Ting Hui Lau
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationCornell U.
Grant numberGr. 9293
Approve DateApril 19, 2016
Project TitleLau, Ting H., Cornell U., Ithaca, NY - To aid research on 'Millenarian Modernities: Demon Possession on the Margins of China,' supervised by Dr. Magnus Fiskesjo
Preliminary abstract: Among the mainly Christian ethnic Lisu minority of the rapidly transforming China-Burma borderlands, people widely allege that incidence of demon possession (ni-mei) is increasing in their communities. My preliminary fieldwork suggests that many Lisu interpret this perceived increase in demon possession as a sign of the approaching End Times (hanremela). In stark contrast, the Chinese Communist Party is optimistically promoting the ‘Chinese Dream,’ the Party’s new drive for modernization. My project examines the new significance of demon possession in the current era of rapid development, outmigration, millenarian sentiment, and Christian missionization. My project asks: (a) How do the Lisu mobilize and reshape embodied cultural knowledge and practices of demon possession through engaging with different–and sometimes contradictory–religious, spiritual, and ideological categories as Lisu negotiate rapid institutional and social change? And (b) how do widespread and increasing practices of Lisu outmigration to find seasonal work affect the ways in which Lisu use demon possession and apocalypticism to situate themselves within these changing social and institutional contexts? This project engages with scholarship on modernities and millenarianism, conversion and ambivalence, and spirit possession and involves eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in China divided into two phases. In the first phase, I plan to spend twelve months in Fugong, the Lisu home county. In the second phase, I intend to spend six months in the coastal manufacturing hub of Dongguan in Guangdong Province, where many Lisu sojourn seasonally to find factory work. I am applying to the Wenner-Gren Foundation to support the second phase of my fieldwork.