Monday, August 30, 2004
Saturday, August 28, 2004
The 15th century was a period of intense interaction between Ming China and Southeast Asia. The period saw the Ming invade ÃÂaÃÂ£i ViÃÂªÃÂ£t, expand the scope of the Chinese polity by exploiting and then incorporating Tai polities of upland Southeast Asia, and launch a succession of hugely influential maritime armadas which travelled through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. It is argued that these three aspects of Ming policy can be seen as differing types of Ming colonialism greatly affecting Southeast Asia during the 15th century and beyond. A chronological study of the policies relating to Southeast Asia of the successive Ming rulers is followed by a thematic overview of how the Ming policies actually affected Southeast Asia in the 15th century. This includes reference to effects in the political, economic and cultural topography of Southeast Asia The beginnings of a non-state-sponsored maritime trade between China and Southeast Asia is also investigated.
Ming, Southeast Asia, 15th century, Zheng He, Dai Viet, Tai, Malacca
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Friday, August 27, 2004
First, the tanki, performs prayers to the Jade emperor and other main gods and deities. Then he sits on elaborately carved Ã¢ÂÂdragon chairÃ¢ÂÂ, so named due to the motifs of flying dragon, Chinese mystical symbols of power and fortune.
The possession begins
Possessed by Na Zha, the tanki walks around with a pacifier
Worshippers feeding the Na Zha possessed medium with milk and sweets
He lets his head down with their legs wide apart, chanting and calling the gods to possess him, while gradually falling into a trance. The moment of sacred possession is often signaled by increasingly fast gyration of his head, violent twitching of his body, and sometimes followed by sudden movements, such as a hop onto a table or chair. Often, the movements are so violent that the medium might hurt himself, and the temple assistants have to hold him tight, and then helped him to put on brightly coloured embroidered aprons which proclaim the name of the temple and the Ã¢ÂÂvisitingÃ¢ÂÂ deity.
A deity often represented by such rituals is the Qi Tian Da Sheng (literally meaning The Saint Equal With Heaven) or the Monkey God famous in the great Chinese classic, Journey To The West (Xi-You-Ji), which some say is the Chinese equivalent of the Hindu Monkey God Hanuman. The tanki who is possessed by Qi Tian Da Sheng often jumps around with great agility like a monkey. His followers would follow him around, sometimes feeding him peanuts or bananas.
Another Ã¢ÂÂpopularÃ¢ÂÂ god is the child-god Ne Zha (also known as San-Tai-Zi or the Third Prince), who is often seen holding a large magical ring and spear while standing on wheels of fire. Once possessed by Ne Zha, the tanki would be sucking a pacifier and wandering around the venue with followers who pass him sweets like one would do to children. Tankis are also often possessed by deities such as Guan Yin, Guan Di Yeh, Ji Gong, Hei Bai Wu Chang, Da Er Bo Yeh, etc.
As the ceremony progresses, the tanki wanders around the temple compound amidst loud gong clamps and sacred music, followed by devout worshippers. The tankiÃ¢ÂÂs assistant walks ahead of the tanki, waving a whip and occasionally hitting the ground with it. This whip, known as the fa-shen (Ã¢ÂÂWhip of the PowerÃ¢ÂÂ), usually has a wooden handle carved in the shape of a snakeÃ¢ÂÂs head. It drives away the evil spirit and clear the way for the god-possessed tanki.
Then the self-mortification begins. The tanki performs mortification using a few ceremonial weapons. These could include swords which he uses to beat or even slash his body. Occasionally he pierces his tongue with skewers to draw blood, or metal poles or spikes through his checks. Another commonly-used equipment is the Ã¢ÂÂprick ballÃ¢ÂÂ, a metal ball with 108 spikes protruding from its core. The tanki usually swings the ball around via a metal chain, hitting his body with it, cutting his back in the process. Quite a bloody affair indeed!
To the believers, the drawing of blood signifies personal sacrifice and the powers of the deities in possession of the tanki. Some scholars, somewhat skeptical, often observe that the tankis tend to slow the momentum of the swinging weapons just before they hit the skin. This means that any wound or cut sustained by the tanki is largely superficial, hardly more than a scratch.
The medium mutilates himself as proof of possession
The Monkey God manifesting himself through the medium
The possession ends
In some major ceremonies, however, the tankis may pierce their cheeks and tongue with skewers, drawing copious quantity of blood and yet appearing to feel little pain, as evidence of providential protection. Practitioners say that the wounds are real though they hardly feel pain when possessed by the gods; the pain comes immediately after they recover from the trance. Even then, these wounds tend to heal fast, and rather miraculously as well.
