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Occulting the Dao: Daoist Inner Alchemy, French Spiritism, and Vietnamese Colonial Modernity in Caodai Translingual Practice

Authors:

Abstract

This article takes the case of the Vietnamese Cao Dai religion to examine how Asian religious leaders and translators, in a context of colonial modernity, invested a European language with their own cosmologies and discourses, building both a national identity and an alternative spiritual universalism. Studies of translation in colonial contexts have tended to focus on the processes and impact of translating European texts and ideas into the languages of the colonized. This article discusses the inverse process, examining how Caodai textual production used French spiritist language and tropes to occult its Chinese roots, translating Daoist cosmology into a universalist and anti-colonial spiritual discourse rooted in Vietnamese nationalism. These shifts are examined through a close examination of translingual practices in the production and translation of the core esoteric scripture of Caodaism, the Đại Thừa Chơn Giáo 大乘真教 (The True Teachings of the Great Vehicle), rendered in its 1950 Vietnamese-French edition as The Bible of the Great Cycle of Esotericism. This study demonstrates how colonial religious institutions and networks of circulation in Asia stimulate the emergence of new movements and textual practices that mimic, invert, jumble, and transcend the cosmologies of both the Chinese imperium and the European colonial regime.
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Occulting!the!Dao:!
Daoist!Inner!Alchemy,!French!Spiritism!and!Vietnamese!Colonial!Modernity!
in!Caodai!Translingual!Practice!
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PRE-PUBLICATION!VERSION!
!"#$%&'(")(*+,&%(-.#/,0+((77(2):!405–428.!
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Jeremy!Jammes!and!David!A.!Palmer
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Abstract:!
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This! article! takes! the! case! of! the! Vietnamese!Cao! Dai! religion! to! examine! how! Asian!
religious!leaders!and!translators,!in!a!context!of!colonial!modernity,!invested!a!European!
language!with!their!own!cosmologies!and!discourses,!building!both!a!national!identity!
and!an!alternative!spiritual!universalism.!Studies!of!translation!in!colonial!contexts!have!
tended!to!focus!on!the!processes!and!impact!of!translating!European!texts!and!ideas!into!
the! languages!of! the! colonised.! Here! we! discuss! the! inverse!process,! examining! how!
Caodai!textual!production!used!French!spiritist!language!and!tropes!to!occult!its!Chinese!
roots,!translating!Daoist!cosmology!into!a!universalist!anti-colonial! spiritual! discourse!
rooted!in!Vietnamese!nationalism.!We!examine!these!shifts!through!a!close!examination!
of!translingual!practices!in!the!production!and!translation!of!the!core!esoteric!scripture!
of! Caodaism,! the! 12,( 345&( 647%( 8,9"! (大乘真教,“The! True! Teachings! of! the! Great!
Vehicle”),! rendered! in! its! 1950! Vietnamese-French! edition! as! “The! Bible! of! the! Great!
Cycle! of! Esotericism.”! Our! study! demonstrates!how!colonial! religious! institutions! and!
networks!of!circulation!in!Asia!stimulate!the!emergence!of!new!movements!and!textual!
practices!that!mimic,!invert,!jumble!and!transcend!the!cosmologies!of! both!the!Chinese!
imperium!and!of!the!European!colonial!regime.!!
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!Jeremy! Jammes! (jjammes@yahoo.com)! is! Associate! Professor! and! Director! of! the! Institute! of! Asian!
Studies,! Universiti! Brunei! Darussalam;! David! A.! Palmer! (palmer19@hku.hk)! is! Associate! Professor,!
Department!of!Sociology!and!Institute!for!the!Humanities!and! Social!Sciences,!University!of!Hong!Kong.!
The!order!of!authors’!names!is!alphabetical,!and!authorship!should!be!considered!equal.!
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On!Nov.!7!1936,!the!eighth-century!Chinese!poet,!Li!Bai!descended!to!a!group!of!
Caodai! intellectuals! assembled! at! a! spirit-writing! séance! in! French! colonial! Saigon.!
Holding! the!handles!of!a!basket-shaped!stylus!over!a!table,!two!mediums!transmitted!
the!words!of!the!poet:!the!time!had!come!for!them!to!be!!
:;%',<4.0%0/(."(.40(.$#0(=&"(&.(.40(0%/(")(.40(>"+?,>(>@>'0((
34"+0(A4"(&A&B0%()$"?(.40(C$")&%0(A"$'/(A,''($0&>4(.40(=$&<"%(D'"A0$(*++0?E'@F(
(1368!1950,!6).(
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This!verse!would!be!followed! by! many!others,!revealed!by!immortals!and!sages!
such! as! Confucius,! Laozi,! General! Guan! Gong,! or! the! Jade! Emperor,! announcing!the!
realization! of! the!ancient! Chinese! prophecy!of! the! Dragon! Flower! Assembly.! These!
tropes,!associated!with!apocalyptic!calamities!and!the!inauguration!of!a!new!cosmic!era,!
had!inspired!countless!movements!over!many!centuries!in!the!dense!thicket!of!Chinese!
popular!salvationist!and!sectarian!traditions.!But!the!Caodai!adepts!seemed!oblivious!to!
the!deep!history!of!this!millenarian!vision.!Instead,!they!eagerly!sought!to!connect!the!
prophecy! to! the! modern! spiritual!teachings! and! ideas! that! circulated! among! the!
Francophone! colonial! intellectuals! of! Saigon.!When! a! Vietnamese! Theosophist! editor!
published!the!above-mentioned!oracle!in!a!1950!bilingual! Vietnamese-French!edition,!
the!statement! was! rendered! as! “The! Gospel! of! the! Spirit! of! Truth! is! opened! in! the!
prophecied! end! times,! to! announce! to! the! Incarnates! the! coming! Judgement! of! God”!
(ibid).!The!“Spirit!of!Truth”!and!“the!Incarnates”!mentioned!here!are!explicit!references!
to!the!French!spiritist!reform!of!Catholicism!advocated!by!Alan!Kardec!and!elaborated!in!
his!G""B(")(.40(-C,$,.+((H0(H,I$0(/0+(;+C$,.+,!1857),!said!to!have!been!revealed!in!a!series!
of!séances!in!the!1850s.!How!did!this!Caodai!group!end!up!using!the!spiritist!idiom!to!
translate!its!main!esoteric!scripture?!What!was!it!trying!to!accomplish,!and!what!were!
the! implications?! What! do!these! allusions! to! Western! Occultism! (theosophy! and!
spiritism)!tell!us!about!the!religious!productions!of!colonial!modernity?!!!
In! this! article,! we! will! discuss! how,! through! such! textual! moves,! the! Cao! Dai!
religion! dissimulated! its! roots! in! the! Chinese! sectarian! tradition,! asserted!its! pre-
eminence!in!a!new!field!of!modern!spiritual!universalism!that!was!mediated!by!French!
colonialism,! and!anchored!itself!in! the!construction! of!a!Vietnamese! national!identity.!
We!will! also! examine! the! social! networks,! political! structures! and! identity-building!
processes! that! underpinned! these! translingual! textual! practices.! We! argue! that,! in!
contrast! to! standard!narratives! of! secularisation! or! traditionalism,! colonial!modernity!
produces!distinct!forms!of!religion!that!both!mirror!and!invert!Western!colonial!ideals,!
claiming!simultaneously!to!be!national,!universal,!and!superior!to!the!West.!!
We!will! examine! this! theme! through!the!lens!of! the! social! processes! of! textual!
production! and! translation.! In! the! past! decades,! poststructuralist! and! postcolonial!
theory! has! inspired! many!studies! on!the! role! of! translation! practices! at! the! points! of!
contact,! confrontation! and! negotiation! between! Western! colonial-imperial! expansion!
and!Asian!societies.!Moving!beyond!debates!between!the!ideal!of!universal!equivalency!
and! the! incommensurability! of! different! cultural! and! linguistic! worlds,! scholars! have!
shifted! their! focus! to! the! social! and! political! contexts! in! which! translated! texts! are!
produced,! and! how! translation,! in! the! context! of! colonial! or! imperial! modernity,!
produces!shifts!in!indigenous!languages!and!subjectivities!(Howland!2003).!One!strand!
of!scholarship!has!stressed!the!role!of!translation!as!an!integral!and!central!part!of!the!
project!of!colonial!domination!itself,!as!local!languages!are!transformed!into!carriers!of!
European!concepts,!categories!and!logics!of!governance!(Cheyfitz!1991;!Niranjana!1992);!
while!another!strand!has!emphasized!the!agency!of!indigenous!actors!and!intellectuals!
