Abstract Recent examinations of religion in postreform Vietnam point to relationships between economic growth and increased ritual activity; some argue that new conditions of precarity have fed the explosion of popular beliefs and investments in a pantheon of spirit beings. Little of this research draws on urban theory, however, and most studies of rituals and festivals remain tied to rural geographies. This essay examines the nexus of urban growth and ritual practice—what I am calling “religious reassemblage”—to challenge the idea that socialist-built cities are rationalized spaces of secular modernity. Focusing on the city of Vinh in north central Vietnam, I show how urban expansion is entangled with the spirit world to reconfigure the model of functional urban planning developed during socialist reconstruction after the end of the air war. An analysis of two temples—one newly built by local authorities and another renovated through grassroots contributions—reveals ambiguity between state forms of commemoration and popular religious expressions as struggles over the control of late socialist urban space take place in and through religious sites. URBAN PLANNERS have long imagined modernization to be a rational process of urban growth based on secular development and the retreat of religion or its containment in sites of history. And yet cities continue to be shaped in novel ways by religious practices, beliefs, and materialities, including the construction of new religious sites that are part of, and not antithetical to, master planning. Socialist cities, in particular, with their emphasis on massive housing settlements and rapid industrialization, have been assumed to be devoid of religiosity. Certainly religion did not play any significant role in the master planning of new towns given the wider goal to socially engineer new socialist men and women.1 This was also the case for urban reconstruction of Vinh City, Vietnam, the site of my research. After the end of the air war in 1973, East Germany helped to redesign the annihilated city according to a spatial model of functional planning borrowed from Eastern European and Soviet cities that prioritized, owing to postwar exigencies, the construction and zoning of housing, civic buildings, and factories (Schwenkel 2015). This secular vision of socialist modernization did not always sit well with the local population, or officials for that matter, who were more attuned to the sacred topography of the landscape. Over time, as I show, socialist modernity became infused with and shaped by spiritual beliefs—spontaneous grassroots initiatives and top-down, state-driven planning coexisted, intersected, or bumped up against one another as state and nonstate actors vied for use of and control over urban space. Tam Ngo’s (2015) work on geocosmology in Hanoi serves as a reminder that urban planning in Vietnam has never been a completely secular process. Likewise, the haunting of infrastructure in Vietnam’s model socialist city suggests that urban development in Vinh has also been entangled with spirits and other supernatural forces (Schwenkel 2017). In what follows, I focus on the city’s southern periphery to show how socialist modernity engages with and inspires certain types of religious expression, but not without its regulation. As Erik Harms (2011) has argued of Saigon, the edge of the city, where urban and rural sensibilities meet, provides gray areas for experimentation if not empowerment, but also, as I show, the reaffirmation of state control. Here I am interested in the nexus of urban growth and ritual practice to show how popular beliefs on the edges of Vinh are constitutive of late socialist city-making in a particular moment of time. Ignacio Farías and Thomas Bender (2010) have referred to the persistent remaking and rearranging of urban space through symbiotic networks or “assemblages” in order to highlight the heterogeneity of actors, systems, technologies, and enactments of power that undergird contemporary urbanization. This spatio-temporal approach recognizes cities not as a priori units of analysis, but as spaces of emergence and becoming through social action and also, I argue, interaction with spirits. I draw on the idea of urban re-assemblage to rethink the ebbs and flows of spiritual practice in the city with the intent to move the scholarly conversation from the “revival” of religion to its reconstitution and reinvention. I do so with an eye toward the encounter between state forms of heroic commemoration and expressions of popular or “superstitious” belief that materialize in the tension between secular memory (nhớ) and divine worship (thờ). As Peter van der Veer (2015) observes, urban popular religions cannot be disconnected from the realm of the political. Indeed in Vietnam, they are deeply entwined with one another, as Vietnam’s patriotic history is often appropriated and reassembled by practitioners for individual purposes (Malarney 2001). The endurance of frowned-upon practices in fringe urban spaces or underscapes (see the introduction to this roundtable), at times in defiance of state regulation, can thus be understood as a refusal to subject religious sites and popular beliefs to the expansion of municipal control outwards from the city center. Still, such activities are tolerated or even promoted as “heritage,” because they inadvertently serve the state in affirming the legitimacy of Vietnam’s national history as well as new ways of constructing cultural identity (Endres 2011b, 261). RECASTING “REVIVAL” AS “REASSEMBLAGE” In recent years there has been extensive ethnographic examination of what scholars have referred to as the “revival” of religion in late socialist Vietnam and the relaxation of state policy toward beliefs and practices deemed superstitious. The resurgence of lên đồng, or spirit possession, after economic reforms (Đổi mới) in 1986, in particular, has been the focus of much scholarly inquiry (Endres 2011a; Norton 2009; Fjelstad and Nguyen 2006). Many observers have pointed to a causal relationship between growth in the economy, relaxing of government policy, and expansion of ritual activity: an increase in personal wealth often translates into additional spending on ritual activities, such as the construction of ancestral shrines, the refurbishing of graves, increased donations to pagodas, greater participation in pilgrimages, and so on (DiGregorio and Salemink 2007; Leshkowich 2006; Bayly 2013). Others have pointed to the relationship between rising economic insecurities and the emergence of novel forms of religious enchantment, including a growing pantheon of spirit beings. Goddesses, in particular, offer the promise of commercial efficacy and material well-being (Dror 2007; Taylor 2004, 87; Ngô 1996). Little of this research draws on urban theory, however, and most studies of popular rituals and festivals remain tied to rural geographies. In classic Weberian form, the city remains the focus of more secular state processes, such as bureaucratization, construction, industrialization, etc. While no one would deny that Vietnamese cities are sites of fervent religious activities—at churches, temples, pagodas, mosques, and in other