Accepted Paper:

Revisiting the self in Chinese kinship studies: through the household investigation ritual  


Koon Lee Dean Wang (National University of Singapore)

Paper short abstract:

What is in the body of a Chinese? How is the body tied to the intimate environment – the house? This paper, through the Household Investigation Ritual, seeks to revisit the idea of the Self in relation to the cosmic and spiritual realm, and also its interaction with others in a household setting.

Paper long abstract:

In traditional scholarship on Chinese kinship and family, the focus on the Self seems to be obsessed with the surname. However, the zodiac as a birth element, which is fixed and determined since birth till death of a Chinese, and in the body of a Chinese, is usually being neglected in these studies. In view of this, how can the incorporation of the zodiac, also as a part of the identity of the Self, into current research enhance our understanding of Chinese kinship? While the study of the Self is never complete without considering the aspect of "others" and also the physical environment it resides in, this study will also consider the anthropology of house, another area that is relatively neglected by scholars working on kinship studies in the context of overseas Chinese communities, and examine how are the everyday activities of the Self closely knitted with the house. Through the Household Investigation Ritual conducted by some temples in Singapore, a ritual that had not gained the attention of scholars working in the related fields, this paper fills up certain gaps in the current scholarship, and explores how do traditional rituals influence our understanding of the Self and the house. I would argue that through close analysis of this ritual, the idea of animal and farm as metaphors for the Self and house respectively could be clearly illustrated, while at the same time providing new insights to Chinese kinship organization and structures of modern-day Singapore.

Panel P059
Anthropology through the experience of the physical body