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in!the!process!of!appropriating!Western!terms!and!discourses,!generating!new!and!often!
contested! realms! of! discourse! within! which! indigenous! experiences! and! claims! to!
modernity!and!nationhood!are!expressed!and!articulated!(Chandra!2009;!Creese!2007;!
Krämer!2014;!Liu!1995,!2004;!Sakai!1997).!In!studies!of!East!Asia,!in!the!wake!of!Lydia!
Liu’s!3$&%+',%<#&'(J$&>.,>0((1995),!several!scholars!have!traced!the!circulatory!nature!of!
these!processes,!in!which!words,!translations!and!neologisms!travel!between!the!“West,”!
China,!Japan!and!other!East!Asian!countries!(Howland!2002;!Liu!1999).!Recent!studies!
have!applied!these!approaches!to! similar!processes!in!Vietnam!(Bradley!2004;!Chang!
2016;!Dutton!2015a,!2015b).!!
!In!these!studies,!the!subject!is!usually!K0+.0$%(texts!and!concepts!that!are!being!
translated! into! Asian! languages! and!societies;! or,! as! in! critical! studies! of! Orientalist!
discourse,! the! translation! E@( K0+.0$%0$+( of! Asian! texts! into! European! languages!
(Girardot!2002;!Lardinois!2007;!Said!1978).!Lydia!Liu!defines!translingual!practice!as!a!
social!process!“by!which!new!words,!meanings,!discourses,!and!modes!of!representation!
arise,!circulate,!and!acquire!legitimacy!within!the!host!language!due!to,!or!in!spite!of!the!
latter’s! contact/collision! with! the! guest! language,”! in! which! the! “host”! and! “guest”!
languages!represent!that!of!the!colonized!and!the!colonizer,!respectively!(Liu!1995,!26
7).!In!this!article,!through!the!case!of!the!Vietnamese!Cao! Dai!religion,!we!propose!to!
examine!translingual!practice!in!the!other!direction:!how!did!Asian!religious!leaders!and!
translators! invest! a! European! “guest”! language! with! their! own! cosmologies! and!
discourses?!And,!even!further:!how!did!this!translingual!process,!in!a!context!of!colonial!
modernity,! facilitate! the! eviction! of! Chinese! from! its! role! as! the! classical!hegemonic!
religious!language!of!a!society!such!as!Vietnam,!which!had!been!at!the!periphery!of!the!
Sinosphere!for!millennia!before!European!colonisation?!!
Indeed,!it!is!perhaps!in!the!realm!of!religion!and!“spirituality”!that!we!can!find!the!
most!concerted!efforts!of!Asians!to!“speak!back”!to!Europeans,!in!their!own!idiom,!with!
the!intent! not!only!of!expressing! indigenous!beliefs!and! ideas!in! European!languages,!
but! to! construct! an! alternative! Oriental! vision! of! spiritual! civilization,! universal! and!
superior!to!that!of!the!West,!and!which!could!transform!and!redeem!the!whole!world.!
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Such!efforts!occurred!within!circulatory!networks!in!which!both!Asian!religious!figures!
and!authors,!and!European!Orientalist!scholars!and!spiritual!adventurers,!travelled!and!
communicated! between! chains! of! Asian! and! European! capitals,! leading! to! the!
collaborative! and! often! perennialist-oriented! elaboration!of! discourses! on! “Asian!
spiritual! traditions.”! The! modern! concepts! of! “religion,”! “world! religion”! and! “Asian!
spirituality”!are,!to!a!great!extent,!products!of!these!exchanges.!Moving!beyond!critiques!
of!the!“Protestantization”!of!Asian!religions,!recent!studies!by!Peter!van!der!Veer!(2014)!
and!Prasenjit!Duara!(2015)! have!shown!how!these! categories!have!emerged!and! been!
shaped! by! an! “interactional! historyLa! circulatory! and,! we! might! add,! “translingual”!
process!in!which!Asian!actors!have!actively!invested!these!categories!and!shaped!their!
meanings!in!different!contexts.!
The!role!of!Indian,!Sri!Lankan!and!Japanese!figures!in!this!process,!such!as!Swami!
Vivekananda,! Nallasvami! Pillai,! Rammohan! Roy,! Ravindranath! Tagore,! Sri! Aurobindo,!
Mohandas! Gandhi,! Anagarika! Dharmapala,! Jiddu! Krishnamurti!and! D.! T.! Suzuki,! all! of!
whom! gave! talks,! wrote! and! published! prolifically! in! English! and! thus! contributed!
directly! to! the! shaping! of! Western! discourses! on! Asian! spiritualityLhas! been! amply!
studied!and!documented.!But!what!of!the!Sinosphere?!After!Duara!(2001)!wrote!about!
the!previously!neglected!“redemptive!societies,”!a!wave!of!scholarship!has!investigated!
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!We! are! writing! about! a! time! in! which! the! idea! of! the! “Orient,”! though! constructed! by! European!
Orientalists,!had!become!a!reality!in!the!imaginaries!of!Asian!intellectuals!and!spiritual!figures.!
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the!mass!phenomenon!of!syncretic!movements!in!the!first!decades!of!the!20th!century,!
that!inherited!the!Chinese!tradition!of!salvationist!sectarianism!but!tried!to!articulate!a!
vision!of!universal!spiritual!civilization,!often!employing!modern!forms!of!organization,!
charity,!disaster!relief!and!education!(DuBois!2011;!Palmer!2011).!Some!of!these!groups!
allied! themselves! with!like-minded!movements!in!Japan,!and!made!links! between!the!
Chinese!practice!of!spirit-writing!with!the!Shanghai!Spiritualist!Society’s!importation!of!
European!discourses!and!practices!on!scientific!forms!of!communication!with!the!souls!
of!the!dead!(Huang!2007;!Schumann!2014).!However,!in!spite!of!the!Chinese!redemptive!
societies’! deep! penetration! into! both! popular! and! elite! strata! of! society,! and! the!
cosmopolitan!ties!of!some!of!their!leading!members,!they!hardly!ever!directly!engaged,!
,%(;#$"C0&%('&%<#&<0+,!with!Western!debates! and! discourses.!China’s!“spiritual”! voice!
was! only! mediated! into! Western! languages! by! secularist! Chinese! intellectuals! and!
Western!scholars!who!shared!a!common!disdain!or!at!least!a!strong!reformist!impulse!
towards! all! forms! of! Chinese! religiosity.! Van! der! Veer! (2014)! has! argued! that! this!
bifurcation!between! India!and! China! may! well! be! the! product!of! the! absence! of!direct!
European!colonization!of!China.!In!this!article,!we!extend!his!comparative!perspective!to!
French!Indochina!to!ask!the!following!questions,!taking!the!Vietnamese!Cao!Dai!religion!
as! our! case:! how! does! direct! colonization! create! the! conditions! of! possibility! for!
translingual!practice!by!the!colonized!in!the!direction!of!the!colonizer’s!civilization?!And!
how!does!colonization!shape!the!destiny!of!a!new!religious!movement!that!appears!in!
the!context!of!colonial!modernity,!compared!with!analogous!movements!in!the!absence!
of!direct!colonial!rule?!
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Caodaism! or! the! “Great! Way! of! the! Third! Cycle! of! Universal! Salvation!of! the!
Highest! Platform”! (6&"( OP,( 12,( 12"( 3&?( ]^( J4_( 1`( 高台大道三期普度!8&".&,( /&/&"(
+&%a,(C#/#)
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!appeared!in!the!1920s!during!French!colonial!rule,!and!is!the!third!largest!
religion!in!contemporary!Vietnam!with!growing!congregations!in!diasporic!Vietnamese!
communities! around! the! world! (Hoskins! 2015).! It! emerged! from! a! Chinese! religious!
milieu!in!Cochin-China!(southern!Vietnam)!which!produced! groups!which,!in!terms!of!
genealogy,!structure,!practice!and!theological!content,!can!clearly!be!situated!within!the!
wave!of!“redemptive!societies”!that!appeared! in!early! 20th!century! China!(Goossaert!&!
Palmer! 2011,! 93108).! Simultaneously,! Caodaism! emerged! in! a! specifically! Occultist!
colonial!milieu,!generating!some!practices!which!are!clearly!linked!to!French!spiritism,!
freemasonry!and!the!Theosophical!Society!(Jammes!2014,!170–81,!450–63).!
As! the! first! movement! of! mass! conversion! in! French! Indochina,! born! during! a!
period! of! anti-colonial! resistance,! Caodaism! established! its! own! army! during! the!
Japanese!occupation!and!the!ensuing!war!of!independence,!and!directly!governed!a!large!
part! of! South! Vietnam.! With! its! own! theology,! its! own! flag,! and! even! its! own! army,!