The blood drawn from the piercing is ued to scribble words representing messages from the gods on charm paper and embroidered cloth pieces or flags. Followers sometimes bring the charm paper home, burn them, and then drink water with the ashes of the charm paper in it.
Eventually, the tankis, still in their trance, would return to their dragon chair. The gongs would be beaten and the tankis gradually return to their Ã¢ÂÂunpossessedÃ¢ÂÂ or Ã¢ÂÂnaturalÃ¢ÂÂ state. As sudden as it began, the ceremony would come to an end. The tanki would open his eyes, wipe his body with rags and proceed to keep his tools.
Just another day of work for tankis and shamans in Singapore.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
I used to pass by this sign with great disdain. Sometimes, the patriotic part of me called on me to spray paint on that ridiculous signboard. Finally this signboard has been removed. Let's toast to an eternal friendship between Singapore and Malaysia!
KL's gesture of friendship
Thursday Ã¢ÂÂ¢ August 26, 2004
Singapore-Malaysia ties are on the upswing and one sign of this was taken off its hinges to make the signal clearer.
The sign is a 20-metre "Welcome to Malaysia" board at the Keretapi Tanah Melayu's (KTM) Tanjong Pagar railway station. Though in the heart of Singapore, the land and the station belong to Malaysia.
And since the 1980s, it has stood out as a reminder of less-than-cordial patches in cross-Causeway relations.
In 1998, Singapore moved its Custom Immigration and Quarantine facilities from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, expecting Malaysia to do the same. But when that did not happen, it became a point of friction.
But things have changed.
Malaysia's High Commissioner to Singapore, Mr N Parameswaran, said the sign had been removed to improve ties.
"We want to remove whatever irritations there are, however small they may be," he said.
The instruction to remove the sign came from Kuala Lumpur. And Today understands that a more positive sign -- possibly exhorting Singaporeans to visit Malaysia -- might replace the old one.
"We are sincere about wanting to bring down old walls," said Mr Parameswaran.
Alluding to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call to citizens to write Singapore's next chapter with him, the envoy said: "Let's work on the next chapter in the Malaysia-Singapore story. It needs both of us." He hoped that the "gesture" of friendship would be reciprocated. Ã¢ÂÂ Raymond Andrew
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Cheney rejects gay marriage ban - BBC
Mr Cheney was addressing a campaign audience in Iowa that included his daughter, Mary, who is openly lesbian.
He said the issue of legalising gay unions should be settled by individual states rather than by Washington.
However, Mr Cheney said he accepted the views of Mr Bush, whose opposition to gay marriage is well publicised.
President Bush recently backed a motion calling for a federal ban on gay marriage, prompted by attempts in some US states to have same-sex unions legalised.
The motion was defeated when Republican senators sided with Democrats on the issue.
Vice-President Cheney said he and his wife "have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with".
Regarding the issue of same-sex relationships, he said, "my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone".
He said individual states have historically decided "what constitutes a marriage".
Mr Cheney has said his views are personal and have no bearing on White House policy.
However, says the BBC's Dan Griffiths in Washington, they strike at the very heart of President Bush's thinking and should revive debate around the issue just days before the Republican convention in New York.
While gay rights activists welcomed Mr Cheney's comments, there was criticism from some conservatives.
Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council said Mr Cheney's remarks were disappointing and sent out "a mixed message to voters".
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Thursday, August 19, 2004
Tanki: Divining Youth
Among some of these seemingly ordinary working class men or women, manifestations of their gods and deities appear from time to time, and turn a few into their chosen messengers. These people are known as mediums, more commonly known among the Hokkien people as tanki (jitong in Mandarin Chinese). The tanki is an ordinary person like you and me. Being a tanki may or may not be a full-time profession. Indeed many tankis hold an ordinary day job like we do, and perform their sacred duties in the evenings, over the weekends, on festive occasions or whenever the gods summon them.
Every tanki, literally meaning Ã¢ÂÂdivining youthÃ¢ÂÂ, has his story of how the duty came to him. Some have received messages from the gods in their dreams after suffering from a major illness or accident. Others were suddenly possessed by a supernatural being one day, spoke in strange tongues they werenÃ¢ÂÂt known to be able to speak and then convinced the people surrounding them that the gods have possessed them.
