in Taiwanese custom having a deceased, maiden daughter is a shameful business. When one's daughter dies, she is buried in a simple grave, and her ancestral tablet is then put in a secluded place in the house, such as the room where she slept when she was still alive or behind some door, to guard against other people finding it.7
Footnote 7. 在台灣民俗中， 有孤娘的是很可耻的事， 他們自己的女兒死了， 極簡單地埋葬之後， 就將其神位另外擺在屋裏的僻處， 倒如她生前睡的屋子裏； 或者某個門後； 以防別人的發現。
Arthur Wolf (personal communication) reports similar attitudes in northern Táiwān:
In the Sanhsia area [of Tǎiběi county] most families place the tablet of an unmarried girl in a back room because "it looks so bad to have an unmarried girl's tablet on the altar." The motive for a ghost marriage is to remove the unsightly tablet from the house.
Accordingly, and to my frustration, I would often learn of a spirit marriage only some days after the event. The two recorded here were examples I stumbled onto after about a year and a half of residence in the village. When I left the village, a third potential groom was negotiating with the ghost to avoid marriage with her. All three follow very nearly exactly the same form, which I understand is typical for this region at this time.
In both spirit marriages described below the bride's family lived in Bǎo'ān, and, as it happened, both grooms lived in the same nearby village, and both confirmed the oracle of the Little God through the same god, Yáng Fǔ Tàishī 楊府太師,8 who is the patron of their village. These particular points of similarity can probably be taken to be coincidence.
Footnote 8. The form Tàishī appears to be a localism, the more general form of the god's title being Yáng Fǔ Dàshī 楊府大師, "Great Master Yáng."
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The bride, in the first instance, was the spirit of a woman who would have been in her middle forties had she not died in her first year of life. After her death her mother bore another girl who grew up and was married to a man in a village some ten kilometers from Bǎo'ān. This same husband of the spirit's younger sister was the groom selected by the spirit for her "hell marriage." Here is a summary of his account of the experience
Three or four years ago I had a dream of a woman At the same time things were not going very well with my family. I told my mother about the dream, and she went to the Little God in Jiālǐ The Little God revealed that there was a ghost from a certain place haunting me. The Little God simply gave me some incense ash to eat and told me to offer some cups of tea and worship in such and such a direction asking for peace. At that time I was incredulous, and unwilling to believe in what I couldn't see. Later on my mother asked the Little God several more times. One time the Little God said that a female spirit wanted to me. Of course no one wants to marry a spirit! You only marry a spirit when there is nothing else you can do. When I heard that a spirit wanted to marry me, I was very skeptical. Could such a thing really happen? I wanted to get to the bottom of the, business, so I invited the god Yáng Fǔ Tàishī [to activate a divining instrument in a séance] so I could ask.
The first time he came, Yáng Fǔ Tàishī said it was correct that the spirit was from a certain place, and he promised to help me and make her leave. After the séance I went to my wife's mother's house in Bǎo'ān to ask her opinion about it; things were not going very well there either, because of the spirit.
From then on for almost three years I did not visit my wife's mother not because I didn't like my mother-in-law, but because I thought perhaps if I avoided going there the ghost would leave by herself and would stop coming to haunt me. Later the people in my family began getting sick. Whenever this happened I would go to the Buddhist temple and get some incense ash and they would get well. We paid no attention to the spirit. But although we would take medicine or eat incense ash and then get well, still sickness and other problems kept coming back.
About eight or nine months before I got married to the spirit I had a dream about her in which she let me see her body. I had another séance with Yáng Fǔ Tàishī and asked him to help in inducing the spirit to leave. This time Yáng Fǔ Tàishī said I should have to marry her, so I went to Bǎo'ān and told my wife's mother, and with Quánshuǐ 全水 [the younger brother of the ghost] I went to Jiālǐ to ask the Little God about it. The Little God said the ghost did not demand an elaborate wedding; just a simple affair would do. The day was selected by Yáng Fǔ Tàishī because he is the patron god of our village, and I wanted him to be sort of host in the whole business. After all, a spirit is something we cannot see. If you are going to marry a spirit, how do you know it is the right spirit? If it is the wrong one, then later on things become even more troublesome, so the reason for inviting the host god of my village on the wedding day was to make sure it was the right spirit; and the divination instrument of Yáng Fǔ Tàishī led the bride's taxi. Since the wedding with the spirit, the family has been very peaceful, and nothing unfortunate has happened.
Yáng Fǔ Tàishī says the spirit was haunting me as much as twenty-four years ago. At that time she was about nineteen. Even then I used to get sick, but was cured with Western medicine or, if that didn't work, I got a bit of incense ash from the Buddhist temple and ate it, and then I would recover. I never thought I was being haunted until I had the first dream.
The second case is similar to the first. The groom was named Dàtóu 大頭.This time, however, there were two brides, both of them deceased younger sisters of the groom's wife. Dàtóu's wife, named Xiùyuè 秀月, was from Bǎo'ān. Xiùyuè was thirty-six years old, had been married to Dàtóu for nearly fourteen years, and had several healthy children. About a year before the ghost wedding she became subject to periods of illness characterized by weariness and aches. Western medicine, the family maintained, did not seem to help her, and although she never considered herself to be especially religious, she was persuaded by friends and neighbbrs to consult an oracle. She selected the Little God of Jiālǐ. The Little God, not unpredictably, announced that she was sick because a spirit in her home wanted to marry her husband, Dàtóu. Dàtóu relates that he did not believe this, so he went to Jiālǐ to consult the Little God once more, who repeated the information. At length a divination session was held with Yáng Fǔ Tàishī. The results were about the same as in the first case. Yáng Fǔ Tàishī was implored to drive the ghost away, but finally declared that the only thing to do was marry the spirit and have done with it. Dàtóu accordingly agreed to marry the ghost. It is not clear just when he learned that there were two ghosts involved, but presumably it made no particular difference to him. As soon as he agreed to marry the ghost Xiùyuè recovered. Things went well for a couple of months, and he decided that perhaps the marriage would be unnecessary. At this Xiùyuè fell ill again, and another interview with Yáng Fǔ Tàishī convinced them that the marriage was indeed a business to be taken seriously.
Meanwhile, Xiùyuè's family in Bǎo'ān was holding divinations of its own, although I do not know the details of these. They learned from them that Xiùyuè's two deceased younger sisters both wanted to be married. One wanted to marry Dàdóu, and the other wanted to place an envelope in the road in the usual way. This was done, but the groom so selected did not please the ghost, who backed out of the agreement, and decided to marry Dàtóu too. According to Dàtóu, the family later learned that the groom selected by placing an envelope on the road was "a hoodlum who never does any work and just goofs around all the time." Perhaps more to the point, he was from a village with which Bǎo'ān has long had rather chilly relations.
The reader is best equipped to understand the unique features of a spirit marriage rite if he is familiar with such rites among the living. These have been described in detail elsewhere.9 For present purposes it is enough to know the following. At an appointed hour on the day selected for the wedding the groom and members of his family appear in a fleet of taxis to meet the bride at her house and take her to the groom's house.10 Before she leaves the house, she and the groom bow before the bride's ancestral tablets. She is escorted to the taxi with a rice-winnowing basket held over her head to screen her from the view of heaven, so that her absence from her traditional home will not be noticed until after she is integrated into her new home. With her come her parents and other family members, who will be the guests for the day at the house of the young husband.
