previous sub-section
Chapter Three Community, Hierarchy and Authority Elites and Non-elites in the Making of Native-Place Culture during the Late Qing
next sub-section

Encompassing the People

Burial and Welfare Services . Because of the importance of burial in the ancestral home, huiguan expended considerable amounts of managerial energy and funding on the provision of coffins, coffin storage in special repositories (binshe or bingshe ) prior to shipment, and cemeteries (shanzhuang, yimu ) in Shanghai for the "temporary" resting or burial of deceased tongxiang whose families could not afford the costs of shipment and burial in the native place. Such functions required not only the purchase of land and the continual building of new cemeteries and mortuaries to accommodate the growing immigrant population but, in addition, payment for geomancers, guards and sacrifices at cemetery altars.[12] Toward the end of the nineteenth century, as both western and Chinese authorities imposed limits on coffin storage, huiguan also


91

began more systematically to take on the considerable expense and management of coffin shipment to the native place.[13]

Huiguan cemeteries and coffin repositories symbolically encompassed the large community and reinforced the social hierarchy which structured it. Burial arrangements reproduced the social hierarchy of the living. Diagrams and rules for the operation of coffin repositories indicate several levels of coffin accommodations (with a corresponding scale of expenses) as well as strict separation of the sexes within each rank.[14]

Ordinary sojourners in Shanghai could depend on their huiguan not only for assistance when they passed away but also for help in the present. Huiguan often provided return passage for those who could not remain in Shanghai and intervened in court cases on behalf of those needing guarantors. An example of both forms of assistance may be found in the case of the Guangdong prostitutes Chen Yuanjin and Run Jin, who wished to redeem themselves and quit their profession. The Guang-Zhao Gongsuo petitioned the court on the women's behalf. Meanwhile, it arranged for tongxiang to guard the women while their case was being decided, to protect them from being abducted by their brothel keeper. The magistrate approved the petition and turned the women over to the huiguan, which arranged for their safe return to Guangdong.[15] Such acts, like burial provisions, reinforced the idea of a larger native-place community while establishing the huiguan oligarchs as the benevolent heads of a paternalistic hierarchy.

Religious Festivals and Processions . The early sojourning merchants and artisans established their associations as religious corporations. As their stone inscriptions testify, they built huiguan to collectively worship local or patron gods as well as to consolidate native-place


92

sentiment and facilitate the enterprises of fellow sojourners. This temple function was expressed in alternate names for huiguan (dian, tang, miao ), as well as in the altars that formed the ceremonial center of their buildings. The religious role of huiguan reinforced their symbolic centrality to the larger sojourning community.

Huiguan capacity as religious centers for sojourning communities must have been strained by immigration. The largest huiguan buildings could not accommodate more than several thousand people, whereas sojourning communities could number more than one hundred thousand. It was at least partly to maintain their image as community leaders that huiguan directors sponsored religious festivals which extended beyond their gates. Public processions displayed local strength, territorial jurisdiction, and the wealth and prestige of the merchant-sponsors, creating community among participants and enacting hierarchy.

Huiguan were major though not exclusive organizers of large festivals and processions in Shanghai in the second haft of the nineteenth century.[16] They derived authority by both sponsoring and controlling large gatherings which were by their nature prone to be disorderly. Huiguan authority as institutions which kept order in the city was thus dependent on the periodic disruption of normal public order.

Although sojourners shared the Chinese ritual calendar with local residents, religious practices also set them apart. Huiguan did not participate in local earth god (tudi ) rituals. Identification with Shanghai soil would have jarred with the fundamental identification with ancestral soil, the "projection of consanguinity into space," to use the description of Fei Xiaotong, that underlay native-placc identity. The Siming Gongsuo, for example, had its own tudi temple, representing Ningbo soil in Shanghai. Earth god altars were also located in sojourners' coffin repositories.[17]

The two major types of popular religious rituals associated with huiguan were jiao and yulanpenhui. Jiao were Daoist rituals on behalf of


93

territorial cult communities, associated with the consecration and renewal of temples and temple territory. They involved ritual manipulations of temple gods by Daoist priests and were often combined with a procession by the inhabitants of a particular area associated with a temple. Smaller jiao with processions and theatrical performances were associated with celebrations of gods' birthdays.[18]

Yulanpenhui, Buddhist-influenced ceremonies to feed and propitiate hungry, wandering orphan ghosts, took place in the middle of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar (see Figure 4).[19] Participants carried grotesque representations of ghosts, set lantern boats afloat for drowned souls, and scattered rice on the ground and in lakes, streams and canals. They also attached lanterns to platforms or conical structures, along with sacrificial offerings.