spaces—such practices are typically framed as passively “occurring” in the city, rather than as actively making and constituting the urban. Because they are often perceived as “spontaneous” (such as discarded urban altars given new efficacy), religious sites and practices tend to lie beyond the scope of analyses of top-down urban planning. Here, drawing on Ngo (2015), I argue for attention to the heterogeneous encounters between spiritscapes, socialist planning, and popular practices to highlight the role of religious reassemblage in the transformation of late socialist urban space. The renewal of religious cultural practices has been noted by scholars in other late and postsocialist societies, offering new visions of urban futurity to redeveloping cities. Caroline Humphrey, for example, noted the rapid growth in shamanistic activities in Siberian cities in the aftermath of their suppression under Soviet rule, which served to “transmogrify” urban space and redefine social relationships (Humphrey 1999, 4). Vietnam was similar to the Soviet Union in that “superstitious” beliefs thought to obstruct the scientific development of a modern socialist state and the formation of a “civilized” population were targeted for elimination or modification (Malarney 2002, 81–83). These campaigns to rid society of “backward” practices extend back to the 1950s with the establishment of cultural policies that attempted to mold new socialist citizens (Ninh 2002). And yet the term “revival” can be misleading in its allusion to a total break with the past—of bringing something that vanished back to life in its original form. Despite significant restrictions, and even the abandonment of certain festivals through the 1980s, such discourse overlooks the ways in which people continued to express their popular beliefs, whether privately, surreptitiously, or in publically condoned ways, such as hero worship. It also neglects to see how people reinvented traditions and adapted them to fit with entirely different conditions (Endres 2011b, 262). Control of religion has long been central to the operation of state power in Vietnam. Under French colonial rule, urban expansion fundamentally transformed spiritual topographies, as lands controlled by religious institutions, such as village temples and pagodas, were usurped for the purposes of road and railway construction (see Wright 1991 on Hanoi and Schwenkel 2017). During the high socialist years of state secularism, when socialist reconstruction took precedence, the role of religion within urban planning and infrastructure development was complex at best: what authorities permitted, discouraged, forbade, or accommodated was largely inconsistent across time (before, during, and after the American War) and space in northern Vietnam. At local levels of governance, ambiguous directives led to the inconsistent interpretation and implementation of official policy (MacLean 2013). In the domain of religious architecture, this meant that historic temples in some districts were desecrated and converted to civic spaces, such as nursery schools or kindergartens, in an attempt to universalize education; in other areas they were left alone and abandoned (or used for more utilitarian purposes such as storing rice2). In interviews, intellectuals in Hanoi lamented what they saw to be the reckless destruction of cultural heritage as the work of incompetent officials who did not understand the historical value of religious architecture and sites of worship. Today this history of iconoclasm and decay can be observed on the urban landscape in crumbling religious structures, though many of these sites, such as Diệc Pagoda in the center of Vinh City, have been the subject of grassroots campaigns for restoration (Schwenkel 2017). In the most successful of cases, such initiatives can be incorporated into the broader plan for urban development, as happened with Diệc Pagoda after years of hard campaigning (since state approval for reconstruction and expansion is necessary). I describe another such instance below on the margins of the municipality and compare it with a new state-funded temple to highlight important differences in the religious reassemblage of the landscape. Methodologically, historical ethnography can serve as an especially useful tool to understand such inconsistencies and bring a sense of political and social agency to a period once thought to be lacking in religious activity. For as Fjelstad and Nguyen have noted, popular religious beliefs, such as spirit possession, continued in secrecy during the pre-reform years, even though they were strictly prohibited (Fjelstad and Nguyen 2006, 9; see also Ngô 2003). Even today, such activities remain condemned to some extent by the general populace and also by the practitioners themselves (Endres 2011b, 267–68), though this may change now that UNESCO has recognized spirit possession as intangible cultural heritage as of December 2016. In the mass media, mediumship is often linked to deception and fraud, though the use of diviners to aid Vietnamese families, as well as the military in the search for the remains of an estimated 300,000 northern war dead, has become increasingly popular owing to success rates reported in the press (Schlecker and Endres 2011; Schwenkel 2009). In my own field site of Vinh City, where I conducted research in 2010 and 2011, workers and public servants in socialist housing blocks, designed in functional style by East Germany, assembled simple but meaningful ancestral altars in their modern apartments in accordance with geomantic principles (phong thủy). During the postwar subsidy era (1975–1985), material scarcities meant that altars were much less elaborate than they tend to be today, even in the poorest of homes. One family built a simple concrete memorial outside their housing block for family members (children) who had no place at the ancestral altar given the hierarchy of filial piety (see Figure 1). Eventually, when material conditions allowed, residents embellished the altars or renovated their living space to ensure a more auspicious location to worship their ancestors. Such continuities in spiritual practices as they ebbed and flowed in relation to war and changes in political economy reveal how transacting with the spirits for divine gifts and protection remained essential to Vietnamese notions of well-being in secular urban space, including socialist housing estates. Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Simple concrete memorial and altar outside Block C6 in Quang Trung housing estate to commemorate two infants that died in wartime (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2011). Figure 1: View largeDownload slide Simple concrete memorial and altar outside Block C6 in Quang Trung housing estate to commemorate two infants that died in wartime (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2011). Today, popular religious beliefs have spread rapidly and are generally more tolerated, especially if they are shown to contribute to nation-building and state memory-making. This means that certain practices can provoke ambivalence if thought to be performed for individual gain only. Popular rituals that correspond with party ideologies and planning objectives, even if deemed superstitious (as in the channeling of spirits of the war dead through celebrity mediums), are far more likely to be condoned and supported by the state. As Pham Quynh Phuong has observed, “state policy continues to privilege temples worshipping national heroes” (Pham 2006, 52). Popular beliefs like ancestral veneration must therefore underscore rather than undermine the larger goals of the developmental state by, for example, strengthening hero commemoration and encouraging recognition of patriots who sacrificed (hy sinh) themselves for independence. As Malarney has argued, traditional rites to care for the souls of the war dead and integrate them into the domain of ancestors did not imply opposition to state ritual commemoration (Malarney 2001, 47); rather they worked in conjunction with one another. From the government’s point of view, so long as people did not engage in excessively lavish ritual, these customary forms of memorial practice were “worthy traditions” (Endres 2011b, 262) that promoted positive values of collective work for the socialist state, rather than individual goals of reciprocal material benefits. Government policy of funding commemorative, quasi-religious projects that center on national heroes and yet allow for personal ritual expression has reconfigured urban landscapes across Vietnam, especially the peripheries of cities where there is more access to land. As I detail in the next section, this can be seen in the recent construction of Quang Trung Temple on Quyết Mountain along the southern border of Vinh, which honors the eighteenth-century emperor and warrior who defeated invading Qing forces. Like martyr temples that I discuss elsewhere (Schwenkel 2009, 135–37), this popular site, as part of the city’s plan for urban growth, allows for the blurring of lines between secular and spiritual practices—between state commemoration of a national hero (nhớ) and popular worship (thờ) of a divine figure endowed with spiritual efficacy. Such investments are only one facet of the religious reassemblage of Vinh’s cityscape, however. In the subsequent section, I travel from Quang Trung Temple along a new highway to the historic Ông Hoàng Mười Temple just south of the city center, the site of a popular annual festival that draws visitors from across Vietnam. Unlike Quang Trung, Ông Hoàng Mười has not been the recipient of state funds; rather, its extensive refurbishment has been supported largely through individual donations, including from domestic tourists and pilgrims. And yet like Quang Trung Temple, a patriotic spirit guardian is attached to the seventeenth-century temple, which has earned it recognition as a site of national heritage, protecting it from urban encroachment. There is a marked ambivalence that surrounds the ritual activities at Ông Hoàng Mười, however, especially the spirit possession ceremonies that draw large crowds. While public officials do not make authorized visits there as they do to Quang Trung, the state turns a blind eye to what could be condemned as wasteful superstitious practices because of the temple’s historical association with defense of the nation. As Endres has likewise observed, adopting heroes or manipulating legends has been an “effective and popular means of legitimating temples and spirits” (Endres 2011b, 261). Practitioners are thus able to make claims to certain religious liberties in ways that strategically accommodate national history, even while appearing to undermine the state’s social and moral imperatives (simple ritual for the collective good; not lavish practice for individual gain). A comparative analysis of Quang Trung and Ông Hoàng Mười temples—the former guided by state ritual observances and the latter by popular beliefs—attests to the ambiguities that underpin the religious reassemblage of Vinh and its urban edges that challenge the reach of state power and control of space through centralized planning. STATE COMMEMORATION: QUANG TRUNG TEMPLE In August 2009, I arrived in the hot and dusty city of Vinh, the capital of the province of Nghệ An. The region is celebrated in Vietnamese history as the heartland of the revolution and the birthplace of a long line of heroic men and women who resisted foreign invaders, including the eighteenth-century king Nguyễn Huệ (Quang Trung), the anticolonial nationalist Phan Bội Châu, the female revolutionary Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, and the founder of the postcolonial nation, Hồ Chí Minh. This pantheon of national heroes with meritorious work (công đức) in defending the Vietnamese nation figures prominently in the urban landscape and in recent years has played a central role in the master plan for the expansion of the city in ways that allow for the interpenetration of popular spiritual practices and secular commemorative activities. This includes the city’s foremost monument of Hồ Chí Minh built in central park in 2004 (as well as the rural village of Kim Liên where he grew up) and the Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Memorial House, adjacent to the housing blocks, established in 2012. That one of the most impoverished lowland areas of the country has produced the nation’s most fervent leaders, thinkers, and activists remains a source of pride for the local population and serves as inspiration for their ritual engagement with the “exceptional dead” (Malarney 2007), some of whom, like Quang Trung, are believed to be spiritually efficacious. Vinh is also well known in and beyond Vietnam for its annihilation by US carpet-bombing, which also demolished the city’s religious and cultural patrimony. The city’s subsequent reconstruction by East Germany to produce the first rationally planned socialist city in Vietnam was the subject of my anthropological fieldwork. During the summer of 2009, I traveled to the city to meet with officials at the municipal People’s Committee; I was seeking approval to live in the mass housing estate, the archetype of socialist modernist planning, named after the emperor and military commander Quang Trung. At that time, the moniker “Quang Trung” symbolized the spirit of conquest and unification that permeated the northern population during the war. This emphasis on secular military exploits would change over time as Quang Trung came to be glorified as a protective guardian spirit, as I describe below. I was fortunate that day that the Head of Office quickly signed off on my research permission. He then invited me to take a tour of the city to showcase its recent growth. When I heard mention of “Quang Trung,” I assumed we would be visiting the newest high-rises that had replaced one of the socialist blocks as part of the master plan for the redevelopment of the city. To my surprise, the black government car cruised past the decaying housing blocks—my future fieldwork site—and the new condominiums. Heading south, just past the university and the Soviet-built electric plant to an outlying district of the city, we came to the mountainous park of Dũng Quyết. Quyết Mountain figures prominently in the city’s plan for urban development, especially the expansion of tourism. Referred to as the land of the sacred four spirit animals (đất tứ linh), Dũng Quyết offers spectacular views of the city’s river valley basin that butts up against verdant rice fields. From its apex, a gathering site for young lovers, one can see the South China Sea to the east and the Trường Sơn mountain range to the west. The southern side of the mountain, marking the boundary of the city, overlooks the Lam River and the Bến Thuỷ bridge connecting the provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh. Because of its strategic and hallowed location, Emperor Quang Trung chose to found a new capital city of Phượng Hoàng there in 1788, a project that was never finished owing to his death four years later. That day we did not ascend to the peak; rather, our car took a detour along a newly paved road and arrived at a surprising site: the other Quang Trung, a newly constructed temple to commemorate the military hero-turned-deified spirit (see Figure 2). Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Quang Trung Temple atop Quyết Mountain overlooking Vinh City, opened in 2008. Photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2009. Figure 2: View largeDownload slide Quang Trung Temple atop Quyết Mountain overlooking Vinh City, opened in 2008. Photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2009. In Vietnam, temples (đền) differ from Buddhist pagodas (chùa) in that the former are sites for the veneration of particular saints or deities (thánh) and the commemoration of historical figures (often involved in national resistance), although the line between the two—saints and patriots—is often unclear.3 The blurring of the boundaries between state secular and popular spiritual practices, between respectful remembrance (nhớ) and devotional worship (thờ) in spaces designed to resemble traditional architecture styles, has become a notable feature of late socialist urban landscapes in Vietnam and what I am identifying as religious reassemblage. Since the late 1990s, martyr temples (đền liệt sĩ), also modeled on customary spaces of worship, have been built as a cultural response to monumentality and the more impersonal state memorials, such as obelisks and figurative statues, that have proliferated across the country owing to French and Soviet influences (Schwenkel 2009). Martyr temples allow for the expression of more affectively charged ritual practices—Buddhist prayers, votive offerings, and so on—while retaining a secularist emphasis on nation building and the contribution of martyrs to national defense, without the ubiquitous phrase found in cemeteries: Tổ Quốc Ghi Công (“The Fatherland recognizes your sacrifice”; see also Malarney 2001]).4 Similar to modern-day martyrs, emperor Quang Trung is officially recognized as a national hero rather than a deity or saint. And yet, at Quang Trung Temple, slippage between the domains of the secular and the spiritual (or even the “superstitious”)—once clearly and discursively delineated—takes place as part of (rather than in spite of) the urban developmental project of the socialist state. That late socialist planning embraces a style of religious architecture inspired by traditional places of worship can be seen in a range of new urban sites of prayer and contemplation that include martyr temples, memorial houses, and temples to “extraordinary ancestral figures” who double as potent spirits (Marouda 2014), including that of Quang Trung. Architecturally, the spatial design and material properties of Quang Trung temple closely resemble sacred structures found across northern Vietnam that are now recognized as historical and cultural heritage, the styles of which were influenced by Chinese architectural practices. In the mass media, Quang Trung temple has been called “majestic” (uy nghi); visitors often praise its peaceful and contemplative ambiance. When approaching from the outside, one first encounters stairs leading to a two-tiered, three-entrance gate made of dark, meticulously carved wood and curved, tiled rooftops held in place by white columns with Chinese inscriptions. This is where couples first come to have their wedding photos taken, before moving to the interior. Stepping through the middle door (formerly reserved for the sovereign), one finds a bright open courtyard adorned with flowering bonsai trees and a large stone urn with burning incense in the center. A sign that instructs visitors to offer only one joss stick at a time is ignored by eager supplicants, including groups of teenagers, who light whole bundles. Two smaller shrines with “warm” (cared for) altars flank the inner sanctuary, where worshippers continue to make their offerings. In one, a gold-plated statue of Quang Trung in his military regalia armed with a spear greets visitors with a stern gaze and resolute stance (see Figure 3). Such figurative and often militaristic monuments that convey national values and so-called traditions of valiant resistance are commonplace in Vietnam, though they are usually located in outdoor public spaces, including memorial sites, museum courtyards, urban parks, and civic squares. The placement of the statue of Quang Trung inside the temple sanctuary is thus a nod to the precolonial past when Vietnamese heroes were not publicly honored in state spaces of secular commemoration (an invented tradition from the French that continued with Soviet influence), but rather in sacred spiritual spaces such as local shrines and temples. While the bronze statue at Quang Trung Temple was also intended to be secular, visitors had transformed its meaning and purpose with an unplanned altar that had formed at the base of the figure. During each of my visits between 2009 and 2015, I observed discreet offerings of fruit, incense, flowers, candles, and votive money, revealing the ambiguous status that Quang Trung holds for people as a virtuous icon with both political and spiritual potency, but one worshipped without too much extravagance or show. Figure 3: View largeDownload slide Statue of Emperor Quang Trung flanked by offerings (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2009). Figure 3: View largeDownload slide Statue of Emperor Quang Trung flanked by offerings (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2009). The merging of state commemoration and popular veneration at the statue of Quang Trung—as protector of the nation (hero worship) and of the population (spirit worship)—was not accidental. The “dialogic interaction between official ideology and local belief” (Endres 2011b, 262) that allowed visitors to endow the profane sculpture with both spiritual and affective meaning did not signify an act of subversion meant to reclaim and reinvent a secular state space. Rather, the hybrid and improvisational nature of the site was intentionally left open. A stone marker in the parking lot at the base of the entrance steps that records the history of the temple’s construction hinted at this ambiguity by claiming that the site held historical, economic, and spiritual significance. In other words, in the model socialist city of Vinh, popular beliefs emerged as part of, rather than in opposition to, municipal planning and its marketing strategies to further