Shamanism, Occult Murder, and Political Assassination in Siberia and Beyond

This essay examines the revival of shamanism in a Siberian city and analyses the political dimensions of rituals for reversing the effects of sorcery assault. Drawing on fieldwork exploring an epidemic of occult violence in Kyzyl, Tyva Republic, the essay identifies a new type of shamanic detective and entrepreneur, whose techniques of counter-cursing cut across the state’s operations of security and justice.

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Shared Visions: The Gift of The Eye

Organ transplantation as discussed in the occult economies literature is associated with illicit activities and uncanny circumstances, and is fuelled by socioeconomic disparity. Discussing corneal transplantation as depicted in the Hong Kong–Thai film The Eye, this essay reflects on the symbolic and affective aspects of gifting the organ that helps us to mediate the world and which is associated with personal identity. It argues that through the genre of horror, cultural meanings of corneal transplantation are heightened that include the notion of tethering individuals through premonitory visions. In its portrayal of corneal donation and reciprocity, The Eye offers a warning about predictive knowledge.

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Hunting Sorcerers in Cambodia

Over the past decade, Cambodia has seen dozens of witchcraft-related cases in which people were harassed or even killed because their neighbours suspected them of engaging in black magic. Through interviews with survivors and family members of the victims, this essay traces some of these cases and argues that such occurrences are linked not only to poverty and exclusion, but also to a more fundamental collision between two worlds.

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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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Amateur Art Practice and the Everyday in Socialist China

This essay examines amateur art practice during the socialist period in China. It argues that socialist amateur art practice not only changed the class and labour relations that had previously defined the fine arts, but also converted the expert and professional cultures of the fine arts into a grassroots practice of the everyday. Originating from small art study groups at industrial and agricultural sites, amateur artists met to create images depicting their labour and lifestyles. The result was a practice that challenged the art academy as a legitimising site of training, evacuated concepts of artistic genius and technical accomplishment, and embraced media primarily oriented toward the public, as opposed to the market.

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