Fox’s Spirit under Tiger’s Might: The Struggles for Identity and Integration among the Hakka Community in Southern Vietnam

Oct 30, 2017 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Nguyen Ngoc Tho (Advanced Researcher and Lecturer, Faculty of Cultural Studies, University of Social Science and Humanities, Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/discussant: Robert Weller (Professor, Department of Anthropology, Boston University)
Co-sponsored with the Asia Center and the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


There are around 823,000 ethnic Chinese in Vietnam, of which 95% are living in southern Vietnam. Due to historical and social backgrounds, the dialectic groups (Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Teochiew and Hainan) are quite distinct and separate from each other. Each group maintains their own pantheon of gods and goddesses, in which the majorities come to worship Tian Hou and Guan Gong/Guan Di. The Hakkas in Bien Hoa (Dong Nai province) uniquely worship the craft master gods (祖师). This remarkably creates a challenging gap among the Chinese dialectic groups as well as discloses the heterodox nature in their own tradition under the views of local standardized authority. Under sophisticated backgrounds and serious pressures, the Hakkas decided to transform the reputation of their long-lasting craft master worship into a more integrative model – the Tian Hou cult, by overriding the new cult on the surface. “A fox’s spirit is under a tiger’s might,” the open discourse has been widespread, although there have been almost no significant changes in either belief or practice. Remarkably, the transformation currently seems to be oddly managed and not stabilized.

As a matter of fact, the local Hakka elites have brainstormed and implemented the change under the aims of both cross-dialectic group binding and identity preservation. Furthermore, they also struggle for an advanced and manageable integration process into broader Vietnamese society. This talk will investigate the disguise to seek the continuous efforts toward “liturgical standardization” and solidarity binding through the charismatic efforts of the local Hakka elites, through which the research further discusses multilateral interaction and hidden discourses of the partners engaged.