People from Ningbo and Shaoxing prefectures in Zhejiang province, from the Guang-Zhao and Chaozhou areas of Guangdong, and from Fujian were known for exuberant jiao and yulanpenhui in Shanghai. Preparations were costly and elaborate. In addition to huiguan resident priests, Daoist and Buddhist priests came to Shanghai from as far away as Guangdong to officiate. Organizers erected bamboo-and-mat platforms to enlarge the dimensions of altars for the three-day ceremony. Open-air stages were constructed for continual opera performances. Peddlers and food sellers flocked into Shanghai for the great marketing opportunity presented by the throngs of participants. Such festivals brought "enormous trade in sea slugs, glazed ducks and rice cakes," spirit money, incense, and ritual paraphernalia.[20]

Processions, which could extend three-quarters of a mile, consisted of troupes of musicians, laborers dressed as bannermen and officials, lantern carriers, ancestral tablet bearers, ornamented ponies, Buddhist and Daoist priests, and sedan chairs carrying major contributors (see


94

Figure 4). During the period of the yulanpenhui, stalls bedecked with red paper invitations to the hungry ghosts filled the streets, stacked with ritual cakes to be purchased for ghostly consumption. Cakes were also distributed to the poor. At various places in the city participants set fires to transmit spirit money, paper clothes and paper houses for the suffering ghosts. Foreigners complained that these bonfires took place during periods of heavy traffic (between 5:00 and 6:00 P.M.), on major roads and bridges. They were at any rate timed and located for peak visibility.[21]


95

Figure 4.
Yulanpenhui. The title and caption read, "Ghosts Making Trouble on
the Street: Yulanpen gatherings in Shanghai are especially spectacu lar.
In the  last ten  days of the last month, a crowd of Daoist priests and
laymen gathered in a proces- sion to offer incense. When they walked
through the main street of the British  Settlement the people who joined
them burned paper in gots along the way. The [British- employed] Sikh
police tried unsuc- cessfully to stop them, so the po lice dragged  two
participants to the police station. The people in the procession were
enraged. They assembled a ghost gang, in which everyone was horse
faced, cow headed, lion toothed and golden eyed. They crowded at the
station and fought with their ceremonial knives. The red-turbaned police
emanated black ghost power. The blue-faced devil troops exhibited
barbarian rabble spirit. The two who were trapped in the devil country
have not yet emerged from the door to the underworld."Source: Dianshizhai
hua bao (Dianshi Studio pictorial  newspaper), 1983 Guangzhou reprint of
late-Qing edition (1884-1898).

Such complex events—which incorporated religious ritual, performance and entertainment, demonstrations of wealth and prestige, charitable acts and free food, and the vigorous transaction of petty business—had multiple meanings. Yulanpenhui, which propitiated wandering ghosts, and jiao, processions associated with territorial cults, may have had particular resonance for sojourning communities. As the provision of burial services demonstrates, huiguan were concerned not only with live sojourners but also with sojourning souls, souls conceived as suffer-


96

ing until they could return to their ancestral home. Sojourning ghosts, far from ancestral soil and outsiders in an alien environment, bore a close resemblance to the familyless wandering ghosts invoked by yulanpenhui. The concerns of poor male sojourners who lived in Shanghai without wives or children appear in stone inscriptions of Ningbo worker and artisan associations: "Living, we are guests from other parts; dead, we are ghosts from foreign territory."[22]