Caodaism!is!a!case!in!point!of!the!“traffic”!between!the!religious!and!the!secular!(Duara!
2015,!195238).!The!political!aims!of!Cao!Dai!religion!gradually!gained!substance!and!
momentum! to! the! point! where! it!was! ultimately! able! to! offer! a! genuine! project! of! a!
religious!society,!a!theocracy!that!aimed!to!become!the!"State!religion"!(a#b>(c2"!國道!
<#"/&")!of!Vietnam.!Such!national!aspirations!for!independence!were!combined!with!a!
religious! language,! Caodai! prophecies! emphasizing! that! the! Vietnamese! people! were!
chosen!for!a!special!spiritual!but!universal!mission!(Hoskins!2012).!
In!this!article,!we!argue!that!the!colonial!context!of!Vietnam!produced,!in!the!form!
of! Caodaism,! a! transformation! of! the! Chinese! Xiantiandao! salvationist! tradition!
(“Prenatal!Way!or!“Primordial!Way”!先天道,!Tiên!Thiên!Đo!in!Vietnamese),!into!a!new!
vision!of!spiritual!universalism!grounded!in!Vietnamese!national!identity!and!incarnated!
by! an! institution! that! aimed! to! be! both! a! universal! church! and! a! nation-state.! This!
transformation!was!mediated!by!two!stages!of!translingual!practice.!The!first!was!a!shift!
of! the! language! of! scriptural! revelation! from! Chinese! characters! to! the! newly-formed!
national! language! of! Vietnam,! the! Romanized! a#b>( %<d( (國語!<#"@#)Leither! by!
translating! prayers! and! scriptures! from! Chinese! to! the! new! written! language,! or! by!
directly! producing! Romanized!scriptures! through! spirit-writing.! Occurring! at! a! time!
when! the! French! colonial! authorities! had! recently! decreed! the! abandonment! of! the!
Chinese!script,!setting!in!motion!the!cutting!off!of!Vietnam!from!its!former!civilizing!and!
tributary!centre!and!creating!a!new!space!for!a!modern!national!identity,!this!process,!in!
the!case!of!Caodaism,!enabled!the!“occultation”!of!its!Chinese!religious!matrix.!It!allowed!
this! new! faith! to! claim! a! new! national! point! of! origin,!located! in! Cochin-China.! The!
second! stage! was! the! production! or! translation! of! texts! into! FrenchLa! direct!
engagement!with!the!spiritual!discourses!of!the!colonial!metropole,!signalling!a!pivot!in!
the!imagination!of!the!imperial!Other,!from!China!to!France!and!the!West.!The!strategic!
use!of!French!Occultist!language!and!tropes!to!translate!Caodai!cosmology,!inscribed!the!
religion!into!a!universalist!anti-colonial!spiritual!discourse.!(
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!In! this! article,! we! have! converted! Vietnamese! terms! into! Chinese! characters! for! the! convenience! of!
Sinophone! readers,! and! to! facilitate! the! textual! comparison! of! Caodai! and! Chinese! redemptive! society!
scriptures! and! discourses.! Chinese! characters! are! followed! by! the! pinyin! Romanisation! for! the!
convenience!of!non-Sinophone!readers.!Note!that!in!the!original!Caodai!sources,!Chinese!characters!only!
rarely!appear!and!pinyin!Romanisation!was!never!used.!!
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!We! examine! these! paradigmatic! shifts! through! a! study! of! the! production! and!
translation!of!the!core!esoteric!scripture!of!Caodaism,!the!12,(345&(647%(8,9"!(大乘真教!
=&>40%<( e40%f,&"),!“The!True! Teachings! of! the!Great!Vehicle,”!hereafter!referred!to! as!
1368.!This!is!a!collection!of!spirit-writing!messages!attributed!to!Chinese!deities!such!as!
the!Jade!Emperor,!Li!Bai,!Guan!Gong,!Laozi!and!so!on,!revealed!in!Vietnamese!mostly!in!
193437!and!further!published!in!a!bilingual!French-Vietnamese!edition!in!1950,!under!
the!French!title!of!H&(G,E'0(/#(8$&%/(6@>'0(/0('gh+".i$,+?0L“The!Bible!of!the!Great!Cycle!
of!Esotericism.”!
!
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This! article! will! propose! a! close! examination! of! the! translingual! practices!
(translations,!rhetorical!strategies,!naming!practices,!and!legitimizing!processes)!that!led!
to! the! production! and! usage! of! the! 1368.! We! begin! by! first! contextualizing! the!
emergence!of!Caodaism!in!the!Sino-Vietnamese!religious!milieu!of!the!early!20th!century.!
We!then!look!at!the!production!of!this!“Caodai!Esoteric!Bible”!and!situate!it!within!the!
networks! of! publishing! markets! and! colonial!discourses! on! esoteric! spiritualities.! We!
then!compare!a!few!representative!passages!of!the!scripture!in!its!Chinese,!Vietnamese!
and! French! versions.! The! different! versions! appear! to! be! quite! different! emanations!
from!two! different!traditions:!Chinese!millenarian!salvationism,!and!French! Occultism.!
The!Romanized!Vietnamese!language!acts!as!a!screen!which!allows!the!Chinese!roots!of!
the!texts!to!be!“occulted”!from!the!Vietnamese!followers,!and!for!them!to!be!re-cast!in!
the!“modern”!idiom!of!French!OccultismLwith!the!ultimate!aim!of!situating!Caodaism!at!
the!centre!of!the!new!era!of!esoteric!spirituality,!the!“third!and!redemptive!Alliance”!that!
would!see!the!end!of!the!dominance!of!Christianity!in!the!West!and!the!Chinese!Three!
Teachings!in!Vietnam,!to!be!replaced!by!a!new!universal!synthesis!of!esoteric!spiritual!
cultivation!and!exoteric!missionizing,!philanthropy!and!social!construction.!Finally,!we!
will! compare! how! the! French! colonial! context! created! the! linguistic! conditions! for!
Caodaism!to!follow!a!different!path!of!evolution!and!identity-building!than!its!“cousins,”!
the!redemptive!societies,!that!flourished!in!China!at!the!same!time.!We!will!conclude!by!
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discussing! how! this! case! can! help! us! to! conceptualise! the! religious! productions! of!
colonial!modernity!in!Asia.!!
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THE!BIRTH!OF!THE!CAODAI!REVELATIONS!!
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Caodaism! emerged! out! of! the! Minh! Sư! (“Enlightened! Master”! 明師!m,%<+4,)!
sectarian! tradition,! the!largest! and! oldest! of! the! Minh! (m,%<)(societies! in! Vietnam,!
which! first! appeared! among! the! Chinese! communities! of! Cochin-China! in! the!
19th!century!(Huệ! Nhn! 1999).!In! fact,! the! Minh! societies! were! a! network! of! spirit-
writing! groups! originating!in! Guangdong! province,! China,! carriers! of! the! Xiantiandao!
salvationist!tradition.!Characteristics!of!this!tradition!include!the!worship!of!the!Unborn!
Mother!(無生老母!K#+40%<('&"?#),!also!known!as!the!Golden!Mother!of!the!Jasper!Pool!
(Diêu!Trì!Kim!Mẫu!瑤池金母 Yaochi!jinmu)!as!the!supreme!deity,!the!practice!of!Daoist!
inner!alchemy,!vegetarianism,!philanthropy,!and!the! belief!in!a!three-stage!apocalyptic!
eschatology.! Xiantiandao! branches! spread! along! Chinese! trade! networks! throughout!
Southeast! Asia!during! the! late! Qing! (Yau! 2014b).! Other! Chinese! Minh! societies! later!
appeared! in! Vietnam! in! the! late! 19th! and! early! 20th! centuries.!These! were! generally!
offshoots! of! the! Minh! ! associations,! often! with! higher! levels! of! Vietnamese!
participation.!Between!January!1924!and!November!1925,!perhaps!the!most!urbanized!
and!Vietnamesed!Minh!society,!Minh!Lý!c2"!(明理道 m,%<',/&"),!had!begun!a!process!of!
translating!religious!texts,!previously!available!in!Minh!Sư!circles!only!in!Chinese,!into!
the!Romanized!modern!alphabet!of!the!Vietnamese!language.!
!
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The!story!of!Caodaism!begins!in!the!early!1920’s!through!the!spirit-writing!activities!of!
Ngô!Văn!Chiêu!(18781932),!a!Vietnamese!civil!servant!working!under!the!authority!of!
the!French!colonial!administration!in!Cochin-China.! For!almost!two! decades,! Minh! -
affiliated!Daoist! masters!guided!him!in!studying!commentaries!on!the!=&"/0f,%<!(道德
),! in! his! learning!of! meditation,! spirit-writing,! and! talisman! techniques! (Huệ! Nhn!