Footnote 9. Gallin 1966: 204-213, Nĝ 1955: 41-67 (English edition: 62-96), Lín Cáiyuán 1968: 62-111.
Footnote 10. The use of a palanquin to carry a bride to her husband's house is extinct in Táiwān in all but a very few mountainous areas at the time of this writing. Apparently this ancient method of nuptial transport has been successfully replaced by taxis in the short space of ten to twenty years, for even middle-aged women report they were carried to their husband's house in sedan chairs. The hour of the groom's arrival is important to the success of his married life and is ordinarily selected by a professional almanac interpreter.
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On arrival at the groom's house, the bride and her party are welcomed very formally, even stiffly, and served a banquet to which the groom's friends and relatives are invited. At the groom's house the bride and groom bow before the groom's ancestral tablets to symbolize her new position as a member of his line.
When the bride is a spirit, the rites are somewhat different and include repeated symbolization of the status of the marriage as appeasement to a deceased spirit. Here is a description of part of the rites for the first spirit marriage described above.
For the ceremony itself the bride was represented by means of a dummy of paper and cloth. She had a head made from a picture of a smiling young girl clipped from a wall calendar. This was pasted to a narrow strip of wood, which formed the backbone. Arms were made from padded newspaper and were jointed at the shoulders to allow them to be lifted in dressing her. She wore a pair of trousers and a skirt of white, then a red dress, covered over with a white lace outer dress that was considered part of the red dress.11 This counted as three layers of clothing. On her feet were red children's shoes. Her hands were made of white gloves, stuffed with newspaper, and then decorated with numerous gold-colored bracelets and rings of the> same kind that a real bride would wear, except that real brides use real gold. Round her neck dangled a gold pendant, also imitating the costume of living brides. The figure was seated, and measured perhaps seventy or eighty centimeters from her shoes to the top of her veiled head. Her head, and her hands even more, were out of proportion with the rest of her, and her face smiled in a way most unseemly for a Chinese bride.
Footnote 11. Most spirit brides, like most modern living brides, wear white. Red is a traditional wedding color, however, and the use of red together white made a perfectly credible and recognizable wedding dress.
Early in the morning of the day she was to be taken to her new home, the dummy of the bride was moved into the central room of the house and seated facing the door with her back to the family altar. The ancestral tablet, which had been kept in the shrine box with the other family tablets, was carefully removed and inserted into the figure of the bride, so that it rested inside her, invisible from outside. In this way the bride's dummy was animated with the ghost that was to be married.
In the central room of nearly every rural Taiwanese house stands an altar. At the center of it is an incense pot in which joss sticks can be placed to honor the gods. At the left end of the altar are the family's ancestral tablets, usually enclosed in an outer shrine box, behind a separate incense pot. Incense can also be burned in a censer hanging just inside and above the front door. Normal sacrifices of incense in these places are one or three joss sticks. Throughout the time the bride sat in the central room of the house, rows of seven sticks were kept burning in all three places, and in addition powdered incense smoldered in a pot placed on a tray bearing money and other of the smaller items from her dowry.
The dowry consisted of 14,000 Kuài ($350) in cash, three suitcases full of clothing and cloth, several bound parcels containing, I was told, "similar items," and sundry foods used in worship. In addition there were symbolic bits of charcoal, leeks, cigarettes, and other items conventionally exchanged between marrying families and symbolizing long life, fertility, etc.12
Footnote 12. For a discussion of ritual exchanges related to dowry and bride-wealth, see Nĝ 1955: 52 f. (English edition: 73-75), Lín Cáiyuán 1968: 85-90.
The groom arrived at the appointed hour of the forenoon by taxi. He wore black rather than white gloves, but was in every other way indistinguishable from any other groom. The bride was escorted to a waiting taxi, her head being shielded from the heavens with a rice-winnowing basket, in every way like those used for ordinary brides, save somewhat smaller and bearing a yellow paper charm, said to be written by the divining stylus of Yáng Fǔ Tàishī, with the words "Rice-Sieve of Peace" 安米台.13
Footnote 13. This is the usual name for a sieve used in a wedding, the object of its use being, as noted above, to screen the bride from heavenly sight. The paper charm is novel to ghost marriages, to the best of my knowledge, although it seemed intended more as a label than as a charm. The Taiwanese term for such a sieve is an-bí-thai, and it is properly written 安米篩. The simplified writing used on the charm can be read homonymously in Taiwanese, although not in Mandarin.
In a separate taxi rode the divining stylus of Yáng Fǔ Tàishī and his statue. It was he, of course, who had overseen the engagement, had finally given in to the ghost, and had fixed the day for the marriage, a day, I might add, satisfactory by the Chinese almanac.
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The marriage included a feast at the house of the groom, as do all weddings. On the second day, there was also a feast at the house of the bride's family, again following the pattern of all weddings. With this the marriage was accomplished. The ancestral tablet was removed from the dummy bride and placed among those of the groom's family on his altar. The three layers of clothing were removed and returned to the establishment that leased them. And the remainder of the dummy, including the artificial gold rings and bracelets, was burned.14
Footnote 14. Burning is the usual method of sending items to the supernatural world. Messages are sent to the gods this way. Temple money is sent aloft by burning, and clothes, houses, and other possessions for the dead are communicated to them by burning. rt is not clear that the body of the dummy bride was being sent anywhere, except perhaps as one might reason that her presence was no longer required and her ghost was being sent back to the misty regions it came from. Burning in any case does not imply disrespect. The dummy was being treated as a sacred object, not as trash.
Although the rites associated with a ghost marriage are similar to those of an ordinary marriage among the living, they are not exactly the same, for at every turn one is reminded that bride is dead, and that she is aggressive and potentially dangerous The following points are noteworthy.
It was emphasized that the bride wore three suits of clothing, although it would have been possible to count them as four. To the best of my knowledge the number of layers of clothing one wears as a bride is unimportant, but the number of layers of clothing that swathe a corpse can be crucial. If this is so, then it becomes important that the ladies of the household who had charge of preparing the dummy felt obliged to point out to me that she wore three layers of clothing, for what in effect was being said was not (or not only) that she was a proper bride, but that she was a proper corpse!
The quantity of incense in the central hall of the house would be unnecessary for an ordinary wedding, although some incense would be offered. The sticks of incense used in the various braziers were in groups of seven. I know of no rule that governs the number of sticks of incense offered in a censer, except that it be an odd number. However when offering wine, three or five cups are used for gods, seven, nine, or eleven for ancestors. By a transfer of this reasoning to incense, it is possible that the use of seven sticks of incense in each brazier emphasized the position of the bride as a deceased family member. There was also a pot of powdered incense on the dowry tray. Powdered incense is used in the worship of gods and ancestors during sacrifices, but it is most generally associated with purification by smoke. Incense offerings by guests at funerals, however, are always made with powdered rather than stick incense.
