'Cats give Funerals to Rats’: Making the Dead Modern through Lament
1080 South University
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1106
This talk compares funeral laments in an Yi community in Yunnan from two periods: the early 1990s, after ritual revitalization had gotten thoroughly underway, and 2011, after this community had come into more intimate contact with the modernity-obsessed cultures of urban and semi-urban China. Laments fashion grief in a public setting by conceptualizing the dead and their relations with the living in vivid poetic language. Laments from the early 1990s described these relations as a circuit of suffering, in which children returned a debt of suffering they owed their parents after the
latter's deaths. By 2011, innovative lamenters had reoriented their understanding of suffering to be personal, internal, and intimate. The dead became more “modern,” allowing the living, defined largely by their relations with the dead, to participate in “modernized” forms of authentic,
sincere emotional expression.
Erik Mueggler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. His books include: The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, Place in Southwest China (University of California Press, 2001) and The Paper Road: Archive and Experience in the Botanical Exporation of West China and Tibet (University of California Press, 2011).