1999,!22–7;!Huệ!Khi!2008,!20–1).!!
!
!Broadly! speaking,! the! Caodai! texts! were! produced! in! a! Vietnamese! and! Sino-
Vietnamese! milieu! of! spirit-writing! groups,! Daoist! priests,! scholars,! intellectuals,! and!
colonial!officials.!Spirit!writing!or!spirit!séances!(>7(Et.!機筆!f,E,)! produced!a!series!of!
texts!that!are!the!“scripture”!(B,%4!!f,%<)!of!the!religious!group.!Sometimes!the!Caodai!
séances!modified!the!Daoist!technique!of!“phoenix!writing”!(C4u('"&%!扶鸞!)#'#&%)Lin!
which!a!bird-headed!basket!is!held!by!one!or!two!mediums!to!write!on!a!surface!(Jordan!
and! Overmyer! 1986,! 3688)Lto! use! a! Vietnamese! alphabetic! board! and! receive!
messages! in! Romanized! Vietnamese! and! French.! In! this! case,! the! technique! is!clearly!
inspired! by! the! oui-ja! board! and! inscribes! Caodaism! into! the! Western! spiritualist!
tradition!(Aubrée!&!Jammes!2012).!!
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!
!In!a!séance!in!1921,!one!deity!revealed!himself!to!Ngô!Văn!Chiêu!as!Master!Cao!
Đài!(高臺!8&".&,),!“the!Master!living!at!the!Highest!Platform.”!This!deity!also!identified!
himself!as!the!Jade!Emperor!(Ngc!Hoàng!Thưng!Đế 玉皇上帝 Yuhuang!Shangdi).!Ngô!
Văn!Chiêu!was!given!the!mission!to!reveal!and!propagate!a!universal!“new!Dharma”!(.R%(
C49C 新法!w,%)&).!From!then!on,! the!new!movement!began!to!spread!in!the! cities!and!
suburbs!of!Cochin-China.!Soon!afterwards,!in!1926–27,!the!movement!developed!its!own!
scriptures,!philosophical!system,!and!liturgies!based!on!Confucian,!Buddhist!and!Daoist!
sources.!Caodai!membership!expanded!rapidly,!as!both!the!economic!crisis!of!193031!
and! the! foundation! of! new! Caodai! branches!attracted! the! peasantry! to! the! religious!
solidarity!structures!offered!by!the!new!religion!(Werner!1981).!!
!As! the! new! religion! increasingly! oriented! itself! towards! mass! proselytism,! it!
sought!to!gather!religious!texts!in!Vietnamese!that!would!not!require!learning!Chinese,!
hence! targeting! the! broadest! possible! audience! and! reaching! out! to! the! peasant!
!
community.!The!missionary!branch,!the!“Holy!See”!of!Tây!Ninh,!produced!a!series!of!new!
texts!to!administratively!regulate!religious,!secular!and!monastic!life,!but!also!turned!to!
the!Minh! associations,!and!especially!the!Minh! Lý!Dao,!to! compose! the!first!corpus!of!
prayers!and!spirit!invocations.!As!mentioned!above,!the!Minh!Lý!Dao!had,!at!that!time,!
just! begun! its! own! project! of! translating! Chinese! religious! texts! into! Vietnamese.!
Through!spirit-writing!messages!and!Vietnamese!translations!of!Minh!prayers!and!texts,!
Caodaism!thus! adopted! the! cosmology,! theology! and! eschatology! of! the! Xiantiandao!
tradition!and!adapted!it!to!a!decolonization!agenda!and!Sino-Vietnamese!culture.!!
!
!
THE!ĐI$THA$CN$GIÁO(AND!THE!COLONIAL!OCCULTIST!MILIEU!
!
The! 12,( 345&( 647%( 8,9"( (1368)! is!one! of! the! four! canonical! scriptures! of!
Caodaism,!each!of!which!was!composed!through!spirit-writing.!The!1368!literally!means!
“the! True! Teachings! of! the! Mahayana,”! or! “The! True! Great! Vehicle,”! and! it! deals!
primarily!with! esoteric! practices.!The! 1368!is!based!on! a!production! of!51! messages!
revealed! by! deities! at! the! end! of! 1936.! To! these! texts! were! added! 22-odd! messages!
attributed! to! the! divinized! spirits! of! former! disciples!and! produced! at! various! times!
between!1926!and!1950.!The!collection!was!compiled!as!a!538-page!volume!in!thematic!
order!with!a!print!run!of!“2,000!copies,!not!for!sale”!in!1950,!in!a!bilingual,!Vietnamese-
French!version.!It!was!published!by!a!company!run!by!Nguyn!Văn!Hun,!a!famous!and!
active!member!of!the!Theosophical!Society.!The!book!is!referred!to!by!its!Caodai!French-
language!editors!as!the!“Bible!of!the!Great!Caodaist!Esoteric!Cycle”!(1368!1950,!15),!and,!
in!the! Vietnamese! version,!as!“a!manual! of!the!pill! of!immortality”!(B,%4(+9>4( '#x%(Iy(
17%k],%4(經書論於丹經!f,%<+4#('#%@#(/&%f,%<)!(8–9).!These!two!designations!reveal!the!
two! distinct! idioms! in! which! the! teachings! are! presented! in! the! book:! as! a! Daoist!
alchemical!and!meditative!manual!in!the!Vietnamese!version;!and!as!an!“Esoteric!Bible”!
in!the!French!version
4
.!!
The!1368!is!not! structured!as! a!coherent! and!organized!dogmatic! treatise,!but!
rather!as!a!collection!of!moral!guidance!and!teachings!proclaimed!by!“instructors!of!the!
invisible.”! The! 1368!presents! itself! as! an! archetype! of! the! omniscient! knowledge!
transmitted!by! the!spirits.!The!Daoist!notion!of!self-cultivation! (.#( '#@z%!修煉!w,#',&%)!
through!techniques!of!the!body! and!meditation!is!one!of! the!core!themes!of!the! book.!
The! messages! of! the! spirits! elaborate! on! the! tradition! of! the! three! teachings! of!
Confucianism,!Buddhism!and!Daoism!(3&?(8,9"!三教!+&%f,&"),!while!claiming!that!they!
have!lost!their!power!in! this!era!of! the!third! kalpa.!These! doctrinal! elements!directly!
echo! the! millenarian! themes! of! the! Chinese! salvationist! sectarian! tradition! and!
especially! the! contents! of! the! 17th!century(B,%4( H"%<( Q"&( (龍華經 H"%<4#&f,%<,! “The!
Book!of!the!Dragon!Flower”).!According!to!this!tradition,!the!human!race!is!subject!to!a!
final! competition! or! “Dragon! Flower! Assembly”!(4`,(H"%<(Q"&!龍華會 '"%<4#&(4#,),!in!
which!only!the!most! virtuous!will!pass!the! exam,!find!salvation!and!eventually!find!a!
place!alongside!the!Golden!Mother!of!the!Jade!PondLand!the!Jade!Emperor!in!the!Cao!
Ðài!context!(Jordan!and!Overmeyer,!1986).!
!
4
!A!new!French!translation!of!the!1368!was!recently!published!(Cao!Đài!2013),!as!well!as!its!first!English!
translation!(Tran!2015).!Since!these!new!versions!were!produced!in!a!very!different!period!and!context,!
we!have!not!included!them!in!this!study.!It!is!interesting!to!note,!however,!that!these!translations!have!
largely!removed!the!theosophical!and!spiritist!language!of!the!1950!edition.!To!our!knowledge!no!Chinese!
translation!has!ever!been!attempted!or!published.!
!
!The!1950!edition!of! the!1368!contains!both! the!original!Vietnamese!text!and! a!
remarkable!French!translation!heavily!laden!with!the!idioms!of!French!Occultism,!itself!
based!on!a!re-appropriation!and!reinterpretation!of!the!symbols!and!tropes!of! Roman!
Catholicism.! The! inner! cover!pages! (23)! of! the! 1368!state! that! the! translation! was!
carried!out!by!“a!group!of!disciples!of!the!Chiếu!Minh!Cenacle.”!The!production!and!the!
publication!of!this!book!are!the!work!of!a!milieu!of!Caodai!editors!and!exegetists!who!
were! very! experienced! in! Vietnamese-French! translation.!This!circle! actively!
participated! in! “Vietnamizing”! the! knowledge! emanating! from! Daoist! and! Chinese!
poetry! spirit-writing! séances.! In! other! words,! some! of! these! francophone! translators!
must! have! known! classical! Chinese!to! translate! Chinese! terms! and! ideas! into! spoken!
