Ghostly trade: morality, markets and the unfortunate dead in contemporary Viet Nam
(University of Sussex)
Paper short abstract:
The paper is concerned with the relation between morality and the market through exploring the tensions and strains inhabiting a series of ritual practices that centre on providing relief to hungry ghosts as carried out in contemporary Viet Nam.
Paper long abstract:
The paper is concerned with a series of ritual practices that centre on providing relief to hungry ghosts as carried out in contemporary Viet Nam. It focuses on instances of alms offered and gifts given to destitute souls that wander marketplaces, often with unclear intentions. The ritual offerings made by shopkeepers, petty entrepreneurs and market-stall owners have, in recent years, grown significantly in terms of intensity, scale and value. The paper argues that such exchanges form a ritual technology aimed at staving off potentially malevolent influences and neutralising threats that could interfere with entrepreneurs' success in trade. Furthermore, it highlights the uncertainty and ambivalence of motivations that drive such exchanges with the said ambivalence applying equally to ghosts and humans. Vietnamese charitable practices towards ghosts are not simply driven by an awareness of the sufferings of others. Ethical concerns and virtues such as those of compassion and kindness are undeniably cultivated by religious training in Buddhist teachings. Yet everyday acts of benevolence are also driven by widespread anxieties. The menace the ghosts present in terms of the power they have over the fortune and wellbeing of the living is not without significance. Such menace has gained recognition in contemporary Viet Nam as the process of marketization has taken hold. This is a process marked by an increase in the numbers of the newly prospering and growing socioeconomic inequalities and experienced through intense doubts about the legitimacy of other's people wealth and uncertainties about the permanence of one's own riches.
Virtue in the marketplace