On another level, the marginal hungry ghosts who demanded charity may have functioned as symbolic representations of the marginal and hungry in Shanghai. Despite the deportations of ruffians and vagabonds that followed the Small Sword Uprising of 1853, such people increased as the city grew, drawing their numbers from refugees and immigrants, those who lost work through the vagaries of Shanghai's shifting labor market. For the many unmarried sojourning men far away from their relatives and without families of their own in Shanghai, the festivals and processions could provide a ritual sense of public belonging. The poor among them also had the right to demand (and receive) gifts of food.[23]

It was perhaps because these ceremonies had such resonance for marginal and potentially disruptive elements that they disturbed Chinese officials. Such gatherings were condemned by the conservative reformer Ding Richang, who served as Governor of Jiangsu beginning in 1867. Ding, who had demonstrated his concern for maintaining order in Shanghai's rapidly changing and increasingly chaotic environment by ruthless beatings, imprisonment and mass deportations of vagabonds during his term as Su-Song-Tai Daotai in 1864-65, prohibited jiao and Buddhist festivals. He argued that these were un-Confucian and unrighteous, wasteful, and likely to encourage crime.[24]

There were many reasons why Chinese officials tried to discipline popular festivals, rituals which competed in size and grandeur with


97

official ceremonies. The potentially violent crowds certainly worried them. Western observers noted bloody accidents and quarrels as the poor jostled and pressed to receive cakes and vied to participate in the processions.[25]

The symbolic content of these rituals also challenged the state. Yulanpenhui involved ritual sacrifice, not to gods (which could symbolically represent the emperor and on whom the state could inscribe values which would uphold the Confucian state hierarchy) but to orphan ghosts. Because ghosts were anomic and marginal individuals, outside the hierarchical social order, they represented illegitimate power. A ritual like the yulanpenhui, which recognized ghostly demands for food as legitimate, may have made the state particularly uneasy.[26]

Ding's efforts to suppress popular processions in the late 1860s were followed by yearly prohibitions by the Daotai and city magistrates for the next several decades. Official proclamations permitted merchants to construct altars and conduct ceremonies for the ghosts but forbade them to organize yulanpenhui processions and "incite the crowds to riot." Chinese constables, dibao, were instructed to intervene against processions. Anyone who dared to ignore the laws was warned of merciless punishment.[27]

Chinese officials also sought foreign assistance in suppressing the processions. The Daotai requested the Consul General of the International Settlement to issue placards to admonish and guide huiguan and sojourning communities. Settlement police were requested to uphold the prohibition, as they indeed appear to be doing in Figure 4.[28]

Processions continued nonetheless. Even under the strict rule of


98

Ding Richang, the North China Herald observed that "[proclamations were] still hanging on the city walls when a monster procession took place." In 1872, "the autumnal religious processions ... [were] engaged in as freely as ever." By the end of the decade, despite the Shanghai magistrate's "indefatigable" floggings of procession promoters, the "religious fervor" of Chinese residents still broke through.[29]

In the last quarter of the century, newspaper references to unruly jiao appear less frequently, and annual yulanpenhui took place within the confines of cemetery walls.[30] The Guang-Zhao cemetery was noted for the scale of its yulanpenhui:

The property is particularly large. There is a hall for the gods, a reception hall, an artificial hill and a small lake. In all seasons the flowers and trees can be enjoyed for the scenery.... Each year in the seventh moon there is a yulanpenhui and celebration of the zhongyuan festival. The tongxiang collect money and meet, hiring monks and Daoist masters to propitiate the roving ghosts. They not only burn mountains of incense and candles but also set up stands displaying curios and the work of famous calligraphers. Crowds persist into the night, viewing lanterns and theater. On the 14th, 15th and 16th, the people are numerous, wearing hair ornaments, scented clothing and fans, their numbers increasing into the evening. The Daotai fears ruffians, robbery and theft, thus he sends braves in addition to his attendants, arranging for each to separately patrol the area. Thus fights may be broken up.[31]

Although the Guang-Zhao festivities remained grand, a process of confinement resulted in smaller and less public festival celebrations. By the turn of the century, at least in the Ningbo community, different occupational subgroups took turns at using the huiguan for their individual jiao. The huiguan remained at the ceremonial center, but the community trader the huiguan umbrella was increasingly divided by shifting ritual practices by occupation and class.[32]

