Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore

Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore: Gender, Religion, Medicine and Money

Essays by Marjorie Topley
Edited and Introduced by Jean DeBernardi
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 624
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  • Book Info
    Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore
    Book Description:

    The volume collects the published articles of Dr. Marjorie Topley, who was a pioneer in the field of social anthropology in the postwar period and also the first president of the revived Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Her ethnographic research in Singapore and Hong Kong set a high standard for urban anthropology, and helped creating the fields of religious studies, migration studies, gender studies, and medical anthropology, focusing on topics that remain current and important in the disciplines. The essays in this collection showcase Dr. Topley’s groundbreaking contributions in several areas of scholarship. These include “Chinese Women’s Vegetarian Houses in Singapore” (1954) and “The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects” (1963), both important research on the study of subcultural groups in a complex urban society; “Marriage Resistance in Rural Kwangtung” (1978), now a classic in Chinese anthropology and women’s studies; her widely known and cited article, “Cosmic Antagonisms: A Mother-Child Syndrome” (1974), which investigates widely shared everyday practices and cosmological explanations that Cantonese mothers invoked when they encountered difficulties in child-rearing; and “Capital, Saving and Credit among Indigenous Rice Farmers and Immigrant Vegetable Farmers in Hong Kong's New Territories” (2004 [1964]).

    eISBN: 978-988-8053-65-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Robert Nield

    Many anthologies of academic and intellectual study can appear quite dry to the uninitiated. Sometimes the very title prompts the casual reader to reach for his or her dictionary in order to get an idea of what the book or article is about, or to select another book altogether. Not so in the case of this large and informative collection of essays. The topics of gender, religion, medicine and money were the main areas of focus for Marjorie Topley during her many years of research, and remain undisputedly four of the main pillars of society today.

    Arriving in Singapore as...

  5. Introduction Cantonese Society in Hong Kong and Singapore: Gender, Religion, Medicine and Money
    (pp. 1-24)
    Jean DeBernardi

    This book collects the published articles of Dr. Marjorie Topley, who was a pioneer in the field of social anthropology in the postwar period. Her ethnographic research in Singapore and Hong Kong sets a high standard for urban anthropology, focusing on topics that remain current and important in the discipline.

    Dr. Topley’s publications reflect her training in British social anthropology, with its focus on fieldwork and detailed empirical observation. She was among the first to refine and extend those methods in the 1950s, adapting them to the study of modernizing urban settings like Singapore and Hong Kong. Her ethnographic research...

  6. Part I Chinese Ritual Practice in Singapore
    • Chapter 1 Some Occasional Rites Performed by the Singapore Cantonese
      (pp. 27-56)

      This paper deals with some of the rites performed by the Cantonese in Singapore with the object of overcoming illness and misfortune. The rites selected for description are in all cases specific to the sufferer, and are enacted only when help is required. The term occasional is used here in this sense, to distinguish them from festival rites and the type of performances of a spirit medium which take place regularly and are attended by many people. They also differ from other rites in that they can be performed alone by the person who hopes to benefit from them, or...

    • Chapter 2 Chinese Rites for the Repose of the Soul, with Special Reference to Cantonese Custom
      (pp. 57-72)

      To the Chinese, the adaptation of the soul to its new and complex environment in hell is a matter of the primest importance. This hell is, in its administrative aspects, rather like another China “ploughed under”,¹ with a similarly complicated system of rewards, punishments and financial obligations on the part of the soul. Ransom payments must be made to the ruler of Hades to procure rebirth under circumstances most favourable for a successful and prosperous life; “squeeze” money must be given to judges, “pour boire” to hungry ghosts, and certificates owned (burnt for one by one’s relatives) to enable one...

    • Chapter 3 Paper Charms, and Prayer Sheets as Adjuncts to Chinese Worship
      (pp. 73-96)

      There are few Chinese rites for which some kind of paper charm or prayer sheet is not necessary. Some of these papers are specific to a particular rite but many may be used in a general way to cover most of the misfortunes which man may encounter wherever he lives. Ill-health, bad luck and poverty, barrenness, quarrels with mothers-in law or husbands, protection sought from evil spirits or people and the need to remove “uncleanness” from a house after sickness or death are all frequent occasions for ritual involving the use of these paper sheets. They are also used widely...

    • Chapter 4 Ghost Marriages among the Singapore Chinese
      (pp. 97-100)

      There is a form of ghost marriage which exists among the Singapore Chinese and is known as Yin Ch’u (Ts’u)[Yinqu].¹ This takes place at a ceremony or group of ceremonies at which two deceased persons, or more rarely, one living and one deceased person are married. Such forms of marriage appear to be more common among the Cantonese than other dialect groups, although I have heard of marriages being arranged for members of Straits-born Hokkien families. However, the Cantonese are certainly quite open about the fact that they perform them, whereas the Hokkiens I have questioned have been most reluctant...

