Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

14 Bandits, Beggars, and Ghosts
The Failure of State Control over
Religious Interpretation in Taiwan

Robert P. Weller

Throughout the last century, local temples in Taiwan propitiated socially marginal ghosts in the Pudu (Universal Salvation Festival). The traditional state manipulated the ghost cult in an attempt to enhance its control; the current state is making similar, but less systematic efforts. These efforts largely failed, however, because of the nature of popular interpretation. Popular interpretations of the ceremony experienced several transformations within a basic symbolic framework that defined ghosts as socially marginal beings: ghosts were dangerous outsiders in the commercializing frontier of the 1880s, but they have become the powerless old with the changing family structure of modern Taiwan. Official and elite attempts at ideological control were unsuccessful because the state had no institution that could challenge the symbolic definition of ghostly marginality, or that could channel people's flexible reinterpretations of ghosts. --Author's Abstract

THREE STATES HAVE CONTROLLED TAIWAN over the last century: the Qing Dynasty, a Japanese colonial government, and the current Nationalist government. Each has attempted to manipulate popular ritual, and each has largely failed in the attempt. This paper will analyze the Universal Salvation (Pudu), a major annual ritual to appease the ghosts of the improperly dead. 1 The state's successive failures to manipulate this ritual result from the nature of popular interpretation of ghosts. People produce their interpretations out of their material

American Ethnologist 12( 1) ( February 1985): 46-61.

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