This shift also reflected changes in elite public opinion. In the 1880s reformist attacks on yulanpenhui appeared in the Shenbao which echoed


99

Ding Richang's conservative Confucian condemnation of superstition and waste and which intermixed traditional arguments with modern-sounding practicality: "This Seventh Moon Festival is very popular in Shanghai, and the Guang-Zhao Gongsuo's yulanpenhui is the most extravagant and luxurious. They make paper buildings and enormous paper constructions. Every year they spend tons of money. Yulanpenhui are an old custom and people believe if they contribute they will gain protection. But such things are uncertain. No one knows if helping ghosts will effect a positive result.... The yulanpenhui is to relieve the homeless ghosts. But they are already dead.... Why not help the living?" This writer argued, tongue in cheek, that the ceremonies did not even serve the interests of native-place sentiment. Yulanpenhui did not just assist Guangdong ghosts, it also helped ghosts from other places. "Now if you save the money and send it directly to Guangdong, your own place will derive all the benefit." He recommended frugality, even if tradition could not be abandoned. When floods struck Guangdong in 1880, huiguan directors were exhorted to restrict their festival spending and promote public righteousness by caring for their own people:[33] "Because you are from Guangdong ... you must be concerned with the plight of your fellow-provincials. You will contribute to Guangdong because you are from Guangdong. If you don't contribute, who can they depend on? ... You could reduce your yulanpenhui expenses by 70-80% and give this money to Guangdong. Sending it to the native place will improve your reputation."[34]

In the meantime, such articles did not inhibit public enjoyment of a good festival. Even elite public opinion, as expressed in the progressive Shenbao, was torn between reformist criticisms of "superstitious" and "wasteful" ceremonies and appreciation of festival marvels. An editorial written at the same time as the Guangdong flood (and including a few


100

perfunctory comments about wastefulness) expressed clearly the popular appeal of the jiao for people in all walks of life:

The lights and ornaments at the Guang-Zhao Shanzhuang were even more intricate than last year.... In the daytime it was very crowded and lively. Most who come in the day are ... low class people. But at night come the people with fragrant clothes, their shadows like running water.... The noise of carts and vehicles is like a waterfall, flowing until morning. At the east gate on a construction of about one hundred paces in length hung one hundred lights, high and low, a city of fire. Lamps hung over the gate as high as heaven, illuminating an ingenious paper Guangdong opera below.... Opposite were paper constellations and a marvelous crystal palace.... Everywhere hung calligraphy and paintings of famous people. It was very elegant. In the International Settlement some people ... made an altar.... They had Ningbo fireworks ... but it was nothing compared to the Guang-Zhao Shanzhuang.[35]

Despite increasing claims on huiguan money for public charity, in their confined and increasingly compartmentalized forms, festivals associated with huiguan remained popular into the twentieth century.[36]

If festivals incurred considerable expense and problems of control, they also represented a kind of compromise between huiguan leaders and groups in the sojourning community which might otherwise have threatened huiguan authority. Processions not only gave huiguan an opportunity to assert their centrality in the tongxiang community and their importance in the city but also provided occasions for public displays of group pride and belonging for less socially elevated but nonetheless powerful groups. The wealthy and prominent huiguan leaders gained popular prestige and recognition by sponsoring processions. Festivals provided poor sojourners with temporary employment, free food, and also a moment of ritual role reversal in the opportunity to dress as officials and notables. Festivals were also a likely source of profit for secret societies. Information from other cities suggests the dependence of huiguan leaders on professional organizers to solicit additional "contributions" for these festivals. Such organizers were often secret-society members who used this license to extort money.[37]


101

Huiguan authority depended on the leaders' ability to create a sense of community hierarchically arranged below the huiguan. Nonparticipation in popular festivals or serious restraint of crowd activities would have created visible lines of opposition within the community, placing huiguan leaders outside expressions of popular sentiment. As sponsors, they could preside over and benefit from popular enthusiasm.