Romanized! Vietnamese! and! then! into! French.! The! Oratory! hosted! the! offices! of! the!
“Caodaic! Institute.! Psychological,! philosophical,! metaphysical! studies”! ({%+.,.#.(
6&"/&|a#0Y( h.#/0+( C+@>4"'"<,a#0+T( C4,'"+"C4,a#0+T( ?i.&C4@+,a#0+”).! This! institute! (Q}>(
I,z%(6&"(1P,!學院高台!w#0@#&%(<&".&,)!aimed!to!bring!studies!on!Caodaism!to!the!status!
of!a!true!theological!discipline.!
The! collaborators! of! the! Caodaic!Institute!engaged! in! a! process! of!
universalization! of! Caodaism!through! translation,! owing! to! their! access! to! French!
esoteric!studies!in!the!comparative!study!of!religions,!the!analysis!of!symbols!and!rituals,!
and!the!scientistic!description!of!spirit-writing!séances.!Indeed,!the!French!translations!
made!by!the!Caodaists!can!be!identified!as!“occultist”!since!they!frequently!use!spiritist!
and!theosophist!terminologies,!as!we!will!examine!below.!Following!the!historian!Jean-
Pierre! Laurant!(1992),! we! consider! “occultism”! as!a! loosely-defined!movement!which!
appeared!in!the!19th!century!in!the!West,!which!re-interpreted!and!recast!old!religious!
and! esoteric! practices! and! doctrines! (supernatural! phenomena,! traditional! spirit-
mediumship! activities,! etc.)! through! the! filters! of! modern! scientific! methods! and!
instruments!(see!also!Faivre!&!Needleman!1992;!Hanegraaff!et!al.!2005).!!
In! the! Vietnamese! colonial! context,! Occultist! groups! attempted! a! (Western)!
rationalization!of!(Eastern)!religions!by!uncovering!the!universal,!esoteric!truths! that!
are! hidden!beneath!the!exoteric,! outer!forms!of!these!religions.! As!an! example! of! the!
penetration!of!French!Occultist!literature!in!the!Vietnamese!publishing!milieu,!we!can!
cite! the! D$&%>0k*+,0!journal,! published! in! Saigon,! whose! esoteric! and! perennialist!
language!can!be!compared!to!the!French!translations!of!the!1368.!Its!founder,!René!de!
Berval!(191187)!used!the!magazine!to!invert!“the!postcolonial!gaze!by!taking!an!Asian!
perspective”! on! Western! occultism,!“in! reaction! to! the! paradigms! of! modern! science”!
(Bourdeaux!2010,!181).!
In!the!years!192030,!a!flourishing!publishing!culture!played!a!prominent!role!in!
an! expanding! public! sphere! of! Cochin-Chinese! urbanites! and! religious! reformers!
(McHale!2004).!Theosophical!literature!occupies!a!unique!but!dynamic!position!in!the!
global!circulation!of!spiritual!ideas!at!the!turn!of!the!20th!century!(Lardinois!2007,!127).!
Founded! in! New! York! in! 1875,! the! Theosophical! Society! seeks! to! penetrate! the!
mysteries!of!the!holy!books!and!oral!traditions!of!the!world!by!filtering!them!through!a!
syncretistic! conceptualization! that! is! simultaneously! Christian,! Hindu,! and! Buddhist,!
claiming!than!“There!is!no!religion!greater!than!Truth.”!The!1920s!marked!the!beginning!
of!the!Theosophical!Society’s!establishment!in!Cochin-China:!the!34p%<(.4,~%(4}>((通天
!."%<.,&%w#0),! literally,! “studies! of! communications! with! the! heavens”,! aimed! to!
revitalize! and! rationalize! Buddhist! theology! and! practices! (especially! millenarian,!
meditative! and! philanthropic! traditions).! It! attracted! both! French! and! Vietnamese!
followers! in! the! colonial! milieu! of! Saigon! and! Hanoi.! The! prolific! productions! of! its!
Vietnamese!members!–!made!of!translations!and!commentaries!of!the!verbose!founders!
!
of!the!Theosophical!Society!such!as!Blavatsky,!Leadbeater!and!Besant!–!were!rationalist!
insertions! into! the! dialogue! between! Eastern! and! Western! civilizations! and! those!
between!religions!and!science!(Jammes!2010a).!This!theosophical!enterprise!to!build!up!
a! “morally! edifying! science”! or! a! “savant! religiosity”! (Bourdieu! 1987,! 110)! perfectly!
dovetailed!with!the!intellectual!atmosphere!of!the!time.!
!
Spiritist! brochures,! books! and! circles! were! also! circulating! in! Cochin-China,! as!
well! as! all! of! Allan! Kardec’s! doctrines! and!spirit-mediumship! techniques! (Aubrée! &!
Jammes!2012;!Bourdeaux!2012).!Spiritism!can!be!traced!to!the!teachings!and!practices!
of! Emmanuel! Swedenborg! (16881772)! and! Franz! Mesmer! (17341815),! and! to! the!
popular! practice! of! mediumship! through!“talking! tables”! (the! precursor! to! the! oui-ja!
board)!in!19th!century!France.!The!spiritist!doctrine,!codified!by!Allan!Kardec!(1804–69),!
considers!that!the!spirits!of!the!dead!can!be!contacted!through!“scientific”!methods;!that!
spirits!progress!through!a!spirit-hierarchy;!and!that!they!can!guide!humans!to!higher!
levels!of!spiritual!and!moral!understanding.!From!a!sociological!perspective,!spiritism!
can!be!defined!as! both!an!anti-materialist!movement!and!as!a!social!doctrine!bringing!
together! diverse! trends! of! thought! (utopian! socialism,! evolutionism,! positivism,! etc.)!
that! flourished! at! the! time! of! nascent! socialism.! The! Kardecist! spiritist! doctrine!
reinterpreted! Christianity! with! a! scientistic! lens.! Spiritism! proposed! a! reform! of!
Catholicism! and! used!modern! techniques!(telegraph,! photography,! radiography,!X-ray,!
etc.)! as! vehicles! for! a! new! hope! in! the! afterlife.! As! with! Caodaism! sixty! years! later,!
spiritism!is!presented!by!its!founder!as!the!third!revelation!of!God!on!Earth,!after!Moses!
and!Jesus-Christ.!The!third!period!opened!by!spiritism!is!described!by!Kardec!himself!as!
an!“Alliance!of!science!and!religion,”!a!period!dedicated!to!the!“Instructions!from!Spirits”!
(Kardec!1868,!chap.!I).!
French! spiritism! is! translated! into! Vietnamese! as! .4%( ',%4( 4}>! ( 神靈學!
+40%',%<w#0),! “study! of! the! spirits”! or! .4p%<( ',%4( 4}>! (通靈學!."%<',%<w#0),! “study! of!
communications!with!spirits.”!The!first!Caodaists!actually!practiced!the!“turning!tables”!
of! French-derived! spiritism,! which! they! conceived! as! more! “rational”! and! “scientific”!
than! the! traditional! Vietnamese! spirit-possession! practices! ('~%( c%<!登童!/0%<."%<).!
However,! it! was! a! message! received! during! such! a! séance! that! instructed! the! first!
members! to! turn! to! Chinese-style! spirit-writing.! French! spiritism! thus! seems! to! have!
played! a! role! both! as! an! initial! trigger! before! a! switch! to! the! Chinese-style! “flying!
phoenix,”!and!later!as!a!universalist!discursive!veneer,!used!to!reformulate!and!explain!
the!teachings!and!practices!in!a!more!legitimate,!scientific!language!and!rhetoric.!While!
Occultism!was!initially!focused!on!European!esoteric!traditions,!Caodaism!attempted!to!
fully! universalize! the! Occultist! framework! by! grounding! it! in! the! Caodai! teachings,!
placing!Caodai!theology!above!all!others.!Learning!Caodai!theology!was!presented!to!the!
Vietnamese!audience!as! a!necessary!stage!for! Westerners!wishing!to!understand!their!
own!Western!esoteric!tradition.!Caodaism!promised!to!harmoniously!connect!the!West!
and!the!East!in!the!esoteric!and!spiritual!realm,!in!contrast!to!the!French!colonial!system,!
which!had!failed!in!the!exoteric!and!materialistic!realm.!
!
A!TRANSLINGUAL!STUDY!OF!THE!ĐTCG!
!The!1368,!when!converted!into!Chinese!characters,!reads!in!style,!in!the!metric!
and!structure!of!its!verses,!and!in!content!like!a!typical!Chinese!spirit-writing!text.!It!is!
especially!resonant!with!the! texts!associated!with!Chinese!redemptive!societies! of! the!
early! 20th!century,! with! its! emphasis! on! both! personal! spiritual! cultivation! through!