develop the city. Religious reassemblage thus marks a significant change in urban policy that once strongly discouraged practices deemed wasteful (lãng phí), feudal (phong kiến), or superstitious (mê tín), as scholars have observed of rural areas (Malarney 2002), by accommodating if not incorporating popular beliefs—as long as they are somewhat contained—into the city’s master plan, also as a strategy of urban governance. This ambiguity was also evident in the stone marker’s alternation between secular and religious discourse. The marble inscription began with bureaucratic details: the temple of King Quang Trung (đền thờ Vua Quang Trung) was built in accordance with Decision 2721 of the Provincial People’s Committee of Nghệ An, ratified on July 23, 2004. The use of the term “đền thờ” to refer to the site is notable here, given that “thờ” (worship, most often used as an action verb) is an auxiliary to the more conventional term “đền” (or temple as material structure), and thus inscribes the space as spiritual and yet regulated by the state. The text continued with a geomantic analysis of the site, indicating that the temple stands on the sacred land of the four spirit animals (đất tứ linh) that represent the four cardinal directions, symbolized by the dragon, unicorn, tortoise, and phoenix (long, ly, quy, phượng). Another code switching marks the use of the solar (state) rather than lunar (ritual) calendar to record the laying of the first stone to begin construction on August 15, 2005, and opening to the public three years later on May 7, 2008. This symbolic date marks the anniversary of Vietnam’s victory over the French at Điện Biện Phủ, thus squarely positioning the temple in a national genealogy of military triumphs (and linking its inaugural ceremony with state celebrations around the country). The last sentence merged discourses by emphasizing that the site has something to offer everyone: “Quang Trung temple is a cultural, spiritual, and tourist complex . . . [for] visitors who come to enjoy the scenery, admire the space, and commemorate with gratitude the contributions of Emperor Quang Trung to the nation.” Indeed, that the site carried diverse meanings for different social groups was reinforced during subsequent visits with friends, particularly the time when I entered a small sanctuary to examine a shrine and encountered Vietnam’s former President, Trần Đức Lương, alone and immersed in thought while writing comments in the guest book, a clear indicator of how religion and urban space are always in negotiation with the political sphere and institutions of the state. HERO WORSHIP AND RELIGIOUS REASSEMBLAGE IN VINH The case of Quang Trung temple shows how the state’s pantheon of national heroes features ever more prominently on the late socialist cityscape of Vinh. But rather than secularizing the city through functional planning as in the 1970s, the opposite has occurred: religious reassemblage has resulted in the creation of devout sites for the urban “exceptional dead” (Malarney 2007) in which popular beliefs, state rites, and traditional architectural styles coalesce. Though such reassemblage may nurture nationalist sentiments, it has not been without controversy. The new memorial house for Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, built in 2012 on the location of her childhood home, is a case in point (see Figure 4). Debates over how to design the site (as a simple Kinh home or an iconic religious structure) and how to remember the revolutionary who was killed in 1941 (with or without religious offerings) delayed the project for years. According to my main interlocutor, a Hanoi architect who grew up in Vinh, General Võ Nguyên Giáp—who was married to Minh Khai’s older sister5—had proposed an ancestral altar (bàn thờ) to light incense and make modest offerings, but this sparked discord among city officials for subverting the gender-culture order. In accordance with patrilocal practices, such supplications would only be appropriate at the house of Minh Khai’s husband—a topic that officials wanted to avoid at all costs.6 After construction was completed and her bronze statue erected (in casting material similar to that of Quang Trung), the courtyard remained empty, without an altar, much to the chagrin of neighbors in adjacent socialist housing. By 2015, an urn, flanked by bonsai trees, had been placed in front of her monument, allowing visitors to light incense in her memory, rather than encourage any form of veneration. Figure 4: View largeDownload slide Memorial house for Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai nestled between the socialist housing blocks in the city center (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2016). Figure 4: View largeDownload slide Memorial house for Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai nestled between the socialist housing blocks in the city center (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2016). The hazy lines between popular beliefs and official rites open up new possibilities for ritual expression that transgress the division between respectful nhớ (secular remembrance with gratitude) and reverent thờ (spiritual worship with expected returns). While no visitor who places incense at the Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Memorial House in central Vinh would claim that Minh Khai is anything but an admirable revolutionary heroine (at least at this moment in time), other celebrated patriots, like Trần Hưng Đạo, who quelled the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century, have been transformed into saints (vị thánh). Deification of national heroes has provoked ambivalence among some of the population and has been attended with accusations of superstition, as seen in the so-called cult of Hồ Chí Minh that reveres the former leader as a sainted figure (Tai 1995; Malarney 1996). While it was common during my fieldwork to find portraits or busts of “Uncle Hồ” in the living room of Vietnamese homes, sometimes with a place to light incense, such images were always kept apart from and placed lower than family altars, where ancestors are venerated (thờ). Hồ Chí Minh, on the contrary, was commemorated (nhớ); those outside his patriline could not expect any form of protection or reciprocity.7 State sites may also have a vessel to offer incense and flowers, like in Central Park in Vinh and outside the mausoleum in Hanoi, but rarely will other offerings be made in public spaces of national ceremony. Pagodas and temples can be an exception, however, where shrines to Hồ Chí Minh are cautiously set off to the side. In these places, beyond the watchful eyes of the state, discreet offerings, like those made to Quang Trung, may be a sign that Hồ Chí Minh is being deified by certain people, especially female caretakers of such sites (see Figure 5).8 Figure 5: View largeDownload slide Altar to remember (nhớ) Hồ Chí Minh in a pagoda in central Hanoi (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). Figure 5: View largeDownload slide Altar to remember (nhớ) Hồ Chí Minh in a pagoda in central Hanoi (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). The veneration of “Saint Trần” (Đức Thánh