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Moralising Ancestors as Socio-moral Capital: A Study of a Transnational Chinese Lineage

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Within the Chinese Diaspora, ancestor worship is an important cultural element that binds a group of people together and provides them with a sense of comfort, kinship and communal identity as they sink their cultural roots in a new country, luodi shenggen. Thus, ancestor worship is widely reproduced and practised by the Chinese in the Diaspora, as it is central to the Chinese understanding of the continuation of family and lineage. However, in Mainland Chinese villages, the practice of ancestor worship, which is still considered important by the villagers, was not allowed until the Open Door Policy in 1978. With this policy, emigrant villages, (qiaoxiang) embarked on an aggressive campaign to woo the Chinese in overseas communities to return to their native villages to help with economic development through various strategies. One of the strategies is to allow for the revival and practice of ancestor worship in the rural villages. This paper explores how ancestors continued to be regarded as important members of a transnational lineage in the Fujian Province in South China, and also in Singapore. Because of the central focus on ancestors and ancestor worship in the Chinese society, ancestors are moralised as a significant social capital by the Chinese State, local government and rural villagers, in an attempt to establish transnational guanxi linkages between the ancestral villages in rural China and their Diaspora members in Singapore. The Chinese State, with instrumental consideration, sees this transnational guanxi networks and the revival of ancestor worship as a strategy to encourage the Chinese Diaspora to visit their ancestral home and help with village development.


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