!
Daoist!inner!alchemy!and!Confucian!morality,!and!on!universal!salvation!in!the!context!
of!the!sectarian!eschatology!of!the!three!kalpas.
5
!What!makes!the!1368!distinctive!is!the!
fact!that!it!was!revealed!in!Romanized!Vietnamese,!%".(in!Chinese!charactersLallowing!
it! to! cast! a! veil! over! the! Chinese! origin! and!content! of! its! teachings,! a! veil! that! has!
become! thicker!with!each!generation! of! Vietnamese!becoming! increasingly!unfamiliar!
with!Chinese!writing!and!civilization.!!
The!“occultation”!of!Chinese!was!carried!a!stage! further!by!the! French!edition,!
which!overlaid!an!interpretation,!based!on!the!categories!of!European!Occultism,!onto!
the!entire!text.!Since!many!of!the!early!Caodai!leaders!and!believers!were!educated!in!
French!colonial!schools,!they!were!often!more!literate!in!French!than!in!Chinese!or!even!
Vietnamese,! and! used! the! French! version! as! a! key! to! penetrate! the! unintelligible!
Vietnamese!original,!itself!rooted!in!classical!Chinese!verse.!The!bilingual!edition!of!the!
1368!was!undoubtedly!published!with!this!purpose!in!mind.!The!French!edition!helped!
to! legitimize! and! convert! the! 1368!into! both! the! language! of! modern! rationality!
(through!the!idiom!of!Occultism)!and!the!language!of!religious!hegemony!(through!the!
idiom!of!Christianity).!But!this!process!of!conversion!and!transformation,!overshadowed!
the!Chinese!and,!especially,!the!Daoist!roots!of!the!text.!It!also!played!a!significant!role!in!
establishing!the!distinctive!Caodai!identity!of!the!text.!The!term!“Cao!Đài,”!indeed,!rarely!
appears!in!the!original,!which!contains!little!to!distinguish!it!from!the!broader!genre!of!
Chinese!spirit-writing;!but!is!inserted!throughout!the!French!translation,!together!with!
Christian! and!Occultist!terms.! The!increased!use!of!the!term!also!serves!to!emphasize!
the! monotheistic! claims! of! Caodaism,! creating/assuming!an! equivalency! between! Cao!
Đài!and!the!Biblical!God.!!
!
J,>.#$0(sN(-&?C'0(C&<0+()$"?(.40(E,',%<#&'(U,0.%&?0+0kD$0%>4(0/,.,"%((
")(.40(12,(345&(647%(8,9"(
(
!
An!archetypal!example!of!the!conversion!of!Daoist!concepts!into!Christian!terms,!
with!an!explicit!reference!to!Master!Cao!Đài!that!is!absent!in!the!original!text,!is!the!first!
stanza!of!the!message!revealed!on!24!September!1936,!which!refers!to!the!process!of!
revelation!through!spirit-writing!(1368!1950,!16).!In!the!Vietnamese!original,!the!line!
O2,k3,~%k3$•%<( <,9%<( 4"9.( IpkI,,”! converted! word-by-word! into! Chinese! characters,!
becomes 大仙將降活無為! (/&w,&%(f,&%<'#"( 4#"( A#A0,),! which! may! be! rendered! into!
5
!For!a!more!detailed!comparative!study!of!the!translations!of!several!complete!stanzas!of!the!1368T(see!
Palmer!&!Jammes!forthcoming.!!
!
English! as! “The! Great! Immortal! shall! come!down,! moving! in! non-action”La! rather!
generic! expression! of! the! process! of! spirit-writing! by! Daoist! immortals! in! Chinese!
religion!(the!poet!Li!Bai!in! this!text).!But!in!the!French!versionL!0(I,0%+(0%(;+C$,.('0#$(
"#I$,$('&( G,E'0(6&"/&|a#0( /0( '&( =i',I$&%>0((“I! come! in! the! Spirit! to! open! for! them! the!
Caodaic! Bible! of! Deliverance”)Lthe! Daoist! terminology! of! the! original! is! replaced! by!
Christian!tropes!in!the!name!of!Cao!Đài.!!
In! the! next! stanza! (ibid.),! the! vaguely! Daoist! notion! of! the! “return! to! one’s!
spiritual! nature”! (>4#@ƒ%( a#,( ',%4( .9%4!轉歸靈性!e4#&%<#,( ',%<w,%<)! is! translated! into!
strongly!dualistic!Biblical!imagery!as!“fishing!out!the!divine!soul!entangled!in!the!flesh,”!
while!the!generic!“true!transmission!of!Dao,”!647%(.$#@y%(c2"!(
傳道!e40%>4#&%(/&"),!
is!rendered!as! “Caodaic!esotericism.”!And! the!expression!“holding!the!divining! stylus”!
(345&!>7
!>40%<f,),!which!refers!to!the! Chinese! spirit-writing! instrument!()#f,),! is!
rendered! as! “by! means! of! psychography”! with! its! Western! spiritist! and! modernist!
connotations!of!a!“writing!of!the!psyche”!or!“photography!of!the!soul.”!
The! scripture’s! teachings! devoted! to! esoteric!spiritual! practice! include! a! nine-
stage! method! that! is! titled! in! French! as! the! “nine! Initiations”! (message! of! 19! August!
1936,!1368!1950,!384).!Converted!to!Chinese!characters,!the!name!of!the!method,!C49C(
>„#( >4#@ƒ%! (法九轉!)&( f,#e4#&%),! evokes! the! terminology! of! Daoist! inner! alchemy;!
following! contemporary! conventions! of! Daoist! studies,! scholars! have! rendered! it! in!
English! as! “Ninefold! transformation”! (Schipper! and! Verellen! 2004:! 399)! or! as! “Nine!
reversals”! (Komjathy! 2013,! 309);! several! texts! in! the! Daoist! Canon! contain! the! term,!
including,! for! example,! “The! Secret! Formulas! of! the! Golden! Elixir! of! the! Ninefold!
Transformation”! (九轉金丹秘訣,! Daoist! Canon! 33( Z…nYMl;! see! Schipper! and! Verellen!
2004:!849).!!
!Indeed,!the!description!of! the! method!over!the!following!sections!clearly!refers!
to!inner! alchemical!practices.!But!the!“pre-natal”! realm!of! .,~%( .4,~%((先天 w,&%.,&%),!a!
core!concept!in! Daoist!cosmology!and!alchemical!practice,!is!translated!as!“Occult!life”!
(i.e.! the! hidden! life! which! requires! an! initiation),! while! the! process! of! alchemical!
refinement!of!the!4€%((4#%)!and!C49>4((!C")!souls!on!the!path!of!immortality!(.,~%(
w,&%),!is!rendered!as!“Cleans[ing]!the!soul!and!the!body!of!the!Elect!who!aspire!to!the!
Bliss!of!the!Angels.”!!
!Further!down!in!the!same!message!(1368!1950,!386),!we!find!a!typical!piece!of!
advice!on!nurturing!and!transforming!the!triad!of!.,%4(((f,%<),!B4†((!a,)!and!.4•%((!
+40%)! in! Daoist! inner! alchemyLthree! terms! usually! rendered! in! English-language!
scholarship! as! Essence,! Qi! (or! vital! breath)! and! Spirit.! The! Caodai! translators! chose!
French!terms!that!reflect!an!extreme!dualism!of!body!and!spirit,!rendering!f,%<(into!its!
most!materialized!expression!as!“sperm”!and!+40%(into!the!“Holy!Spirit,”!a!Christian!term!
associated!with!the!absolutely!transcendental!God.!!
The!dualistic!ontology!appears!again!a!few!verses!below!on!the!“first!initiation,”!
in!which!the!“communication!between!spirit!and!vital!breath”!(.4%(B4†(<,&"(.4p%< 神氣
交通!+40%a,(f,&"."%<)!is!rendered!as!“union!of!the!Soul!and!Body”;!and!the!“elimination!
of! worries! and! malice”! (=,z.( .$5( C4,y%( %‡"( 'u%<( B4p%< 除煩惱心?,0>4#( )&%%&"(
w,%B"%<)!is!translated!as!their!“dematerialization.”!In!the!next!stanzaLˆ?(/•7%<(.4‰%<(
<,9%<( c,y#( 4u&”! (陰陽升降調和 @,%@&%<( +40%<f,&%<( .,&"40,! literally! “Yin! and! Yang! rise!
and!fall!in!coordination”)Lwe!find!an!intriguing!translation!of!the!yin-yang!dyad!as!the!
“Spiritual! and! the! Temporal,”! which! “rise! and! descend! according! to! the! rhythm! of!