Medium in trance - manifestation of the Monkey God
Medium representing Lian Hua San Tai Zhi
The Medium in trance
Medium representing Er Bo Yeh praying to the Jade Emperor's altar
Most tend to describe the experience as something he hadnÃ¢ÂÂt chosen Ã¢ÂÂ in fact many say that they have tried to Ã¢ÂÂescapeÃ¢ÂÂ from this onerous calling but fate nevertheless got hold of them and convinced them that they were the one chosen by the gods as an intermediary between the gods and their followers on Earth. However, there are some anthropologists argue that mediumship often bestow the individual with enormous, often unquestioned authority over the worshippers, not to mention benefits from donations and material offerings from the followers.
Even then, some studies show that whatever a tanki receives is out of free-will from the followers, at their absolute discretion. It is often said that many tankis live a rather ordinary life. They get enough to live, but hardly enough to lead a comfortable, wealthy existence. In fact, any tanki who leads an enviable lifestyle would have raised many suspicions about his character and piety.
Tankis hold court sometimes in temples, sometimes at their own homes. Many of them stay in HDB (Singapore government public housing) flats, and homes of the popular tankis often resemble mini temples or shrines, full of visiting worshippers over the weekends. They act as intermediaries with the gods or deities. They help to cure illnesses, or advise on careers, family problems, relationship issues, or in fact any human problem under the sun.
In short, the tankis provide help to the local community in resolving problems that neither the family, the mainstream organized religion, health authorities nor the state can resolve. Bizarre as it seems in a modern society like Singapore, folk Taoism, complete with mediums and the supernatural, flourishes. Ironically, with rising incomes and standard of living, this ancient religion is given an added impetus as its followers have more to spare for their beliefs.
On the birthdays of major deities or gods, larger scale temple festivals may be held during which the tankis become possessed by the deities and elaborate self-mutilation rites to demonstrate the power of the deities. A huge oblong-shaped tentage would be set up on an open ground, with elaborate altars installed within. The actual geographic direction of altars arenÃ¢ÂÂt very important in Singapore. Given the acute land constraints, festival organizers make do with what they have though relative positions within every festival tent tend to be fairly similar. I would use the example of a festival setup at Sago Street, Chinatown, Singapore, in late 2003 as an illustration. At the eastern end of the tentage, an altar was set up dedeicated to the Jade Emperor (Yu Wang Da Di), supreme god of the Taoist world, and key heavenly gods, with food offerings laid out in front of the statues or paintings of these gods. A festival tent, with the altar of the Jade Emperor ahead
On the birthdays of major deities or gods, larger scale temple festivals may be held during which the tankis become possessed by the deities and elaborate self-mutilation rites to demonstrate the power of the deities.
A huge oblong-shaped tentage would be set up on an open ground, with elaborate altars installed within. The actual geographic direction of altars arenÃ¢ÂÂt very important in Singapore. Given the acute land constraints, festival organizers make do with what they have though relative positions within every festival tent tend to be fairly similar. I would use the example of a festival setup at Sago Street, Chinatown, Singapore, in late 2003 as an illustration.
At the eastern end of the tentage, an altar was set up dedeicated to the Jade Emperor (Yu Wang Da Di), supreme god of the Taoist world, and key heavenly gods, with food offerings laid out in front of the statues or paintings of these gods.
A festival tent, with the altar of the Jade Emperor ahead
At the western end would be an altar to the key patron deity of the temple together with other heavenly gods and deities. Statues of deities from other Ã¢ÂÂfriendlyÃ¢ÂÂ temples are often brought to a festival as guests of honour (- one reason why many temples have two statues of the same god Ã¢ÂÂ one to be at the temple at all times and the other to serve as Ã¢ÂÂambassadorÃ¢ÂÂ), and the mediums of these temples sometimes turn up to be possessed by their respective Ã¢ÂÂvisitingÃ¢ÂÂ deities.
Table of feast for the Gods of Hell, at the entrance to the shrine to Hell
Shrine of Hell
The Five Heavenly Protector Gods & their Horses
Horse belonging to a Protector God
To the north of the western altar is an altar dedicated to the Protector Gods - Ã¢ÂÂWu Yin Jiang JunÃ¢ÂÂ (Generals of Five Camps) Ã¢ÂÂ military corps of the Taoist Heaven. Apart from an equally elaborate altar with statues, paintings and offerings, one would expect to see paper statues of the horses representing the Marshals of the North, South, East, West and Central, well fed with pots of grass on the ground.
