Accidents and Agency: Death and Occult Economies in Thailand

With new economic regimes, new infrastructure, and increased ‘development’ also come new religious movements. Whereas earlier scholars assumed that modernity would disenchant, this has, time and again, proven not to be the case. But why? While one popular explanation—the ‘occult economy’—attributes this increasing (de-centred) religiosity to the vicissitudes of new economic regimes, this essay interprets it as an acknowledgement of a shared world in flux, with humans and nonhumans alike struggling to come to terms with what existing in a changed present might mean.

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On UFOlogy with Chinese Characteristics and the Fate of Chinese Socialism

‘UFO research must have Chinese characteristics.’ Liu Dongjun, 1999 ‘The navigation system of flying saucers is the Taiji compass.’ Jiang Yongqiang, 1995 ‘UFOs to the people!’ Ufologia radicale, 1998 What happened to Chinese socialism? This question was most recently asked in connection with this journal in the volume Afterlives of Chinese Communism (2019), along with […]

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The Macabre Affective Labour of Cadavers in Chinese Ghost Marriages

Recently, Chinese newspapers have captured the attention of their readers with stories of criminals robbing graves and murdering people to sell the corpses for use in ‘ghost marriages’ (yinhun 阴婚 ). The state casts ghost marriages as ‘superstition’, but the practice remains as a way for people to attempt to sooth the angst of the spirit of the deceased and its living relatives. In fact, the lifeless corpse used in yinhun must be considered alive during the ritual for the ghost marriage to achieve its spiritual and social efficacies. As such, yinhun cadavers perform a sort of macabre affective labour.

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The Yijing Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism with Chinese Characteristic

Since the early days of economic reform in the 1980s, China has witnessed a revival of religious beliefs and practices. One of the most pervasive is fortune-telling, which has flourished by offering a means of decision-making in a rapidly changing and uncertain society. This article describes a popular method of fortune-telling using the classical text of the Yijing . It shows how fortune-telling’s naturalistic worldview provides an excellent method for people to navigate day-to-day economic decisions by forecasting fortune in a way that is trustworthy and morally blameless, serving as a compass for uncertain times.

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Spectral Revolution: Notes on a Maoist Cosmology

This essay describes the cosmological role of Mao in ritual and spirit mediumship in rural China. It considers the occulted forces hosted by the Chairman’s image and words, across movements of display, concealment, and circulation. Here, the Party-state has a cosmic double, and Maoist anti-religious policies are not what they seem.

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The Diviner and the Billionaire: Wealth as Mystery in Buddhist Thailand

A Bangkok roadside diviner examines two luxurious skyscrapers along the river. He believes that they were erected by Thailand’s largest corporation, the CP Group (Zheng Da in Chinese), on the instructions of their formidable in-house diviners. The master replicates a Buddhist discourse, according to which wealth flows naturally to those who can unlock the secrets of the cosmos.

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Between Economic and Social Exclusions: Chinese Online Gambling Capital in the Philippines

Under Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, Chinese capital has increasingly flowed into the Philippines. Much of this new investment has been in online gambling firms—a peculiar type of capital that is not involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is even criminalised by the Chinese state. Drawing from field research in Metro Manila, this essay interrogates the anti-Chinese sentiments among Filipinos that have been stoked by online gambling firms. In examining the broader social reverberations of Chinese capital on Philippine society, it argues that Chinese online gambling capital generates specific forms of economic and social exclusions.

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China : Xinjiang :: India : Kashmir

Kashmir and Xinjiang share a border. Or, more precisely, the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir that is now divided between India, Pakistan, and China (and officially known as Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh; Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan; Aksai Chin, respectively) shares a border with eastern Turkestan and Tibet—currently officially called Xinjiang and Xizang. In […]

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The Surveillance Vaccine: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Body under Covid-19

One of my companions throughout the Covid-19 lockdown has been Gushi.FM (故事FM), a podcast that is an oral historical archive, a diverse digital memory bank with stories of poverty, exploitation, coming out of the closet, and much more. At its heart, Gushi.FM is about giving people a voice. The podcast’s coverage of Covid-19–related events began […]

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