Providence,”!providing!a!strong!Kardec-inflected!Catholic!flavour!to!what,!in!Chinese,!is!
an!ordinary!statement!on!the!operation!of!cosmological!cycles.!Next!we!find!another!pair!
!
of! verses! that! express,! in! typical! inner-alchemical! terms,! some! basic! processes! of!
alchemical!cultivation:! while! “Opening!the! nine! orifices”! (B4&,(>#(B4,q#!開九竅 BŠ,(f,#(
a,&")!is!open!to!different!interpretations,!the!1368!translates!them!as!the!“nine!chakras,”!
drawing!on!Western!Occultist!interpretations!of!Indian!tantra.!Indeed,!the!Theosophical!
Society! published! extensively! on! these! terms.! The! book! 340( 64&B$&+!by!Charles! W.!
Leadbeater!(1927),!one!of!the!founders!of!the!Theosophical!Society,!notably!provided!a!
series!of!colour!drawings!on!the!chakras,!which!contributed!to!the!popularization!of!his!
interpretation! in! Cochin-China.
6
!We! found! this! theosophical! literature! in! the! Minh! Lý!
and! Cao!Đài!libraries,! as! well! as! in! various!bookshops! in! Ho! Chi! Minh!City! during!our!
fieldwork!(2000-2013).!
While!the!12,(345&(647%(8,9"!can,!in!its!original!version,!be!seen!as!containing!a!
typical!late-19th-early-20th-century!Daoist!spirit-writing!text,!its!French!version!reveals!
the! influence! of! a! distinctly! Occultist! colonial! culture,! deploying! a! vocabulary! which!
clearly!falls!into!the!same!category!as!French!spiritism!and!theosophy.!!
! !
!
A!TRIPLE!OCCULTATION!
!Comparing!the!Chinese!and!the!French!versions!of!the!1368,!they!would,!indeed,!
appear!to! be!radically!different!emanations!from!two!different!spiritual!traditions.!The!
important! point,! however,! is! that! Caodai! translators! emphasize! the! French! Occultist!
reading!and!%".!the!Chinese!and!Daoist!one.!The!religious,!poetic!and!literary!idioms!of!
the!Vietnamese!language!are!sufficiently!close!to!Chinese,!so!that!Chinese!spirit-writing!
can!be!channeled!(and!translated)!into!spoken!Vietnamese!using!the!Romanized!script.!
But,!with!Chinese!characters!and!the!mandarinate!examinations!abolished!in!1919,!and!
modern!Vietnamese!people!trained!in!French!colonial!schools!being!increasingly!unable!
to! read! them,! the! Romanized!Vietnamese! language! acts! as! a! screen! which! allows! the!
Chinese!roots!of!the!texts!to!be!occulted!from!the!Vietnamese!followers,!and!for!them!to!
be!reinterpreted!A,.4,%(.$&%+'&.,"%(in!the!“modern”!idiom!of!French!Occultism.!!
What! is! the!discursive! strategy! at! play! in! this! Vietnamese-French! translation!
process?!A!naive!reading! might!simply!conclude!that!the!relation!between!this!French!
translation!and!the!Vietnamese!original!text!is!partial,!incomplete!and!distorted!toward!
what!interests!the!translators.!To!be!sure,!the!Kardec-ish!(spiritist)!and!Leadbeater-ish!
(theosophical)!style!of!the!translation!certainly!implies!a!distortion!of!the!source!textL
but! the! final! product! might! be! considered! as! the! ?".( f#+.0!for! the! intentional!
transformation!of!the!text!by!the!translators.!Following!André!Lefevere!in!his!work!on!
neologisms! and! “foreignisms,”! we! can! see! Caodai! translation! as! an! experimental! and!
creative! literary! practice.! The! translation! cannot! be! dismissed! as! “misunderstandings!
and!misconceptions.”!On!the!contrary,!the!refractions!correspond!to!the!different!ways!
the!Caodai!translators!deliberately!“rewrote”!the!text,!by!manipulating!with!subtility!the!
continuities! and! discontinuities! between! religious! idioms!emanating! from! Chinese,!
Vietnamese!and!French!cultural!matrices.!!
!
By!“Westernizing”!the!text,!the!Caodai!translators!deliberately!downplayed!the!
values,!beliefs,!and!representations!that!they!saw!as!holding!sway!in!the!Vietnamese!and!
Chinese!languages.!It!appears!as!if!Chinese-ness!or!Vietnam-ness!was!seen!to!be!a!defect!
that! needed! to! be! removed! from! the! French! version.! At! the! same! time,! the! French!
6
!The!year!of!his!death!(1934),!to!the!Cochin-Chinese!branch!of!the!Theosophical!Society,!based!in!Saigon,!
was!named!after!him!(Jammes!2010a).!
!
translation! serves! the! purpose! of! universalising! it,! staking! a! claim! to! the! universal!
imaginary! propagated! by! French! colonialism.!In! this! sense,! the! Vietnamese! text!is!
,%.0%.,"%&''@(,%.0$C$0.0/!within!the!vehicle!of!the!French!translation:!(1)!by!revising!and!
taking!its!distance!from!the!Chinese!original;!(2)!by!mimicking!spiritist!and!theosophist!
writing,! rationalizing! the! Vietnamese! text! and! consolidating! the! pretention! that!
Caodaism! is! a! “scientific”! religion;! (3)! by! Westernizing! the! Vietnamese! text! and! the!
identity! of! the! colonized;! (4)! by! facilitating! the! accessibility,! intelligibility! and! the!
“relevance”! of! the! originally! Chinese/Vietnamese! text! to! a! French! Occultist/Christian!
target! readership;! (5)! by! occulting! the! Daoist! text! which! is! the! key! to! the! secret,!
meditative!knowledge.!!
In!a!colonial!situation,!this!mimetic!behavior!was!quite!ambiguous!since,!on!the!
one! hand,! it! matched! what! the! colonizer! expected! and,! at! the! same! time,! it! put! an!
emphasis! on! the! capacity! of! the! colonized! to! design! and! define! his/her! intellectual!
independence! and! spiritual! autonomy.!The! mimetic! activity! is! thus! not! a! passive! one!
(Taussig! 1993,! xiii).! This! semantic! and! mimetic! stratagem! is! highly! dynamic! in! a!
situation!of!symbolic!domination!by!colonizers,!in!which!the!colonised!prefer!an!indirect!
contact,! a! recalibrated! relation! and! the! use! of! “symbolic! ruse”! (Augé! 1982,! 284)! to! a!
straightforward!rejection!or!a!rupture!with!the!colonizer!culture.!In!our!understanding!
of!these!translingual!practices,!the!spirit-writing!ritual!can!be!considered!as!a!“ritualistic!
deviation”! (Augé! 1982,! 16)! in! the! hands! of! the! colonized! who! re-invested!symbolic!
codes,! rationalized! spiritual! experience! and! knowledge,! spiritualized! scientific! change!
and,! finally,! explored! an! &'.0$native! to! their! Self! by! accepting! to! become! to! a! certain!
point!the!Other,!to!endorse!the!spiritual!and!rational!paradigms!of!the!colonizer.!
We!see!here!the!limits!of!a!structural!logic!which!posits!an!opposition!between!
the!Self!and!the!Other!(Vietnam/China!or!Vietnam/France).!On!the!contrary,!it!would!be!
fruitful!to!approach!the!1368!production!as!a!process!that!jumbles!the!ambivalences!in!
the! semantic! field! of!each! language,! manages! in! a! constructive! and! creative! way! the!
incommensurability!between!Daoist!and!Catholic!cosmologies!and,!ultimately,!redefines!
their!forms!of!classification,!symbols,!categories!and!universes!of!meaning.!!
!When! we! speak! of! “occulting! the! Dao,”!we! thus! refer! to! three! levels! of!
“occultation.”!At!a!first!level,!the!possession!of!occult! or!esoteric!knowledge!serves!to!
buttress!claims!to!spiritual!authority!within!a!highly!contested!religious!field.!The!1368(
was!produced!in!a!context!of!competition!between!the!Chiếu!Minh!branch!and!the!Tây!
Ninh! Holy! See,! and! established! the! Chiếu! Minh’s! authority! as! the! leading! “esoteric”!
branch! of! Caodaism,! possessing!deeper! knowledge! than! the! dominant,! “exoteric”! Tây!
Ninh! institution.! The! same! dynamic! is! at! play! in! the! competition! between! Cao! Dai!
religion! and! the! Catholic! Church! in! Vietnam,! in! which! the! esoteric! teachings! claim! to!
contain!the!mysteries!of!Christian!doctrine.!The!source!of!the!“occult!knowledge,”!in!this!
case,!is!the!techniques!and!symbols!of!Daoist!inner!alchemy,!the!most!esoteric!form!of!