The groom wore black gloves. The normal color would be white, and although white would ordinarily be the color of mourning, apparently it symbolizes nothing at all in the case of a bridegroom because he is dressed in Western clothing, and white gloves are a part of the Western costume being imitated. In switching to black gloves, however, something seems to be symbolized, for black Chinese, as in most languages, has associations with darkness, evil, and secrecy. In Mandarin one speaks of "black and white" 黑白, meaning wrong and right, or of a "black curtain" 黑幕, referring to devious practices performed in secrecy. In Taiwanese one can speak of something as "white white white" 白白白, very white or immaculate, whereas something "black black black" 黑黑黑 is not only very black, but very dirty. Fierce gods, such as plague gods, are often represented with black faces;15 corpses are thought of as black, particularly if they have died by drowning (a most horrible death in Chinese eyes as we have seen, and one productive of equally impressive ghosts). Indians are imagined to be black, and I have been told they are the ugliest people in the world. One Chinese scholar passing through Chicago confessed to being so nauseated on seeing Negroes in O'Hare Airport that he was unable to eat his dinner when it was served by a Negro waitress. In wearing black gloves the groom is prepared for black business: a wedding with the dead.
Footnote 15. Curiously, the goddess Māzǔ is also represented with a black face in some instances.
Perhaps the culminating point of this grotesquerie, however —for the Taiwanese do indeed consider ghost weddings to be rather a morbid business— was the smile on the face of the bride. On the original Japanese wall calendar such a smile against a background of pagodas or spring blossoms may have been very attractive. Transferred to a ghost bride, it became a sneer of triumph, for Chinese brides never smile. Smiling, it is maintained, would be immodest, and the correct attitude for a bride is one of great embarrassment at the proceedings. A Taiwanese bride is said to feel pháin-sè 歹勢: embarrassed, awkward, intrusive, in a word, gauche, and her eyes are kept downcast and her head lowered. Yet the face selected for the ghost bride does exactly what no bride would do or be allowed to do: it peers into the eyes of the beholder, and grins.
In these ways a consistent difference is maintained between a spirit marriage and an ordinary wedding. The stain of death is kept constantly before the eye, and the reminder that the wedding is a dirty but necessary business, rather than a truly joyful occasion, is expressed over and over again. It is merely a way of appeasing an aggressive and triumphant ghost.
What is happening in these cases? The family is first faced with a problem: illness. They also have a deceased, unwed girl in the family, or, as is the case in the present examples, in the wife's natal family. The medium puts these two facts together and decides that the ghost is causing the illness, and adds that her motivation in the illness is that she wishes to be married. The cure is to her so she will stop making a nuisance of herself and retreat 'to ghostly oblivion where she belongs.
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The credibility of such an explanation and such a proposed course of action in the eyes of the participants hangs on a number of things. There is first, of course, the belief in ghosts and the belief that ghosts can make one sick. The remainder of the diagnosis and the prescribed cure follow from this, if we first note certain facts about the treatment of woman in Taiwanese society.
I mentioned the simplicity in which a child is buried. I overstated the case somewhat by concentrating upon infants and young children. With a young man, who is older but unmarried, another solution becomes more frequent and socially more graceful: he is allowed to adopt a son post-mortally, who then adopts the necessary ritual obligations toward his deceased "father," including serving as chief mourner at his funeral. This was done for Guō Tōngmíng 郭通明, who died orphaned and unwed at the age of thirty after several years of illness. He was the fourth of five sons and lived in a little hut near the house of his eldest brother. After Tōngmíng died, his brother "gave" Tōngmíng two of his own sons, and they will have the duty of making sacrifices to their adopted father for the rest of their lives, although the adoption will have no effect upon their legal status as sons of their biological rather, nor on their claim to his inheritance, nor on their residence or emotional attachments.16 It is a matter of form only; a convenient fiction to provide Tōngmíng's spirit with descendants able to worship him and to maintain the history of the family in accord with the proper blueprint for families.
Footnote 16. The relationship of elder brother is irrelevant in the present case. The problem was to find a son for Tōngmíng, and any relative with an abundance of male offspring could equally well have contributed one of them to the cause.
If the deceased is younger, a son might be adopted for him later if the family feels a need to do so; that is, if there is evidence his ghost is dissatisfied.
But this cannot be done with girls who die early, for, for a woman takes her descent-line membership from her husband. No husband, no descendants, and no participation in the ritual of ancestor worship, either as an ancestor or, during ancient times, even as a worshipper. The Later-Han Confucian commentator Zhèng Xuán 鄭玄 (A.D. 127-200) writes: "Those who die early, who die before eighteen so they have not yet taken husbands, do not take part in the rites while they are alive, and to do so after death would also be a breach of proper behavior." (quoted by Lóu Zǐkuāng 1968: 23).17 If her spirit is to be worshipped by an unending line of descendants, she simply has to have a husband. This, informants say, is why a deceased spirit wants to be married.18 In short, the reason female children should become ghosts may well lie in the possibility of adopting fictive offspring for male children, a process impossible for females because a woman can have children only in the line of her husband, and if there is no husband, she has no line.19
Footnote 17. 殤， 十九以下未嫁而死者， 生不禮相接， 死而合之， 是亦亂人倫 者也。
Footnote 18. Li (1958: 98) writes: "… there has never been a ghost bridegroom, but always a ghost bride. … I found that if a boy died before he married, and comes back to his parents in a dream, he would not ask them to find a bride, rather he would ask them to find an offspring for him, possibly from one of his brother's sons or any classified nephew. In this way he would be entitled to have a place in the family shrine with many of his forebears. … In such a patrilineal society as China, a girl who died young is not allowed to have a place in her own parents' family shrine, thus she has to find a husband in order to have a proper position in this world. Conversely, a boy can occupy a place in the shrine of his natal family only when he has an adopted heir."
Footnote 19. This hypothesis predicts that adoptions of children should occur for males regardless of age at death, whereas unwed females should be available to serve as explanatory ghosts regardless of their age at death. I do not know of any actual instances of male children who died in childhood demanding adopted progeny later on, although Li, cited above, says that they exist. Similarly, I know of no actual instances of girls who died childhood or early adulthood demanding mates after death. On the contrary the ghost brides I am familiar with died as infants. Yet both of instances should occur theoretically, and one could feel more comfortable about the proposed sex difference in ghosts if such examples could be found.
There are subordinate problems. (There are always subordinate problems.) There is little point in examining them in detail here because most of them are not really relevant to the main point and because the data in hand simply are not enough for us to make decisions about the validity of one hypothesis as opposed to another. I cannot resist a short excursion into one of the most important of these issues, however: why should a ghost want to marry her sister's husband? It is not a necessary match, and informants insist it is a recent development. It is possible that sisters' husbands were occasionally chosen in the past, but now it has become a preferred form. Why the sister's husband? Why a change?
We might begin by noticing that there has been a change in who is suffering from the attacks of the ghosts. Presumably under the system as Li describes it, a family, under pressure from the ghost of an unmarried daughter, seeks a husband for her. A man would never go to a medium and be told he was sick because of an anonymous ghost and that he had best pick up a red envelope on a road somewhere. The initiative in the traditional practice comes from the ghost's family.
In the Bǎo'ān region, by contrast, it is often the married sister or her husband who falls sick. In the Bǎo'ān cases it is the groom-to-be who initiates the wedding on the basis of his own illness or an illness of his wife or children. We can distinguish two types of spirit marriage. In the first type the offending ghost is from the victim's family circle and must be found a husband. The way to find a husband (any husband will do) is to leave a red envelope on the road. In the second type the offending ghost is from outside the family group in which the victim is living, and the problem is not to find a husband for the ghost but to find a ghost for the husband! The question in this latter case is not really (or not primarily) why the ghost picks her sister's husband as a groom, but why the groom feels (or can be made by the oracle to feel) that his wife's sister wants to marry him. If a family can randomly seek a husband for a daughter's ghost, why can one not randomly seek a ghost for one's own illness? And, indeed, if type-two marriages are new, or even merely on the rise, how do we explain the change?