Trần), as Trần Hưng Đạo has been retitled, is not without controversy either, despite acceptance of his deification and the forms that his veneration takes. As a “new religion” (Pham 2006, 35), ambivalence here has to do with the mediumship (lên đồng) that has emerged around Đức Thánh Trần, where the line between patriotism (revering a national hero) and superstition (channeling a spirit) becomes even more unclear. This is also the case at Ông Hoàng Mười Temple on the outskirts of Vinh, not far from the temple of Quang Trung, along a new road that is rumored to have severed the mountain’s sacred turtle’s head during construction, leading to the death of the urban planner. At this non-state-supported religious site, the “Tenth Prince” (Ông Hoàng Mười), also a former commander, is worshipped and channeled in popular possession ceremonies as part of the pantheon of the Four Palaces (Tứ Phủ). However, such reenchantments can spark ambivalence among officials and visitors on account of the excessive expenditures such ceremonies require to achieve a higher status.9 Transacting with spirits can likewise be viewed as a “superstitious” folk belief rather than a legitimate “religious” (or even patriotic) practice,10 and as such, threatens the cultural work of the revolution and its forward-looking plan for the advancement of society. And yet, for reasons that I make clear below, lên đồng ceremonies continue at Ông Hoàng Mười Temple and have also become a tourist attraction, drawing pilgrims from across Vietnam. With the UNESCO recognition of spirit mediumship as intangible cultural heritage (and a form of empowering women, according to the assessment), one can expect that the crowds will continue to grow, as will the extravagances. POPULAR RELIGIOUS BELIEF: ÔNG HOÀNG MƯỜI TEMPLE Vinh’s history of war and urban destruction is inscribed on the city’s geography of sacred architecture. The temples, churches, and pagodas that were bombed by the United States between 1964 and 1973 were reduced to rubble, with only a wall or a gate left standing. In their material remains, religious ruins chronicled the turbulent changes that the city and its environs have endured, extending back to French colonialism. These historical sites, some of which have been or are in the process of being refurbished, including the nineteenth-century Cần Linh Pagoda and the fifteenth-century Diệc Pagoda that the city recently approved for expansion (as well as the repossession of seized lands), have played a pivotal role in the religious reassemblage of late socialist urban space still under the rule of the Communist Party. Note that these initiatives have been citizen led and funded; pagodas do not typically have heroic figures attached to them, so there is no municipal support for these projects. The Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, which like Quang Trung Temple is situated in the sacred geography of the city’s southern periphery, is also a case in point. Built in 1634 during the Lê dynasty in Xuân Am village across the river from the growing settlement that was to become Vinh, the temple’s local name, Mỏ Hạc Linh Từ (sacred crane beak), describes its auspicious location at the intersection of the Lam and Mộc rivers. When viewed from above, the landmass between the waters forms the shape of a crane, a symbol of longevity in Vietnam, with the main sanctuary positioned on flat lands in the beak. While the temple is dedicated to the spirits of the Mother Goddesses who inhabit the Four Palaces (hệ thống đạo mẫu tứ phủ) along with a pantheon of male and female deities,11 the main deity worshipped is that of the Tenth Prince (Ông Hoàng Mười), the last of ten male descendants of the mythical King Father. Mythical divinities in Vietnam are often embodiments of historical actors, many of whom have been recognized for their meritorious contributions (công đức) to the nation, most often courageous acts of national defense. Their worship in the Four Palaces pantheon, which Olga Dror (2007) traces back to the late seventeenth century, reveals a simultaneous “evocation of the nation’s history and a deification of patriotism” (Ngô 2003, 258). Historical documents suggest that the Tenth Prince is the incarnation of General Nguyễn Duy Lạc, a military strategist and social reformer who led thousands of troops against invading Ming (Chinese) and Nguyễn (southern Vietnamese) forces; others claim that he was General Nguyễn Xí, with similar accomplishments. In his spirit incarnate, that is, when he “mounts” (lên) a medium, Ông Hoàng Mười presents himself as passionate about poetry and well versed in the arts and literature (Norton 2006, 63–64), not unlike the spirit of Saint Trần. Symbols associated with his military and literary competencies—a sword and a pen—are inscribed on the temple, and are also found on the altar at the tomb of Nguyễn Duy Lạc, located on the compound. Because General Lạc’s heroic feats affirm patriotic values, his channeling serves to strengthen the cult of heroes, rather than undermine the developmental goals of the state. In full public view (no longer a need for secrecy), lên đồng at this temple on the border of Vinh transforms a “wasteful superstition” into a “worthy tradition” (Endres 2011b) insofar as sprit possession and hero worship merge in the figure of Ông Hoàng Mười. The architectural style of Ông Hoàng Mười Temple is strikingly similar to that of the Temple of Quang Trung (and other sacred sites in northern Vietnam). A three-entrance gateway (tam quan) provides access to the central compound with lower, middle, and upper temples (hạ điện, trung điện, thượng điện) laid out on a north-south axis facing the Mộc River. The natural landscape of trees and green fields that surrounded the complex flow into the inner sanctuary, creating a tranquil and harmonious (hải hoà) setting. Elaborate carvings of the four sacred animals (tứ linh)—also given representation at Quang Trung—adorn the woodwork. Remarkably, the temple has managed to maintain some of its historical patrimony, including antique carved statues, in contrast to other pagodas and churches in the area. During the war, the temple was abandoned because of heavy bombing in the area (the city’s main electricity plant was less than two miles away, at the base of Quyết Mountain below Quang Trung Temple). However, it did not bear the brunt of attacks like religious sites in the city center, including Diệc Pagoda, Hồng Sơn Temple, and Cầu Rầm Catholic Church, all of which were demolished. It took two decades for Ông Hoàng Mười Temple to become a center of religious activity again. By 1995 it began to collect funds—very small amounts given the area’s poverty—to refurbish its decaying structures. A critical turning point was 2002, when provincial authorities recognized Ông Hoàng Mười Temple as an official site of cultural and historical heritage, which opened the door to other forms of support, as well as its reincarnation as a tourist attraction (unlike religious sites in the city center, which attract mostly the local population). Over the past decade, Ông Hoàng Mười Temple has continued to grow in popularity. Its annual festival on the tenth day of the tenth lunar month to