Separation and Reunion in Modern China

By Charles Stafford | Go to book overview

1
Tow festivals of reunion

I'll begin my discussion of the separation constraint in China and Taiwan by relating what happens at an 'obviously' important moment: namely midnight on new year's eve. For although the Chinese lunar calendar (yueli, nongli) has no shortage of significant and celebrated occasions, by far the most elaborate and extended celebrations are prompted by the 'turning of the year' (guonian)– i.e. the passage into the next annual cycle. And as I'll show in this chapter, the new year festival, with its solemn rituals and raucous banqueting, explicitly and repeatedly celebrates the ideals of 'unity' and 'reunion'. It elaborates, on some levels, a fantasy of perpetual 'non-separation', and its key moment entails reunification with the dead. This is also true of the important festival marking the arrival of 'midautumn' (zhongqiu), which I will also discuss. But I should stress that the emphasis of these two festivals on reunion is far from unique. For as Goran Aijmer has pointed out, the entire Chinese ceremonial calendar is built around reciprocal visits, especially those between ancestors and descendants (Aijmer 1991). Such visits– marked off by rituals of arrival and departure– inevitably highlight ongoing reciprocity and 'unity' in the face of death and spatial separation. 1

Calendrical festivals are thus my first, perhaps rather obvious and public, evidence that processes of separation and reunion are a matter of concern in China. In this chapter, I will describe at some length new year celebrations in the rural northeast (primarily as seen from the household of one local cadre in the village of Dragon-head), and also in the Taiwanese community of Angang. In both places the new year compels, or at least appears to compel, reunions of many kinds. Then I will turn, albeit more briefly, to the mid-autumn festival as celebrated, also in northeastern China, at a teacher's training college (shizhuan). The students of this college – village-born migrants through an educational system which has often been strongly anti-traditional– do not go home for the 'mid-autumn' celebrations, and instead are compelled to reunite in new configurations. This is of interest, because when people in China and Taiwan discuss the new year and mid-autumn festivals, they often say the traditions associated

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Separation and Reunion in Modern China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Introduction: An Anthropology of Separation 1
  • 1 - Tow Festivals of Reunion 30
  • 2 - The Etiquette of Parting and Return 55
  • 3 - Greeting and Sending-Off the Dead 70
  • 4 - The Ambivalent Threshold 87
  • 5 - Commensality as Reunion 99
  • 6 - Women and the Obligation to Return 110
  • 7 - Developing a Sense of History 127
  • 8 - Classical Narratives of Separation and Reunion 144
  • 9 - The Politics of Separation and Reunion in China and Taiwan 156
  • Conclusion - The Separation Constraint 174
  • Notes 179
  • References 192
  • Index 200
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