One attractive hypothesis arises if we take the view of the medium. A client arrives suffering from illness, and we know that each deceased unwed sister or daughter is a potential cause. These are of course limited in number. If we are free to use his wife's sisters as well, we have increased the chances of being able to find a deceased, unwed girl who has not already been post-mortally married, and thereby we have increased our chances of delivering our client from his misery, and incidentally of being able to lease equipment for a spirit marriage to the client.
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If we take this view, then it becomes the more interesting that informants report the custom to be more prominent in recent years. Remembering that villages tend to have heavy surname clusterings and that surnames are exogamous groups, most marriages take place between villages. It may be that the supply of deceased, unwed girls of a village gets used up in a period of popular enthusiasm for this kind of explanation. They must then be replaced as more babies die over a period of years, or they must be supplemented by changing the explanation so as to allow the introduction of other dead babies from villages where the fashion has not come at the same time; hence the admission of deceased sisters of wives whose natal families live in other villages where the supply of deceased, unwed girls has not been used up.
If this is possible, a clever medium or two in one or two villages near Bǎo'ān might simply have discovered a principle that allows the use of deceased unwed girls from other villages after the local supply is gone. It would, of course, take far more examples to begin to entertain such a notion seriously rather than speculatively.
Another argument, whether or not we choose to take seriously the somewhat conspiratorial reasoning just outlined,20 is that in recent years the greater say of young people in marriage arrangements has resulted in closer ties between affines, so that a husband's family ties now include his wife's family to the extent that it has become more credible for imperfections in her family to make him ill.
Footnote 20. Note that nothing in the argument implies conscious decision on the part of a medium to defraud anyone. It is convenient to speak of a medium making a selection of possible explanations and the like, but I do not imply that any bad faith is involved. On the contrary, I have the impression that the vast majority of rural tâng-ki believe very firmly in the divine origin of their revelations.
We might also investigate intermediate types of Taiwanese spirit marriage. One of the ghosts that ultimately married Dàtóu, after all, began as a type-one ghost and ended up as a type-two ghost; how separate, therefore, can the two types be except analytically? Is the distinction possible, given the amount of communication in Táiwān today? How similar can the types become? Is it really accurate to associate marriage between the ghost and her sister's husband only with type-two marriage, or is it in fact becoming common in type-one marriages as well?
I mention these problems more because they suggest interesting questions for further consideration and research than because of their pressing relevance to our main interest here. In all instances of spirit marriage the theology (or more exactly the eschatology) is the same. There are shades who suffer if they have no descendants; women have descendants only through their husbands; spirits cause illness to draw attention to themselves; and the like. The point is that those ghosts used to explain family disaster are the shades of persons who are social-structurally anomalous, and the way the disaster is alleviated is by changing their status so they and the living may rest in peace.
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In the previous section we saw that spirit attack was used as an explanation of illness when the family contained some structural irregularity that could reasonably be thought to be dissatisfying to the ghost. And we turned this around and suggested that the ghost (who exists potentially for every deceased human being in Chinese cosmology) was reified as a representation of the family irregularity to which illness was attributed, and that the illness was cured by symbolically correcting the irregularity.
The ghosts we examined were those of deceased, unwed girls seeking husbands. Let us now pursue this same theme with some other kinds of ghosts. The first example came to public attention when a child was stricken gravely ill. His family first took him to medical doctors and complained of having spent over 3000 Kuài ($75) to no avail. They also used a kiō-á and a tâng-ki to consult at various times with King Guō, Marshal Xiè, and the Third Prince. These three gods all agreed on a supernatural explanation of the child's illness. The boy's father was in Japan at the time of the illness, but it was he who was held responsible for the problem. The father's father (the boy's grandfather) had died before the boy's grandmother, and this lady had married again into another family. She had apparently lived happily with her new husband and eventually died in the bosom of her second family. Some time after the old lady's death, the sick boy's father built a new house and equipped it handsomely. He decided it was rather awkward not to have his mother's ancestral tablet beside his father's on the new family altar, however, so he negotiated with the old lady's second family and ultimately received permission to take the tablet home to worship at least temporarily.
The arrangement was apparently satisfactory to the living parties involved, but not to the old lady herself, for it was revealed by the three gods consulted that she was in a quandary about which house was properly hers, and she dared enter neither to take advantage of the offerings provided her. This left her in a state of painful deprivation, so as a sign of her displeasure she brought illness upon this small child, her grandson, and also upon an adult in the other family (although I was unable to procure details of the other illness). To cure the boy, the gods explained, it would be necessary to go to a certain temple in Táinán and ask the enshrined deity to make the decision about which family the ghost should consider her proper descendants.
Once again we are faced with the problem of explaining illness. And once again the explanation centers on irregularities in the family. In this case what is called into question is the family affiliation of the stricken boy's paternal grandmother. And the question on which the ghost demands decision is whether she is affiliated ritually with the line of her first husband or with that of her second. Whereas the spirit bride was anomalous in lacking any descent line until she married into one, the grandmother is anomalous in being retained in two simultaneously. Naturally enough, the grandmother demands a decision. And apparently the medium doing the interpreting preferred to put the burden on an anonymous competitor by recommending that the problem be taken to a temple in the city.
Before we try to see just what it is about the double descent line that is bothering the grandmother, let us turn briefly to Chinese ideas about second marriages. A woman ideally lives to a ripe old age. So does her husband, and her life is one of service to him. The wedding rite not only separates her from her natal family but joins her in perpetuity to her husband's family.21 In fact, of course, not everyone lives to his desired longevity. However, in dynastic times Chinese custom and morality, and in certain ways law as well, tried very hard to maintain the polite fiction of longevity for all by enjoining the woman to remain with her husband's family and not to remarry (even should her husband die between their engagement and the actual marriage).
Footnote 21. Divorce was possible. under traditional law, if initiated by the husband on charges of disobedience, failure to bear a son, jealousy, etc.: the so-called "seven ousts" 七出. See Chiu 1966: 61-74.
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The ethnographic literature suggests that throughout the Chinese population, remarriage of a widow has at least until very recently been considered a most dishonorable thing. At the same time it appears to be done often enough. Kulp (1925: 158) writes of the town of Cháozhōu near Shāntóu: "Re-marriage of widows in respectable families is a negative value throughout the region." The same seems to have been true of Yúnnán, where Hsu (1967: 255) suggests that "although socially it is more honorable for [childless] widows to adopt sons and remain faithful to their departed husbands than for them to remarry, a large number of widows do prefer the latter way out, in spite of the fact that the remarriage of widows is treated with much social and ritual censure." The same values seem to hold for north China as well. M. Yáng (1945:113) reports for Taitou in Shantung that "a second marriage is a matter of shame." Further, "Public opinion is that a decent woman should be the wife of only one man" (p.117). Gamble (1954: 37) reports for Dīng Xiàn in Héběi that "Widows can and do marry in Ting Hsien." It is not the most common thing, however. Twenty women of one hundred and sixty-one who had been widowed remarried. However, C. K. Yang (1 959a: 48) reports for an adjacent province that
The Preparatory Committee of the Honan Provincial Women's Association under the Communist regime reported in 1949 that in the northern part of Honan, the current rule of the clans was that a widow could not remarry. Should she remarry against the objection of the family, the whole clan had the right to interfere, even the right to kill her.