Religious ceremonies also brought workers' associations (hui ) formally into the huiguan institutional structure. Because rituals (including burial arrangements) were expensive, they motivated the formation of organizations to collect funds and compelled cooperation and coordination among separate organizations. In the late nineteenth century, as the merchant directors who comprised the huiguan elite became more focused on other forms of public activism, Ningbo workers and artisans formed mutual-aid associations which collected funds and invested in city property in order to have a stable funding base from which to assist members with burial costs and the costs of jiao and yulanpenhui. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, these associations began a process of formal incorporation into the merchant-dominated Siming Gongsuo to ensure access to huiguan religious halls and altars. The formation of worker mutual-aid associations and their incorporation into the huiguan, a process which continued into the first decades of the twentieth century, reflected necessities imposed by demographic growth. By the turn of the century Zhejiang sojourners had grown rapidly from a mid-century population of approximately sixty thousand to well over one hundred thousand. Communitywide access to huiguan resources even at ritual moments vastly exceeded huiguan capacity (and the funding capacities and inclinations of huiguan directors). Non-elite members of the community clearly felt the need to both organize and effectively "buy into" the powerful Siming Gongsuo in order to ensure access and protection.[38]

As early as 1863-64, Ningbo foreign-employed workers and servants


102

formally estabhslied the Changsheng (Long Life) Yulanpenhui, a religious association to ensure the ritual provision of yulanpen sacrifices at the Siming Gongsuo for a period of three days and nights each year. In 1896-97 the Changsheng association transferred its considerable property holdings into the huiguan. The terms of the arrangement provided for permanent huiguan management of Changsheng Hui assets in return for guaranteed provision of yulanpen expenses. A stone inscription authored by Shen Honglai, leader of the Changsheng Hui, documents the contrast between the concern of this man of the laboring classes for protecting Ningbo coffins and the expediency of the elite huiguan directors. Learning of a huiguan plan in 1898 to displace four hundred coffins in order to construct a new coffin repository and road, Shen protested to the directors, pressuring them into showing more respect for the Ningbo dead.[39]

Ningbo carpenters similarly organized a Changxing (Lasting Prosperity) Hui and established a formal tie with the Siming Gongsuo in 1879 to guarantee access to burial services, coffin storage and shipment. Each carpenter contributed small but steady amounts of money, which the association kept in a fund. By 1894 the carpenters' association owned property and capital of five thousand yuan. In 1899, following the model of the Changsheng Hui, it asked the huiguan to manage its holdings, ensuring yearly income for coffins, yulanpen sacrifices for hungry ghosts, expenses for Qing Ming (the day of sweeping graves), and a jiao at the end of the year. Similar arrangements, recorded in stone inscriptions, were made by associations of Ningbo butchers, ferry workers, dock-workers and shiphands, bamboo workers, carriage varnishers and metal workers, all of which formally placed themselves under the organizational umbrella of the Siming Gongsuo during the last two decades of the Qing.[40]

The exuberance of religious festivals at the end of the Qing suggests


103

that although huiguan sponsored such events, their control over them was limited. In the immigrant, densely populated but largely unpoliced "frontier" city of Shanghai, huiguan interest lay in extending ritual activity to incorporate popular festivals. It is not clear that huiguan directors could have suppressed popular demonstrations if they had tried. The sponsorship of large-scale community events, on the other hand, established and enhanced the image of huiguan as patron organizations within their large tongxiang communities. Similarly, prominence in religious functions, including burials and propitiations of gods and ghosts, invested the huiguan with more sacred authority. Provision for ghosts, as well as disaster victims, the poor and the wayward all served to enhance paternalistic authority. As the huiguan merchant elite moved toward a more secular and national public-spiritedness, huiguan directors increased their distance from festivals. They nonetheless benefited from the compartmentalized incorporation of more religious sojourners into the huiguan. While the huiguan repositioned itself, shifting from organizing common religious rituals to managing group investments, the workers and craftsmen who continued to believe in jiao and yulanpenhui used huiguan facilities, but their rituals became private occasions.

Opera and Native-Place Community Huiguan performances, like the religious festivals of which they were often part, were fundamental in knitting together a community out of disparate class elements. Theatrical performances, like processions, served the twin functions of huiguan publicity and popular expression. The noisy open-air performance of local opera in the dialect and style of the native-place asserted sojourner presence in the city. Huiguan opera performances could also exacerbate preexisting tensions between regional groups.[41]


104

Like the expansion of huiguan religious functions to incorporate the needs and interests of the broader community, dialect opera was a late development in the evolution of huiguan as urban institutions. In Shanghai, this change occurred in the late nineteenth century, as huiguan endeavored to represent the increasingly large and diverse so-journing communities which resulted from immigration.