    • Chapter 5 Ghost Marriages among the Singapore Chinese: A Further Note
      (pp. 101-104)

      Since writing on Chinese ghost marriages last year (Man, 1955: 35), I have had a further opportunity to be present at such a marriage and this time to obtain a photograph of effigies of the bridal pair seated together at a table round which the ceremonies on their behalf took place. I was unfortunately not able to be present for the actual “wedding” which was carried out in the City God’s temple, but witnessed the associated ceremonies which took place in a Dying House¹ in which I happened to be at the time. The circumstances were as follows.

      A Cantonese...

  7. Part II Religious Associations in Singapore and China
    • Chapter 6 Chinese Women’s Vegetarian Houses in Singapore
      (pp. 107-124)

      This article describes the Chinese woman’s vegetarian house (齋堂 [zhaitang], lit., vegetarian hall) as it is in Singapore at the present time, and attempts to analyse the reasons for its existence. These organizations of vegetarians are formed with the object of providing board and lodging for unattached women who worship Buddha. Many of these women are without immediate family connections in Malaya, are unmarried and have nobody to care for them and nowhere else to go in their old age. The majority of these houses are formed to meet the needs of Chinese immigrant women workers. In addition there are...

    • Chapter 7 Chinese Religion and Religious Institutions in Singapore
      (pp. 125-174)

      The word temple is used somewhat vaguely in Singapore and Malaya to refer to a wide variety of places of Chinese worship, all with differing functions and organization and ranging from the small attap hut erected for the worship of some specific deity or shenFu [Fo],² Buddha or P’u Sa [Pusat], Bodhisattva, to the larger places where Buddhist monks live and ordination ceremonies are able to take place; buildings for which, in fact, the word monastery is more suitable. The Chinese themselves when talking about their places of worship in English do not always distinguish them, by name, for...

    • Chapter 8 The Emergence and Social Function of Chinese Religious Associations in Singapore
      (pp. 175-202)

      The majority of Singapore Chinese originate from the rural areas of Kwangtung [Guangdong] and Fukien [Fujian] Provinces. They had already started to immigrate in relatively large numbers by the late nineteenth century, that is before the traditional society of the countryside had been greatly disturbed by new political events and ideas. The social systems Chinese developed in Singapore therefore have been considerably influenced by those existing in “traditional” times in the homeland. Yet they have also been very much modified by the new social environment of Singapore. Overseas Chinese have been free to associate according to a number of principles...

    • Chapter 9 The Great Way of Former Heaven: A Group of Chinese Secret Religious Sects
      (pp. 203-240)

      This paper discusses certain aspects of an esoteric, secretly organized, religion in China called Hsien-t’ien Ta-tao [Xiantian Dadao] (or Hsien-t’ien Tao [Xiantian Dao])¹ “The Great Way of Former Heaven” (or “The Way of Former Heaven”). It is based mainly on material discovered in Singapore during 1954–55.

      The name Hsien-t’ien Tao has been recorded elsewhere as that of a Chinese “sect”. Evidence suggested that it might have links with several other groupings but the exact nature of connexion was obscure.² I will show that the Great Way of Former Heaven (which I will refer to as the Great Way) is...

    • Chapter 10 Chinese Religion and Rural Cohesion in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 241-272)

      In China in the nineteenth century some of the most important ideas which were religious, or had religious implications, linked the destiny of individuals to their ancestors; to numerous gods and sanctified worthies; and to certain cosmic “ethers” and “elements” and their process. Such ideas were associated with organized groups of different kinds. Religious elements were found in a number of institutions of society not primarily religious in purpose and gave an underlying sanctity to secular aims. Religious aims were also the primary aims of other groups who in turn sometimes used secular activities to support their ultimate goals. The...

  8. Part III Economy and Society:: Hong Kong and Guangdong
    • Chapter 11 The Role of Savings and Wealth among Hong Kong Chinese
      (pp. 275-330)

      The sociologist or anthropologist working in Hong Kong is first confronted with the problem of how to define and limit his field of inquiry. Hong Kong society is highly heterogeneous. There are a number of other small-sized ethnic groups besides the Chinese.¹ The latter, who are in the majority,² are then divided into groups speaking different dialects and possessing some distinct cultural features. They are also believed to possess temperamental differences by the Chinese themselves. The Cantonese from the neighbouring province of Kwangtung [Guangdong] predominate and again divide into groups possessing some (generally relatively minor) sub-dialectal differences. Again they are...

    • Chapter 12 Capital, Saving and Credit among Indigenous Rice Farmers and Immigrant Vegetable Farmers in Hong Kong’s New Territories
      (pp. 331-362)

      This essay discusses master farmers growing rice or vegetables as principal crops. Specialization in vegetable-growing is largely the concern of immigrants, while indigenous farmers, that is people whose ancestors settled in the area generations (sometimes centuries) ago, still specialize mainly in rice production. Rice was formerly the traditional crop of the New Territories, but has declined in importance in the last decade, giving way to market gardening. Increased vegetable production has been carried out mainly on former paddy land. The encouragement to change in farming patterns has been provided by the growth of the urban areas since the war, and...