By way of evidence that the rule was indeed followed, Yang cites a grisly example or two in which remarrying widows actually were murdered. Doolittle (1865: 1.100) tells us that in Fúzhōu:
It is considered a disgrace to a family for one of its sons to marry a widow, no matter how intelligent, interesting, and handsome she may be, as well as a disgraceful and shameful step on the part of the widow to consent to marry again. No rich and fashionable family ever marries a son to a widow.
In modern times the law has been on the widow's side if she wanted to remarry, but even the lawmakers seem not really to have approved of such behavior. Su, writing in 1922 of the Provisional Civil Code and its relation to traditional Chinese marriage law writes:
A widow might remarry if she so desired, but the ancient traditions and customs exerted upon her a strong pressure to remain unmarried. If she did remarry, she forfeited all claim to her first husband's estate and the property she had added to it by marriage. If she remained unmarried and in her husband's family, she inherited his titles and emoluments and succeeded to his position in the family organization.22 It is well known that the Chinese people have always delighted in honoring and respecting the widow. In the old days, the good widow who bad properly brought up her children to maturity and faithfully fulfilled her other duties received an imperial reward in the form of a gateway or arch erected in her honor in the community where she lived. These gateways and arches are to be seen in almost every village in China (p.67).
Footnote 22. "Ta-Tsing Leu Lee, sec. 47."
Vannicelli (1943: 386) shows us an even clearer picture.
The widow who remains faithful to her deceased husband till her death, living in chastity and serving her in-laws, is held in great honor in China. Chinese law, as we have seen, erects a triumphal arch to such widows. The same law permits the widow a second marriage, and no-one can oppose her in it. The widow is free to remarry, and in the second marriage she acts sui juris. … Further, to contract a second marriage, it is necessary to have a go-between. If there is a written contract, it is written not on red paper, but on white (the color of mourning) and composed in different language from those we have already reported, and it comes signed by the widow herself and by one of her kinsmen. (Emphasis added.)23
Footnote 23. La vedova, che resta fedele al suo defunto marito fino alla morte, vivendo in castità e servendo i suoceri, è tenuta in grande onore in Cina. La legge cinese, comme Si è già veduto, eriga a tali vedove un arco di trionfo. La stressa legge permette alla vedova le seconde nozze e nessuno può opporvisi. La vedova è libera di rimaritarsi e nelle seconde nozze si comporta come persona sui juris. … Anche per concludere le seconde nozze è necessaria l'azione del mediatore; se vi è un contratto scritto, non si scrive in carta rossa, ma in carta bianca (il colore del lutto) e redatto in termini differenti da quelli, che abbiamo già riferiti, e viene firmato dalla vedova stessa e da uno dei suoi parenti. (Emphasis added.)
It seems clear that the widow who remarried suffered numerous social disadvantages (see Vannicelli 1943: 387 f.). Vannicelli quotes Escarra (1931) in listing various folk expressions referring to the dowry of the second marriage, all of them derogatory. Supernatural disasters awaited her too (Vannicelli 1943: 387):
It is feared that the spirit of the deceased husband may follow his wife and do her harm in her new home, therefore when the widow moves to her second husband's house she leaves from a neighbor's house, or from an abandoned one, or else leaves during the night, as in Shǎnxī.24
Footnote 24. Si teme che lo spirito del marito defunto segua la sposa e le dia molestia nella nuova dimora; perciò Ia vedova si recherà alla casa del secondo marito, partendo dalla casa di un vicino o da una casa abbandonata, oppure durante la notte, come nello Scen-si.
One solution to the problem was to marry the second husband in life, with the proviso that at death the woman would revert to her first husband's line. Von Möllendorff (1895: 49) writes:
A curious practice exists in some parts of China, as in Níngbō 寧波 [in Zhèjiāng Province]: a widower and a widow, both of advanced years, join in second matrimony, with the stipulation that the widow will continue spiritually with her earlier husband, that is that after her death her body will be reclaimed by his family and be buried with him.25
Footnote 25. Eine seltsame Sitte besteht in einigen Theilen Chinas. z. B. in Ningpo. Ein Witwer und eine Witwe, Beide in vorgerücktem Alter, gehen eine zweite Ehe mit einander ein, mit der Bedingung, dass die Witwe spirituell ihrem früheren Manne verbleibt, d.h. dass nach ihrem Tode ihr Leichnam von seiner Familie rekiamiert und mit ihm begraben wird.
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The point of all this is fairly simple: the grandmother should never have remarried in the first place. Marriage is supposed to be permanent. It makes a woman not only her husband's wife, but a member of his descent line, a membership by no means dissolved by his death. In a sense, his death has no effect on the status of his wife. Social relationships, as ritually defined, continue as though the man were yet alive.26 When a woman breaks this bond by remarrying, she threatens the entire nature of the bond itself. What is immoral about widow remarriage is that it is subversive of the ideology of the marriage tie, which binds a woman not only to her husband but to his line as well.
Footnote 26. The strain to maintain the fiction of a natural life for all family members reaches fascinating extremes. Marjorie Topley (1955, 1956) reports spirit marriages in Singapore in which both bride and groom are deceased. She writes that spirit marriages are contracted inter alia "when a younger son wishes to marry and his elder brother has died before taking a wife." According to Chinese custom, a younger son should not marry before his elder brothers: a ghost marriage is, therefore, sometimes arranged for an elder brother so that the younger may then proceed with his own nuptials without fear of incurring the disfavor of his brother's ghost. The same principle appears in the Taiwanese wedding rite at the point when the bride and groom must ceremonially bow before the groom's parents. At one wedding I attended the parents were both deceased, but the ceremony was accomplished around two empty chairs, where the parental presence was symbolized by a square of red paper laid on each. (Red cloth or paper placed over a chair is widely used to symbolize occupation by a supernatural being.)
The fact that widow remarriage is so widespread in China (as well as perfectly legal) suggests that other factors are also involved, which somehow run at cross-purposes with the sanctity of the marriage bond. Perhaps in some cases economic considerations are paramount. In others, no doubt personal antipathies between the widow and her husband's family become unbearable after the husband is no longer there to mediate them. Probably in certain instances love affairs between the widow and outside men may lead to her remarriage.
But let us return to our ghostly grandmother. Her son (by her first husband) was building a new house and providing it with a new family altar. On this altar belonged his family tablets, and normally (or normatively) he would include among them the tablet of his dead mother. The new house and the new family altar represented a tidying-up of things. A new house is hó-sè 好勢: clean, orderly, proper, deserving of pride; and to complete this the tablet of his mother was missed as presumably it previously had not been, for in a family that is hó-sè, that is where a mother's tablet belongs. The notion of hó-sè, applied to families, makes no provision for remarried widows.
But the grandmother had remarried. She had separated herself from her first non-natal line and attached herself to a second. And the remarriage produced a conflict between two lines of reasoning. One was that the grandmother belonged to the line she had most recently married into. The rights of the first line to her were gone. The other reasoned that her tablets belonged on her son's altar. Filial subservience dictates that a son worship his mother's shade. That is the duty of a son to his mother, and there is no clear provision for mothers that opt out of their son's family altars. The matter might have been overlooked, had it not been a new altar, and had it not been therefore a point of pride that it be a proper one.