mark the death anniversary of General Lạc draws scores of visitors and devotees from Vinh and across Vietnam, who come to make offerings and pray for success, health, and fecundity—as well as for national security. The emphasis on paying respects to the Tenth Prince for his virtuous efforts to preserve sovereignty and liberation from foreign occupation means that despite popular rituals that provoke ambivalence—including extravagant possession ceremonies—the temple remains a space that upholds national memory and promotes values that intersect with state interests. This includes the redevelopment of the temple and its infrastructure. In 2014, provincial authorities approved a plan to expand Ông Hoàng Mười Temple (per regulation QĐ 55861), to meet the demands of a growing number of visitors, at a cost of 38.4 billion Vietnamese đồng (1.75 million USD).12 Much, but not all, of this funding will come from individual donations as a form of merit-making and transactional exchange with the spirit world, although state-based organizations, who have a vested interest in the site, are also expected to contribute, according to the budget posted on a large billboard outside the main entrance. Scholars of Vietnam have often commented on the deepening intersections between the market and religion in Vietnam after economic reforms to create what Endres has called an emergent “spirit industry” (Endres 2007, 194). This is especially apparent in urban spaces of commerce, where female traders sell amulets, votive objects, joss sticks, and other ritual paraphernalia (see Leshkowich 2006; Hüwelmeier 2016). There is no better place to witness this nexus of gendered relationships between spirits, the market, and entrepreneurs than at a lên đồng performance, especially one devoted to the Four Palaces, which tend to be dominated by women. Spirit possessions are elaborate ceremonial events in Vietnam that require an enormous amount of time, energy, and financial investment, including acquiring the mediums, musicians, costumes, votive objects, props, offerings, ritual assistants, food, and drink (alcoholic and nonalcoholic). Marginal actors, such as female vendors selling amulets, incense, fruit, and votive money at kiosks on the perimeter of sacred sites (commerce within sanctuaries is forbidden) also play an important role at these ceremonies. That commerce is a driving force in state planning and religious reassemblage could be seen in the figures posted in the parking lot at the temple: the construction of new kiosks (ki ốt dịch vụ) was at the top of the list of renovation projects, with an estimated cost of 3.28 billion Vietnamese đồng (150,000 USD), almost 10 percent of the entire budget for reconstruction and expansion. As with other religious (and secular) activities in Vietnam, huge investments in rituals to affirm social status often ensures a future of debt. This was one reason for the ban against wasteful practices, including elaborate weddings, in a moment of economic turbulence and war. Subsequent debt was also on the minds of some guests—including mine—during a visit to Ông Hoàng Mười Temple with friends from Vinh to mark the (solar) new year in 2015. After descending from Quyết Mountain, where we had visited Quang Trung Temple, populated with students, newly wedded couples, and families enjoying the extended holiday, we came upon crowds of people gathering outside the entrance to Ông Hoàng Mười. A spirit possession ceremony was underway (see Figure 6). We made our way to the main shrine where the female medium was channeling the Tứ Phủ (Four Palaces) pantheon of deities, including that of the Tenth Prince or Ông Hoàng Mười. The hours-long ceremony unfolded much like that which Ngô (2006), Endres (2011a), and Salemink (2014) describe as typical of lên đồng in northern Vietnam, but here with regional variation (including different dress) given Vinh’s distinctive cultural orientation (more aligned with the central region of Vietnam). A master medium, accompanied by her assistants and musicians, kneeled facing an altar teeming with gifts for the deities. She then covered her head with a red veil to signify the arrival and departure of spirits—what anthropologists would identify as the moment of liminality betwixt and between incarnations. Each spirit embodiment was associated with a particular set (and color) of clothing, props, and gestures. After performing a series of ritualized movements in the character of the channeled spirit, the blessed offerings (lộc), including small amounts of money, were distributed to the guests. Figure 6: View largeDownload slide Medium possessed by a spirit of the Four Palaces pantheon, Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, Nghệ An (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). Figure 6: View largeDownload slide Medium possessed by a spirit of the Four Palaces pantheon, Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, Nghệ An (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). Through the incarnation of deified heroes, the possession ceremony I witnessed that day at Ông Hoàng Mười Temple fused patriotic with spiritual—and what some visitors might see as superstitious—practices that attracted a large group of followers and spectators, and also some critics. While the lên đồng performance followed a fairly standardized form of corporeal possession, the immense collection of hand-crafted votive objects and figures offered to the Four Palaces pantheon after the end of the ceremony was truly remarkable (and given their artistic merit, unfortunate to see go up in flames). Hundreds of colorful, handmade paper elephants and horses (some life-sized) lined the courtyard. These animals would have been the primary means of transportation, also in battle, for the spirits, and certainly for General Lạc (see Figure 7). Tables were stacked with mass-produced votive gold and (Chinese) money that, once burned, would provide for the spirits in the afterworld, transmitted through the medium of smoke. Rows of flapping paper princesses, the handmaidens to the Mother Goddesses (Ngô 2006, 24), stood alongside the paper princes, also handmade. Votive objects are of course a common sight at religious sites across Vietnam; modification to their form has followed changing trends in material culture with the growth of the economy (prompting one older man to ask: “What would my [deceased] father do with a cell phone?”). And yet the scale of votive offerings at Ông Hoàng Mười temple had far surpassed anything I had seen elsewhere on other occasions. The tremendous costs and labor involved were not lost on me alone. As I stood watching the female caretakers carry the votive animals one by one to the fire pit (see Figure 8), a journalist from Ho Chi Minh City approached me. “What a waste of money!” he said while snapping pictures, as if expecting me to agree. “And this area of Vietnam is so poor,” he continued, mimicking state discourse and assuming the role of disciplinarian left vacant by the state that had itself turned a blind eye to the ritual activities honoring and channeling the Tenth Prince. Figure 7: View largeDownload slide Votive objects (hàng mã) as offerings to the deities. Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, Nghệ An (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). Figure 7: View largeDownload slide Votive objects (hàng mã) as offerings to the deities. Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, Nghệ An (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). Figure 8: View largeDownload slide Ritual burning of votive objects for use by deities in the afterlife. Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, Nghệ An (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). Figure 8: View largeDownload slide Ritual burning of votive objects for use by deities in the afterlife. Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, Nghệ An (photo by Christina Schwenkel, 2015). CONCLUSION This article has attempted to show the important role that spirits—especially patriotic ones associated with the state’s pantheon of heroes—play in the remaking of late socialist urban space on the edge of Vinh City: what I have referred to as religious reassemblage. This is rooted in the observation that city-making is an ongoing process and never a finished product, in accordance with changes to political economies of planning. The spirits encountered in this essay were not docile embodiments at new and renovated shrines devoted to their worship and their remembrance. Rather, they directly influenced the course of urban development. Heritage sites, such as Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, are protected—by both deities and government regulation, which work in tandem with one another (and also protect believers from scrutiny by the state). Sacred landscapes, where state commemoration and spirit veneration intersect, thus serve as a reminder of how cities like Vinh not only preserve and promote their pasts, but also envision their future through new and reinvented sites of religious practice. This is not the case with all forms and spaces of urban religiosity, however. Those that do not in explicit ways contribute to the values and goals of nation building, and do not have a patriotic spirit to protect devotees, are far more likely to be the focus of state intervention, if not harassment. However, such threats did not stop Catholics in Vinh, for instance, from demanding a halt to private development on seized church lands or Buddhist nuns from rebuilding shrines and impeding commercial growth on pagoda grounds. For this reason, devotees who are aware of such circumstances, including those at Ông Hoàng Mười Temple, tend to overstate the heroic histories of their venerated spirits in order to maintain government support on the one hand (bureaucratic and financial), and to be left in peace to practice their beliefs on the other. A comparison of two key sites of worship today on the sacred periphery of Vinh City—the newly constructed Quang Trung Temple and the refurbished Ông Hoàng Mười Temple—attests to similarities and differences across various modalities of religious reassemblage. Both sites have been at the center of efforts to develop the city and its peri-urban edges while appealing to touristic sensibilities (see also Marouda 2014). Both have been important to national memory and state commemorative rituals. And consistent with Vietnamese popular beliefs, both sites offer the prospect of ritual reciprocity: people extend material offerings of food, flowers, incense, money, or votive objects so that they may receive, in return, the gift of protection, health, or material betterment from national heroes-cum-deities. Ông Hoàng Mười Temple deviates from the state developmental project in certain ways, however, despite its embrace of national values such as heroism and martyrdom. Rather than state commemoration imbued with religious qualities, found at Quang Trung Temple, the Tenth Prince suggests the opposite: popular beliefs with a touch of patriotic spirit and purpose. It is this latter element—the performance of patriotism—that lends support to urban planning, unlike other sacred sites that are still viewed with suspicion. Both temples examined in this study were shown to be ambiguous sites for transacting with (and embodying) spirits that simultaneously disrupted and reasserted the forward-looking goals of state policy. As such, Quang Trung and Ông Hoàng Mười temples are suggestive of the ways in which state memory can be coopted by nonstate actors under late socialist urban planning to make certain claims on religious spaces, such as the right to engage in spiritual practices in accordance with established cultural beliefs. I am grateful to Mary Hancock and Smriti Srinivas for their spirited leadership of this initiative and their encouragement. I thank the reviewers and editors at the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, in addition to Kirsten Endres, Tam Ngo, and Peter van der Veer, who provided useful feedback on earlier versions of the essay. Footnotes 1 See, for example, Lebow (2013) on the lack of a Catholic church in the design of Nowa Huta, Poland’s first so-called socialist city. A public campaign to construct a church was eventually successful after more than a decade of applying for permission from the state (Lebow 2013, 161–69). 2 See also Alexander and Buchli (2006) on the conversion of urban mosques in Tashkent into storage spaces and other secular usages during the Soviet period. 3 As in the case of the fourteenth-century military hero Trần Hưng Đạo, now worshipped as Saint Trần, and identified as the spiritual “father” of Vietnam (Phạm and Eipper 2009). 4 Interestingly, this phrase was also used in war cemeteries in South Vietnam, so it is not exclusive to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. On the desecration of these cemeteries, see Schwenkel (2013). 5 Giáp was the military strategist credited with the defeat of the French and the Americans. Minh Khai’s older sister was Giáp’s first wife, who died in 1944 at the age of 29 while imprisoned by the French at Hỏa Lò prison (later called “Hanoi Hilton” by US POWs). The story was told to me by the brother of Giáp’s second wife, an architect who worked on the project. 6 Minh Khai married the Communist Party leader Lê Hồng Phong, but there are unofficial reports that she previously married, or was at least engaged to, Hồ Chí Minh, which the Vietnamese government adamantly denies. 7 Thus, my research respondents from the war generation who had deep admiration for Hồ Chí Minh repeatedly explained that they “do not worship, but remember” the former leader. 8 That female caretakers become anxious when shrines attract too much attention (resulting in their disappearance) demonstrates the uncertainty that lingers around such beliefs, if not outright fear of the state. 9 See Endres (2007) on costs, which can exceed several thousand dollars for one ceremony. 10 On such hierarchies and categories, see Pham (2006, 35–36). 11 Endres (2011b, 250–51) shows how this pantheon is hierarchically ranked. 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The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism . Chicago : University of Chicago Press . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 8, 2018
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