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Chinese 'bad death' practices in Taiwan: maidens and modernity

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This article interrogates so-called 'bad death' rituals and their cultural implications in the Chinese patrilineal society of Taiwan. It begins by outlining the significant features of 'good death' rituals through which the discontinuity of biological death is transformed into the social continuity of being an ancestor. Importantly, only those among the dead with male heirs are entitled to become ancestors. The article then looks at 'bad death' practices relating to males who die in childhood or who die before they marry, with a focus on the rituals through which they are re-incorporated into their family lines and are granted ancestral status. However, according to ancestral orthopraxy, females who die unmarried have no place in a family line or on an ancestral altar, and thus are excluded from the social practices of remembering that ancestor worship enshrines. This paper in particular analyses the cultural significance of social practices relating to maiden death in two contexts: examining how people deal with dead maidens, firstly, in pre-modern and rural Taiwan in relation to Daoist practices and, secondly, in modern and urban Taiwan in relation to Buddhist practices. It concludes by arguing that the analysis of maiden death requires a contextualisation of those practices within wider processes of societal modernisation.

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