In a society that has seen epochal change over a few generations, what remains to hold people together and offer them a sense of continuity and meaning? In Songs for Dead Parents, Erik Mueggler shows how in contemporary China death and the practices surrounding it have become central to maintaining a connection with the world of ancestors, ghosts, and spirits that socialism explicitly disavowed.
Drawing on more than twenty years of fieldwork in a mountain community in Yunnan Province, Songs for Dead Parents shows how people view the dead as both material and immaterial, as effigies replace corpses, tombstones replace effigies, and texts eventually replace tombstones in a long process of disentangling the dead from the shared world of matter and memory. It is through these processes that people envision the cosmological underpinnings of the world and assess the social relations that make up their community. Thus, state interventions aimed at reforming death practices have been deeply consequential, and Mueggler traces the transformations they have wrought and their lasting effects.