The solution was a compromise. The grandmother's ghost could be shared, providing the benefits of respectability and completeness to both households, if not exactly at once, then at least serially. Unfortunately, neither the lineage principles nor the ideals of the family were to be that easily overlooked, and they reasserted themselves when explanation for sickness provided an opportunity for the community, in the person of a medium for a god, to inspect the family for structural irregularities.
In summary, the ghost was thought to be haunting her grandson because she was improperly located in the social structure. As a mother, she belonged in her son's ancestral shrine, while as a wife she belonged in that of her most recent husband. The families involved decided that she could be in both. The ghost disagreed. Or the community disagreed. Or the tâng-ki disagreed. The social rule that is important is that a woman can belong to only one lineage. Double lineage membership is not an acceptable compromise, for it begs the point. One can get away with widow remarriage; one cannot get away with flaunting it. Which family she is to belong to is unimportant, but that she can belong to only one is crucial. Hence it provides an acceptable reason for her to be held responsible for the illness of her grandson.
So far we have two patterns of ghostly explanation of family disaster, and two ways of dealing with the ghosts. The ghost might be a family member who is social-structurally anomalous, in which case one ordinarily acts to correct the anomaly. Or the ghost might be a set of vaguely defined malign forces, associated in some way with ghosts, but not identified as a particular person. And in this case one exorcises it.
But not all ghosts fall into one or another of these two types. In the following examples we have an instance of a particular ghost, representing structural principles once again, and she is a more dramatic and exciting presence than we have met thus far. The reaction, however, is exorcism, an exorcism, I would add, not that different from the exorcism we considered above when a child drowned in the fishpond. The haunting in question occurred some months after I left Bǎo'ān and was reported to me in a letter. Here is a slightly abbreviated translation of the report I received:
Last night something happened at Guō Qīng's family, so I am writing you a special letter to tell you. I hope you will find the matter of interest. The story goes this way: Guō Qīng has a son who lives in Táidōng and who is already married. I have heard that this boy had struck up with a girl in Táidōng who already had a husband, so her husband divorced her. Although the girl's husband had already divorced her, her husband's mother became very angry, and as a result fell sick and died. Before this old mother died, she was particularly angry with Guō Qīng's boy because the latter had damaged their family. For this reason she used some superstitious method (the kind of [Taiwanese aboriginal] wizardry you photographed when you were in Táidōng) to wound Guō Qīng's son's wife. The objective was to cause his wife to become sick and die so that Guō Qīng's son wouldn't have a wife. Not long afterward Guō Qīng's son's wife took sick (a neurosis like the one Guō Tōngmíng died of). Guō Qīng's boy saw that his wife had already developed a neurosis and was terrified, so two weeks ago he sent his wife back to our village. After this woman got to our village, she upset 鬧 the family every day, and struck people. So Guō Qīng's family had three gods come down. Two [tâng-ki] were from our village: Guō Tiānhuà [the Third Prince] and Guō Qīng-shuǐ [the Great Saint], and one tâng-ki from another village. I hear that these three gods used very peaceful means in taking care of this matter to implore the ghost who was bothering the woman's body to leave. Finally the three gods used impolite words and told the ghost who was bothering the woman's body that if she didn't leave, the three of them would be impolite to her. At length the ghost left, and the three gods [left and their tâng-ki] sat down to rest. After the three tâng-ki had stopped, they had some refreshments, and when they had finished their refreshments the three left together to go home. But … they had only just arrived at the pond behind Guō Qīng's house (for it was the road beside the village pond) when the ghost, who had been standing there waiting for them, struck the Third Prince's tâng-ki, Guō Tiānhuà. Tiānhuà was knocked to the ground by her, but just as the ghost was about to strike the other two tâng-ki their two gods possessed them, so they began to fight vigorously with the ghost. The two tâng-ki fought very boisterously [Rènào], sometimes chasing into the trees, sometimes onto a roof, sometimes chasing her through the fishpond. Finally that invisible ghost lost the fight and ran away.
So the two tâng-ki said, all right, she has run away; we'll leave it at that. And the gods left them again. The row was very true to life. More than fifty of the village people stood around and watched the hoopla. Especially in the night we have been attacked 害 to the point that a lot of village people don't dare to go home alone.
Immediately I responded, inquiring exactly what sort of possessing force it was they were dealing with, and speculating, as politely as possible, that it might be the old mother. Here is the reply:
The ghost at Guō Qīng's family was indeed the mother of the first husband of that woman from Táidōng. But that evening I hear that that mother who had died did not have enough strength, so she ran back to Táidōng and invited their ancestral spirits, a whole lot of them, to come 請了他們祖先的靈魂很多鬼來的. So only then did she dare fight with the tâng-ki of the gods. But that business still hasn't come to anything much. If there is good news later on, I shall tell you.
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In our discussion of ghost marriage, we were concerned largely with the role of family and kinship and with the role of the ghost incident in the context of family and kinship. In the present instance, too, standards of family behavior are involved, for the Bǎo'ān man has played the ghost's son for a cuckold. In China adultery is a very serious crime. Not only is it grounds for divorce under Republican law, but under the Qīng marriage code adultery by the wife was the one offense for which she could be divorced regardless of any of the usual protections the law maintained to protect her from arbitrary divorce.27 But I raise the example not because of the outrageousness of the boy's act nor even because of the vitriolic response of the ghost. A different point is illustrated by the present ghost and a rather more subtle one: the response to the ghost was an exorcism, performed by tâng-ki in trance and overseen by a large number of neighbors. Just as the voice of the medium can be that of the moral community when it detects structural irregularities and declares that their associated ghosts must be pacified, so in the present case this same voice (and presumably again that of the community) undertook instead to resist the principles that had been violated. It is easy enough to speculate as to why this should be done. Perhaps it was because the ghost was from outside, representing an unknown woman unrelated to the village; perhaps it was because the ghost was considered to be using aboriginal magic belonging to an erotic and therefore threatening system whose validity must not be acknowledged.
Footnote 27. Just as there were "seven ousts" 七出, or seven grounds for divorce, so there were "three non-ousts" 三不出, or three protections from divorce. In the presence of a non-oust (such as the family having become rich after she married into it), a woman was exempted from divorce on the basis of an "oust" (such as loquaciousness). The sole exception was adultery. (See Chiu 1966: 61-70, 94 f.)
Whatever the reasoning, the point is that the community is a partner in the crime. The people and the gods of Bǎo'ān took a collective stand in support of "their man" in opposition to someone else's ghosts. The instruments of the exorcism were the tâng-ki, the tools of the gods. And the guiding power that drove the vile presence from the hamlet before the very eyes of the fascinated and affrighted populace was the community's gods. Durkheim would be pleased.
By this time we ought to have had our fill of ghosts. There have been general malevolent forces, at the village and at the family level, whom the people of Bǎo'ān have had to build forts against and to expel through exorcism with fire. Then there were ghosts of family members wanting to marry human husbands to put themselves in a descent line, and the family members had to give in to them and see them married. There was next the ghostly grandmother, who would not compromise her descent-line scruples (even though the historical grandmother had created all the problems by remarrying), and her family had to find her a single line. Finally there was the cuckold's mother, who threatened the adulterer and his wife and then the village mediums because her line had lost a potential mother of offspring.
But there are more.