  9. Part IV Religion and Society:: Hong Kong and Guangdong
    • Chapter 13 Some Basic Conceptions and Their Traditional Relationship to Society
      (pp. 365-380)

      In the two afternoons of this symposium you will hear different readers referring to similar terms and concepts. You will hear about some rather sophisticated Chinese notions, scarcely meant for the ordinary folk, and involving the concepts of Yin (陰) and Yang (陽)¹ — impersonal forces or ethers; you will hear of the connected concept of the Five Elements (五行), and the relation of all these to Heaven and Earth; and you will also hear of notions concerning the importance of harmony or disharmony between Heaven, Earth and Man. They will appear in connection with such varied kinds of situation...

    • Chapter 14 Chinese Occasional Rites in Hong Kong
      (pp. 381-404)

      Some of you have visited Chinese temples in Hong Kong, and you may have noticed that many rites are performed by people acting on their own — not, that is to say, as members of religious congregations. A good deal of “popular” religious activity — performances of the kind I would call “Little Tradition” [see Chapter 13 above] — is in fact individual. People act singly, or with the aid of a companion or sometimes a ritual expert, to change circumstances in their lives.

      My interest here is in the role of such rites in the religion of the Cantonese...

    • Chapter 15 Notes on Some Vegetarian Halls in Hong Kong Belonging to the Sect of Hsien-T’ien Tao: (The Way of Former Heaven)
      (pp. 405-422)
      Marjorie Topley and James Hayes

      On Saturday, 16 March 1968, members of the Society visited four vegetarian halls at Ngau Chi Wan, Kowloon, belonging to a religious sect called Hsien-t’ien Tao [Xiantian Dao]. These notes are based on materials provided for the visit, which we have rearranged and expanded slightly, and they include also a brief account of the visit itself.

      We chose vegetarian halls for our visit because they are, to many members of the public in Hong Kong, less known places of worship than the more popular temples, and the monasteries and nunneries of Buddhism. When we first came across these particular halls...

    • Chapter 16 Marriage Resistance in Rural Kwangtung
      (pp. 423-446)

      For approximately one hundred years, from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century, numbers of women in a rural area of the Canton Delta either refused to marry or, having married, refused to live with their husbands. Their resistance to marriage took regular forms. Typically they organized themselves into sisterhoods. The women remaining spinsters took vows before a deity, in front of witnesses, never to wed. Their vows were preceded by a hairdressing ritual resembling the one traditionally performed before marriage to signal a girl’s arrival at social maturity. This earned them the title “women who dress their own...

  10. Part V Chinese and Western Medicine in Hong Kong
    • Chapter 17 Chinese Traditional Ideas and the Treatment of Disease: Two Examples from Hong Kong
      (pp. 449-470)

      A number of anthropologists working in Hong Kong in the last two decades have tackled problems concerning traditional China. The main interest has been in social structure but a few studies dealing with problems of cognition have been carried out since the early ’60s. The published results, which are just beginning to appear, already indicate the value of Hong Kong for research in this field.¹

      This article is based on data obtained during a study of child-rearing in Hong Kong and deals with problems in the perception, conception, and treatment of two human disorders by Chinese traditional methods.² The disorders...

    • Chapter 18 Cosmic Antagonisms: A Mother-Child Syndrome
      (pp. 471-488)

      The period immediately following the birth of a baby is a time of biological and emotional adjustment for mother and child, when, in the Chinese view, a variety of difficulties can be anticipated. The child, for example, may refuse to nurse and gain little weight; it may have skin, bowel, or digestive disorders. It may be easily agitated and may respond poorly to the mother’s management. The mother, too, may have difficulties: in establishing her milk, in dealing with her own weakness and depression, in developing affection for the child. But such difficulties are expected to be temporary; if they...

    • Chapter 19 Chinese and Western Medicine in Hong Kong: Some Social and Cultural Determinants of Variation, Interaction and Change
      (pp. 489-522)

      Hong Kong is a British Crown Colony lying just inside the tropics, to the south-east of China adjoining the province of Kwangtung [Guangdong]. Its 400 square miles includes the island of “Hongkong”, and the peninsular Kowloon, ceded to Great Britain in 1841 and 1860 respectively; and the New Territories, a settled rural area, added by a 99-year lease in 1898.

      Both traditional and modern, or “Chinese” and “Western” medicine, as they are commonly called, are officially recognized; they have always been officially regarded and administered as separate systems. Since the end of the Japanese Occupation however, although they continue to...

    • Chapter 20 Chinese Traditional Aetiology and Methods of Cure in Hong Kong
      (pp. 523-548)

      The position of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong and the problems of official recognition are complex. When in 1841 a certain Captain Elliott negotiated the preliminaries for a Sino-British treaty for the cession of Hong Kong island, one of his proclamations stated that the Chinese were “secured in the free exercise of their religious rites, ceremonies, and social interests....” Many local inhabitants regard this statement as meaning that Chinese customs insofar as they are not harmful or contrary to natural justice should be protected: that no law which would interfere with their integrity should be applied to them. By and...

  11. Appendix Glossary of Chinese Terms
    (pp. 549-572)
  12. Index
    (pp. 573-609)