Public theaters did not exist generally in Shanghai until the last decades of the nineteenth century. Prior to this time, as the diary of an opera connoisseur in Shanghai in the 1850s confirms, huiguan opera performances made native-place associations important cultural centers in the city.[42] Although most people went for the pleasure of seeing opera, huiguan opera was conceived ritually as the provision of entertainment for the gods (jisi xiqu, sacrificial theater). This ritual function was expressed in huiguan architecture, in which elaborate stages faced the altars of huiguan deities across the central courtyard. The human audience for these performances was initially small: sojourning merchants, literati and officials.

The development of popular urban theater from huiguan theater, a process which has been described by Tanaka Issei, reflected a prior process of popularization that took place within huiguan performances themselves. This popularization of huiguan theater followed city growth and reflected the tastes of the increasing numbers of sojourning craftsmen and workers. These performances, still funded by the huiguan leaders, were known as charitable, or righteous, performances (yiyan ), conveying the idea that huiguan -sponsored opera was a form of community service or patronage.[43]


105

Opera was not performed in local dialects until the late Qing. The earliest huiguan served communities of officials and scholars who favored the elite operatic styles of the court. Merchant-dominated huiguan, like those established in Shanghai, initially modeled themselves after the scholar-official huiguan. This orientation led early merchant huiguan to put on selections from kunqu, a form patronized by the court as the official national operatic style.[44]

This changed in the late Qing, when huiguan in expanding commercial centers began to sponsor performances by traveling opera troupes from their native places, operas performed in native-place dialect. Huiguan performances also began to reflect the tastes of a more popular constituency, discarding conventional and conservative tales of loyalty and filiality for the excitement of romantic love and martial heroism.[45]

As this shift suggests, by the late nineteenth century huiguan opera performances reflected a marriage of elite and non-elite influences. Merchant prosperity enabled huiguan to support increasingly lavish performances by opera troupes from the native place. The less cosmopolitan horizons of non-elite sojourners formed dialect and cultural barriers to the appreciation of any opera other than that of the native place. Because huiguan were the patron organizations of a large sojourning community, they could not afford to alienate that community with unfamiliar and elite cultural forms, so they catered increasingly to the parochial tastes of workers and craftsmen.[46] In this fashion, huiguan came increasingly to promote local native-place rather than elite culture. By cultivating a broader sojourning community, huiguan became less rather than more cosmopolitan cultural centers in this period.


106

Tanaka identifies three phases in state attitudes toward huiguan opera, reflecting shifts in opera content. In the early and middle Qing, the state attempted to suppress popular opera performance but permitted the sacrificial performances of officials and merchants within huiguan. Such performances were considered Confucian and neither lewd nor wantonly martial. In the late Qing, as urban public theater began to develop outside huiguan, the government viewed huiguan performances as preferable to what was offered in public theaters. Huiguan theaters were protected because the government believed that the elite directors would exercise conservative taste and shun unorthodox plays. By the end of the Qing, as huiguan performances increasingly embraced the "lewd" and martial themes the state opposed, the government made weak attempts to restrict these types of performances, but it refrained from vigorous suppression of huiguan theater.[47]

Huiguan theater, which continued into the early twentieth century before being displaced by public theaters, may have served state interests in social control just as it served the interests of the huiguan leaders. Opera both brought a wide community into the huiguan and reinforced the hierarchy within that community. Huiguan leaders and their selected guests sat either on a raised platform around the stage or along the two side balconies (kanlou or kantai ). The rest of the crowd, those who were not the benefactors but the recipients, pressed into the wide courtyard. From the courtyard, the audience had to look up, not only to the performance but also to the feasting and richly clothed patrons of their community (see Figure 5).


previous sub-section
Chapter Three Community, Hierarchy and Authority Elites and Non-elites in the Making of Native-Place Culture during the Late Qing
next sub-section