We have seen that the supposed malice of ghosts is directly related to their own discomfort. The usual idiom for this is the availability of offerings to provide for their sustenance. A ghost must have descendants charged with providing offerings to him; otherwise he comes to share the tragic fate of the "hungry ghosts" who wander the world piteously picking up such crumbs of offerings as best they can.
There is another way, however, for the deceased to be worshipped: he can be deified. A deity builds his following on a non-kinship basis (at least after the first few years of his cult, during which time recruitment may be based on kin ties). In theory gods have positions in the celestial hierarchy, to which they are duly appointed on the basis of merit. However, certain ghosts claim the benefits of such positions with apparently little attention to orthodoxy or legitimacy. They can perhaps be thought of as celestial bullies who force people to worship them as though they were really important gods. This turns out to be a solution often chosen by the same sort of female spirit who wants to be married to have offspring, for it is a solution to the same kind of problem: securing sacrifices. But this time she demands to be worshipped as though she were a deity.
Let us look at some examples. To begin, let us consider another god-worshipping group, similar in general outline to the eight we discussed earlier. We can call it Group 9. The worshippers are the sons of two deceased brothers and a concubine of one of the brothers (and of course the households these people head). The membership of the worship group exactly corresponds with the households living in one building. I can think of no very likely reason why this should be so. Possibly it is fortuitous. The normal worshipping unit, as we have seen, is the household or family, and expansion to a worshipping group does not seem to have any necessary relation to physical buildings. Possibly this was the group charged (more or less at the whim of a medium) with worshipping the ghost: for a ghost is indeed the object of their worship, a deceased daughter of one of the two dead brothers.28 She was born in 1907 and died in 1908. According to her worshippers, her cult began "about thirty years ago," which would be 1938 or so, or when the spirit was about thirty years old. We will recall that this is about the age at which less ambitious female spirits decide to get married and settle down. She is worshipped under the name of the Little Maid 小娘. The worshipping families are quite reluctant to discuss the matter. Apparently they undertook her worship because she insisted upon it, and an attempt to rid themselves of the "goddess" was unsuccessful. One informant told the story of the Little Maid this way:
Footnote 28. A third brother still lives in a nearby house and does not participate in Group 9.
The Little Maid was from our own family and died and became a goddess, so we had a joss carved to worship. … Later on the father of the Little Maid and another man from this village were very good friends, and this gentleman suggested to her father that he stop worshipping the Little Maid. Her father agreed, the two of them being on very good terms, so at the time of the great rites of Xīgǎng, her father brought the joss of the Little Maid [to the Xīgǎng temple] and put it into the Kings' Boat to be burned at the end of the ceremonies to send her back to heaven.29 But the Little Maid herself didn't go, it was said; she came back to haunt people here, and the family became very inharmonious. The family of the man who had proposed burning the joss (now moved to Táinán) was the same: the family was inharmonious. … Because nothing else could be done, they had another joss carved to worship: the present joss. This was about ten years ago.
Footnote 29. See Liú Zhīwàn 1963, sec. 2 for a description of these rites.
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Scanty as the available information is, and inconspicuous as the cult attempts to be (easy enough when it is confined to a single building), it persists: the Little Maid insists upon it! As a goddess, even a bogus goddess (for anyone will readily concede she is, in fact, a ghost that has got the upper hand), she can be worshipped by non-offspring and enjoy sacrifices even without being married.
Her cult, furthermore, might even grow. One way it can grow is for her to select a tâng-ki. I do not have enough cases to be able to generalize safely, but my impression is that many or most of the female tâng-ki in Táiwān are mediums of such "little maids," and some at least bear a kinship relationship to their possessing goddesses. Let us consider the case of a Bǎo'ān woman tâng-ki, Zhāng Xiùyè.
Like virtually all tâng-ki, Zhāng Xiùyè tells of her long efforts to avoid being possessed. However, one theme that rises over and over from her tale is that what really bothers her is possession by such a divinized Guǐ rather than by a bona fide Shén. Xiùyè began by having odd physiological symptoms. A few months later, after unsuccessful medical treatment, she began to be possessed, but she did not speak intelligibly while possessed.
After a time my husband's older brother said: "You've been to a doctor, and he couldn't find anything wrong, and the medicine he gave you had no effect. It would be best to ask the gods and see. Otherwise you may never be able to be rid of this." I took his advice and went to a "little god" 小神 in XYZ, and the little god told me: "There is a little god descending upon your body. When you go home you ought to consult with one of the important gods in your village. You are not sick."
Xiùyè went home and held a session with a kiō-á to inquire of King Guō, but King Guō failed to possess the kiō-á.
So I went back to XYZ. … The little god possessing me was [supposed to be] my husband's younger sister, and I wanted to ask her if this was really true. … [The little god of XYZ possessed the medium, and I asked her why my husband's sister] was making me so sick. I was told she wasn't making me very sick at all, and that she had become a little god too and wanted me to be her tâng-ki. I was too stunned to react. A little god has no power and can't satisfy people. If one is thinking about being a tâng-ki, everyone would agree it is better to be the tâng-ki of an important god. Basically nobody pays much attention to the words of a little god's tâng-ki. … I thought perhaps the words of the little god's tâng-ki in XYZ might be inaccurate, so I went to four or five more little gods in [five other villages]. Each time I asked the little gods myself, and what they told me was the same as what the little god in XYZ had told me: a little god wanted me for her tâng-ki. Even then I didn't believe it, for I had no respect for the little gods. If there was no way to avoid becoming a tâng-ki, I could at least he the tâng-ki of an important god; I would feel better about that.
Before I left Bǎo'ān, Xiùyè was initiated as a proper tâng-ki for her husband's deceased younger sister, her little god. It was a simple enough event, conducted by an âng-thâu-á, who equipped her with weapons and introduced her to mortification of the flesh, the sign of her trade.30 Throngs of village people looked on as she flailed her back, shouting, sputtering, drooling, and muttering. When it was over, she was, willy-nilly, a tâng-ki, and could begin counsellingpeople on behalf of her little god.
Footnote 30. There was no exorcism, because the possessing presence had never pretended to be a high god. For the same reason the rites took place before her father's house, not before the temple. Details of the initiation are not relevant here, although I hope to go into the matter in another paper devoted entirely to tâng-ki.
As mentioned, a deified ghost with a tâng-ki can develop a body of devotees. Xiùyè, after all, consulted with several such little gods about her symptoms. One little god in another village, known locally as Little God Huáng, has expanded her cult far enough that there is one family in Bǎo'ān which considers itself to be under her special patronage, even though, unlike the two little gods we just considered, there is no kinship relation. The story of Little God Huáng is sketchy, but her relationship to the family of Guō Tōngkuí 郭通奎 of Bǎo'ān seems clear enough. It is said that Little God Huáng lived in a certain village about three kilometers from Bǎo'ān, which we may designate ABC. After her death (we know not how many years before) she "chose" her younger sister as her tâng-ki and began curing the sick with charms. It is said she gave her sister an extra ten years of life in order to make use of her as a tâng-ki. That was about ten years ago, and when I was in Bǎo'ān some of Little God Huáng's devotees speculated she must have granted the tâng-ki an additional ten years. So successful was the Little God Huáng that when one of her protégé families moved to Kaohsiung they apparently set up a small temple for her in their own central room and, using a kiō-á, formed a kind of branch temple. Guō Tōngkuí and his family began worshipping Little God Huáng in 1960.
