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Between Gods and Ghosts: Cults to the Unknown Dead in Hailufeng, Eastern Guangdong, and Their Histories

Special Issue
SHIGA Ichiko (Ibaraki Christian College)
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In the Han Chinese understanding of the supernatural world, spirits who do not receive sacrifice, the anonymous or unknown dead, are generally seen as the most marginalized and most dangerous of ghosts. But in the Hailufeng region of eastern Guangdong, burial sites of the bones of the unknown dead are often understood as housing highly efficacious spirits, and these spirits have become objects of veneration by the common people. These graves of the unknown dead are called Sage Ancestors ("shengren gongma") or People's Ancestors ("baixing gongma"). This paper is based on materials collected by the author in fieldwork in Hailufeng. It presents a typology of cults to the unknown dead and their historical development from late Qing to the present. The flourishing of charitable halls expressing Confucian ideas about the ancestors, the spread of knowledge of Daoism and Buddhism, and the heavy death toll due to war and natural disasters have all shaped the ways in which the unknown dead are perceived.

Journal of History and Anthropology