The most interesting shrine lies to the south of the western altar. This is the shrine of the hell deities Ã¢ÂÂ normally a self-contained room of its own, sometimes extended into a further room within the tentage. The entrance to the shrine is sometimes shaped like a gateway into hell. It is normally dark, with gory painting of the Taoist hell. Images of gods, deities are painted with luminous colours which glow in the dark, which makes the shrine even more eerie. Mats and umbrellas are sometimes laid out on the ground Ã¢ÂÂ visitors beware! Do not step onto these for you may just step onto the invisible visitors from hell!
It is important that the concept of hell for the Taoist world is very different from that of Christianity. The latter regard hell as a dead end, where evildoers are condemned for all eternity. Taoism, however, sees hell as a kind of boot-camp where most people would go through in the almost eternal cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation. The good guys would pass through the 10 Ã¢ÂÂcourtsÃ¢ÂÂ of hell and its 18 levels with little or no suffering while the evildoers would get their due, such as being burned by fire, boiled in hot water, tongues cut, etc Ã¢ÂÂ images of these processes are duly represented in the many paintings hung in the shrine of hell. In addition, the God of Hell, in Taoism, is not evil Saturn, but a mere administrator who have to perform the task of reforming the evildoers.
In one of the most modern cities of the world, an ancient faith flourishes, with rituals involving gods, spirits, and their human mediums who glorify the powers of the gods through personal sacrifices. This website contains a collection of articles and photos about one of the world's most unusual cultural and anthropological phenomena in a surprisingly modern and ordinary setting.
Why This Site: Statement of Objectives
Encounters: Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods October 2003 | Chuan Gong Dian - Chinatown 18 October 2003 | Lin Hoon Din Ã¥ÂÂÃ¤ÂºÂÃ¦Â®Â¿ - Geylang Lorong 27A June 2004 | Xia Sheng Gong - Lengkok Bahru June 2004 | Long Chuan Dian - Alexandra Rd 25 June 2004
Links: Chinese Deities Web - Calendar of Events Here | SPI: Close Encounters with Tangki | Lorong Koo Chye Shen Hong Temple Association | Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors: Folk Religion in a Taiwanese Village | A Medium's First Trance
Acknowledgements: A million thanks to them: Andi, Jave Wu, Victor Yue, Eng Teck
Folk Taoism in Southeast Asia
Chinese are commonly described as Buddhists or Taoists, although there are large number of Chinese Muslims and Christians in China as well as in the Overseas Chinese communities scattered across Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. What is seldom said is that in the deep southern Chinese countryside as well as in Taiwan and Overseas Chinese communities worldwide, an ancient and mysterious faith prevails.
That mysterious religion is the worship of spirits, gods and lesser deities, whose commands are transmitted through ordinary humans who act as messengers of gods. This is variously called Shamanism, Shenism (after Shen, or gods in the Chinese language), Tankism (after Tanki, or mediums, in the Hokkien dialect, also known as Southern Fujian /Taiwanese dialect), spirit-mediumship or traditional Chinese religion.
As I wrote in my essay on the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods:
Southern China was once the land of the Min and Yue tribal kingdoms, whose inhabitants were experts in magic, spells, and the art of communication with the dead, spirits and Gods. Fujian and Guangdong were incorporated into the Chinese Empire during the Qin and Han dynasties 2000 years ago, and in the following millennia, its indigenous culture merged with that of the Taoist Han Chinese settlers from the North. The result is a hybrid, exuberant mix with a rich spiritual as well as architectural and gastronomical heritage that is evident in southern China today.
With the emigration of the Fujian (or Hokkien) and Guangdong (also known as Cantonese) peoples to Southeast Asia, Taiwan and the rest of the world during the last five hundred years, these mystical manifestation of communication between the man and the mysterious divine spread with the Diaspora to other parts of the world.
Here in Singapore, where the early peasant immigrants from southern China found themselves in a foreign urban environment, they recreated temples devoted to their gods back at home in order to find solace and security in a new environment. Since then, these beliefs have continued by the descendants of these immigrants and prospered even though many of the traditions have disappeared in the old homeland through social upheaval, revolutions and wars; and that Singapore itself has become a prosperous, modern and technologically driven city-state which is also an international financial centre.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
"Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni. When I was a student at the preparatory school for the military academy, our chief of corps often lamented the fact that the good soldiers died early while speaking about his experience on the China front."