His family was very inharmonious, and it seemed as though harmful forces had come upon the family. He asked several gods about it, but they didn't clear up the problem. Later his wife's mother [who lived in ABC village] introduced him to Little God Huáng of ABC. … Little God Huáng told him, "Take home my incense and worship me and your problems will be solved."31 It seems strange, but from the time he began to worship Little God Huáng, his family became very harmonious. At night there was no sign of ghosts coming to disturb them. In the same year when he brought home the incense of Little God Huáng, his second boy child was born, and so be gave this child to Little God Huáng as an adopted child.32
Footnote 31. The implication is that the worship should be permanent. We recall that the transfer of the incense pot is the key act in establishing a new temple from an old one.
Footnote 32. The Hokkien term is khoè-kián 契囝. The word designates a child who is taken under protection by a "foster father," as by adoption, but not so close. In Táiwān this is ordinarily done when real parents have lost several children. The foster father who is selected is one with many living sons. The child addresses his foster father as he would his father, and it is believed the child will thus have a better chance of survival. Cf. Douglas 1899: 282. By extension, the same term refers to a male child put under the protection of a god. (This is the only usage mentioned by Elliott 1955 for this word in Singapore.) In this latter arrangement, kinship terms are not used, and the arrangement would seem to be closer to a child's relationship with his patron saint, say, in the West. In the present context the child was ceded to Little God Huáng, not because its elder siblings had died —for they had not— nor because the little god had to be paid in some way for bringing harmony to the house. but because the family was confident that a tiny child's chances of survival could be materially improved with the aid of a goddess they had just discovered to be generally efficacious in dealing with other of their family affairs.
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Infrequency, secrecy, and former legal suppression all conspire to make the matter difficult to see clearly, for the number of cases one can study is small, and the amount of information about each, unhappily little. But it seems as though the same kinds of structurally anomalous dead who require husbands can be handled in two other ways. One is to exorcise them. The other is to deify them. In the former case one is dismissing them and refusing to deal with them as credible problems, giving community sanction to the family over and against the skeletons in its closet. In deifying them one is adding them to a corpus of gods, however minor and inferior a role therein the deified ghosts must play.33 We have gone in a circle: the exorcised become the exorcisers; the tormentors become the protectors against torment; and the system closes in upon itself.34
Footnote 33. Liú Jīwàn (1963, 1966) has argued that many far nobler southwestern Taiwanese deities are also deified ghosts, including the five kings of Nánkūnshēn and the Twelve Plague Kings invited temporarily at the time of the triennial festival of Xīgǎng. I have never heard confirmation of this from a Taiwanese concerning the Nánkūnshēn gods, but when I mentioned them to religious Chinese in Manila, they laughingly informed me of their "mere ghosts" status. Similarly, only the most directly involved, well informed, and religiously active laymen in Xīgǎng gave any hint whatever of recognizing anything amiss with the Plague Kings, despite the presence of the word "plague" 瘟 in their title. A successful cult apparently obscures the ominous origins of the deity and converts him in time to a mighty and important god whose help is sought to drive out Guǐ and who is no longer thought to be a Guǐ himself. It is an interesting question whether this same process happens in the case of little gods, little maids, and the like. Dare we suspect that the Queen of Heaven herself might have begun her career as a little god?
Footnote 34. We may have gone in a circle in another way too. Xiùyè was selected as the tâng-ki of her husband's sister. Could it be that ghosts with marriageable sisters' husbands wed them, whereas those with only brothers' wives to possess possess them? If I may be forgiven for suggesting work I have not in fact done (yet). this is an inviting hypothesis it would be well to keep in mind when working in rural Táiwān.
Such a state of affairs is a bit disconcerting, because it does no little violence to the analytic scheme I put forth at the beginning of this essay when I said that supernaturals were of three types: gods, ghosts, and ancestors. The gods, I said, were the spirits of those who had been outstandingly virtuous on earth. Ancestors were such other mortals as had descendants to provide sacrifices to them. Ghosts were the rest: spirits that were not gods, yet had no descendants to provide for them or were otherwise specially distinguished from the normal dead. In all of this I quoted informants' statements as evidence. Now we discover somewhat abruptly that, behaviorally, certain ghosts can be treated as gods, to the point that they become indistinguishable. How can this be?
The answer probably depends on a related question: how different are ghosts and gods when we define them by human responses to them? In the course of the discussion it developed that the distinguishing characteristic of most village gods was that one can come to an agreement with them which will bring one protection against disaster in exchange for sacrifices.35 And the distinguishing characteristic of a ghost is that he is the cause of the disaster one must be protected against. Unlike Western ghosts, the familial ghosts of Bǎo'ān do not attack man out of pure devilishness and malice, but out of necessity. Morally they are neutral beings. The operation that stops the disaster in the case of familial ghosts is the correction of the unsatisfactory and anomalous position of the ghost. This renders it a non-ghost, usually an ancestor.36 If a ghost can be converted from causing disaster to preventing it, and if the prevention is accomplished because of alliances between humans and ghosts on the same basis as those made between humans and gods, then the ghost, seen in terms of human behavior, has been changed from a ghost to a god.
Footnote 35. We exclude in this the Jade Emperor, who is conceived to administer the system, and a few other specialized gods.
Footnote 36. The same operation is impossible for generalized anonymous ghosts, because their kinship status is unknown. It is not clear why they cannot be deified, although sacrifices to the Good Brethren are perhaps a step in that direction.
We have two sets of definitions in this. One is intellectual, moralistic, and related to the genesis of these beings in human virtue. The other is behavioral and relates to the supposed motivations and behavior of supernaturals and to the use human beings actually make of gods and ghosts as elements in a system of explanation and interaction. Both, at their respective levels, are native definitions; however, there is not a perfect correspondence between them, but rather a kind of slippage when one tries to line the models up.
The identification of this area of slippage, or non-correspondence, between the two models enables us to understand certain
points that were previously obscure. For one, the deified ghosts are only "little gods" rather than gods properly so called. So long as their unsavory origins are remembered, they can be gods only with respect to the treatment accorded them, but not gods in the sense of the virtuous dead. It is important to the integrity of the belief model that only the virtuous can become gods. On the other hand, the possibility of flattering ghosts to alleviate human suffering is an important means of coping at the behavioral level. The term "little god" preserves both models when the deed must be done. Should a little god prove powerful, only human memory, easily obliterated with passing generations, prevents its attainment of full divine status.
|THEOLOGICAL (BELIEF) MODEL|
|BEHAVIORAL (ACTION) MODEL|
The difference between the two models, and the odd ambiguity in the behavioral one also suggests why the words Shén and Guǐ historically do not correspond to the modern stated conceptions,37 and even today one finds such seemingly contradictory terms as Guǐshén 鬼神, a ghostly god or ghost, and Xiéshén 邪神, a false god, a ghost in a malicious manifestation.
Footnote 37. The problem particularly troubles Groot (1892-1910), who devotes all of Book II (vols. 4-6) to manifestations of the Línghún. The same problem can be seen in dictionaries that try to take account both of popular and of classical usage.
The slippage also suggests a partial explanation of one other problem not directly met in the text, namely the reluctance of tâng-ki to accept their calling. For to be a tâng-ki implies contact with the supernatural, which it is no longer possible for us to see as inevitably benevolent.
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