Daoist!practice.! !
At!a!second! level,!the!use!of!occult! knowledge!as!a!source!of!spiritual!authority!
also! comes! from! the! control! over! the! access,! interpretation! and! usage! of! the! occult!
knowledge! itself:! since! Daoist! inner! alchemy! is! incomprehensible! to! the! non-initiate,!
those!who! control! its!transmission!also! control!how! it!is! approached,!understood!and!
used.!In!this!case,!the!Daoist!core!is!“occulted”!by!hiding!its!source.!The!direct!revelation!
of!the!text!in!Vietnamese!Romanisation,!without!any!reference!to!specific!earlier!sources,!
blocks!knowledge!of!and!access!to!the!incredibly!rich!corpus!of!Chinese!inner!alchemical!
texts!and!practices,!both!canonical!and!popular,!that!were!not!very!difficult!to!obtain!by!
!
the!19th!and!early!20th!centuries!in!Chinese!communities!(Goossaert!2012).!To!be!sure,!
explicitly!Chinese!and!Daoist! symbols!and! terms! can! be!found!in! both! the! Vietnamese!
and! French! versions! of! the! 1368T(which! could! be! seen! as! merely! universalising! their!
significance,!“expanding!the!Dao.”!In!that!sense,!the!only!possibility!to!use!the(1368!as!a!
manual!to!practice!Daoist!alchemy!and!meditation!is! in!the!reversed!translation!of!its!
verses,!from!Vietnamese!to!Chinese,!“revealing!the!Chinese!roots!of!the!Dao.”!Members!
of!the!Chiếu!Minh!branch!who!use!the!1368,!as!a! meditative!manual,!do!have!an!oral,!
secret!transmission!of!the!meaning!of!the!text.!But!without!knowledge!of!or!access!to!the!
tradition! underlying! those! printed! symbols,! they! signify! little! more! than! generic!
markers!of!Caodaism’s!encompassing! and!transcending! of!China’s! Three!Teachings.!In!
China,!when!redemptive!societies!and! spirit-writing!groups!produced!scriptures! based!
on! inner! alchemy,! it! was! impossible! for! them! to! fully! control! access! to! the! esoteric!
knowledge!since!it!could!be!found!relatively!easily!in!the!myriads!of!other!Chinese!texts!
and!groups!that!circulated!widely.!Caodaism,!on!the!other!hand,!thanks!to!its!replacing!
Chinese!with!the!Vietnamese!language,!could!build!its!distinctive!religious!identity!and!
control!access!to!its!esoteric!source.!!
At! a! third! level,! “occultation”! refers! to! the! specific! use! of! the! tropes! of! French!
Occultism,! which! both! serve! to! rationalise! and! legitimise! Caodaism!in! a! context! of!
colonial! modernity! and!to!attract! French! followers,!but,!at! the!same!time,!to! hide!the!
true!and! Daoist!meaning!to!the!non-Vietnamese!practitioners.!As!Jammes!found! in!his!
field! research,! this! is! only! transmitted! to! initiates! who! follow! a! specific! discipline! of!
body/mind! purification! and! who! possess!a! solid! background! in!Chinese! and! Sino-
Vietnamese! characters.! Such! initiation! would! eventually! pave! the! way! for!alchemical!
knowledge!and!experience!to!emerge!through!the!meditative!process.!The!reframing!of!
the! text! in! French! Occultist! terms! thus! serves! to! both! attract! and!lead! astray! non-
Vietnamese!followers,!while!religious!authority!remains!in!the!hands!of!the!Vietnamese.!
‘Occultation’! thus,! at! several! levels,! serves! to! establish! and! consolidate! the! spiritual!
authority!of!the!weak!over!the!powerful:!the!smaller,!esoteric!Chiếu!Minh!branch!over!
the!dominant!Holy!See!of!Tây!Ninh,!the!Cao!Dai!religion!over!the!Catholic!Church,!and!
the!Vietnamese!over!both!the!Chinese!and!French!colonisers.!!
! !
!
COLONIAL! MODERNITY! AND! THE!CREATION! OF! A! VIETNAMESE-CENTRED! UNIVERSAL! SPIRITUAL!
CIVILIZATION!
!Debates! on! colonial! modernity! have! stimulated! a! shift! away! from!
traditional/modern!dichotomies!and! culture-bound!narratives!in! Asian!historiography!
(Barlow!ed.!1997,!2012;!Lee!&!Cho!2012).!Asian!colonial!modernity!is!a!condition!that!
all! Asian! societies! were! thrown! into! from! the! moment! they! were! “first! compelled! by!
imperialism!and!capitalism!to!develop!and!acquire!modernized!infrastructures”!that!are!
both!material!and!cultural,!ranging!from!law,!hygiene,!industrial!production,!urbanism,!
the!printing!press,!commodities,!cultures!of!leisure,!lifestyle!and!art!(Lee!&!Cho!2012,!3).!
This!condition!is!not!circumscribed!by!the!boundaries!of!nation-states,!nor!is!it!defined!
by! a! dyadic,! oppositional! relationship! between! a! single! Western! coloniser! and! an!
indigenous! colonised.! As! this! article! has! shown,! in! Vietnam,! as!to! varying! degrees! in!
Korea,!Japan!and!elsewhere,!China!has!loomed!as!large!as!Western!powers!in!efforts!to!
construct!ethnic!and!national!identities.!Academic!debates!on!colonial!modernity!have,!
however,! neglected! its! religious! dimensions.! An! integral! part! of! the! colonial!
infrastructure!is!international!Christian!missionary!organisations!as!purveyors!not!only!
!
of!concepts!and!practices!of!religion!but!also!of!ideas!and!practices!of!modern!education,!
medicine,!civility,!charity!and! social!engagement.!Wherever! they! have! gone,! however,!
the!churches! have!stimulated! a!reaction! in!the! form! of!new!religious!movements!and!
organisations! that! have! attempted! to! transform! and! repackage! indigenous! religious!
cosmologies!and!practices!into!equivalents!or!alternatives!to!Christian!churches.!These!
movements! should! not! be! seen! as! merely! nativist! or! traditionalist! reactions,! but! as!
productions! of! colonial! modernity! itself,! which! try! to! capture! the! dreams! and!
aspirations! of! a! universal! modernityLone! which! would! be! based,! however,! on! a!
spirituality!rooted!in!Asia.!!
Creating!modern!religious!infrastructures!out!of!Asian!religious!transmissions!is!
not!a! simple!proposition,! however.!One!way!that!Chinese!religious!groups!adopted!to!
reconcile!these!tensions!was!by!mapping!them!onto!the!traditional!distinction!between!
secret! “inner”! and! public! “outer”! cultivation!(%`,!>p%< 內功 %0,<"%<T( %<"2,!>p%< 外功
A&,<"%<),! which! is!central! to! Caodaism!as! well! as! to! the!Xiantiandao! tradition!and! to!
many! redemptive! societies.! One! of! the! largest! Chinese! redemptive! societies,! the!
Daoyuan! 道院!(Court!of! the! Dao),! for! example,!combined! internal! spiritual! cultivation!
with! external! social! engagement!(Duara! 2001;! DuBois! 2011).! The! “inner! cultivation”!
aspect!was!based!on!a!Daoist!inner!alchemical!text!revealed!through!spirit-writing!and!
secretly!transmitted,!the!“True!Scripture!of!the!North!Pole!of!the!Supreme!One”!(太乙北
極真經!3&,@,(E0,f,(e40%f,%<);!on!the!other!hand,!the!“external!practice”!was!carried!out!by!
the!Daoyuan’s!philanthropic!wing,!the!Red!Swastika!Society!(紅卍字會!Hong!wanzi!hui),!
which!modelled!itself!on!the!International!Red!Cross!Society!(紅十字會 Hong!shizi!hui).!
Similarly,! the!Tongshanshe! 同善社!(Fellowship! United! in! Goodness)!practiced! Daoist!
inner! alchemy! as! its! inner,! secret! method,! while! it! engaged! with! society! through!
participation!in!Confucian!“national!Studies”!(國學 <#"w#0)!institutes,!which!were!trying!
to! formulate! a! Chinese,! “national”! culture! and! scriptural! corpus! as! a! counterpart! to!
Western! knowledge! (Wang! 2011).! Both! the! Tongshanshe! and! the! Daoyuan,! which!
attracted!millions!of!followers,!thus!constructed!themselves!in!mimesis/opposition!to!a!
Western! Other! as! it! was! experienced! in! the! form! of! Western! secular! knowledge! and!
humanitarian!organizations.!!
In! China,!the! redemptive!societies! constructed!a! Chinese! spiritual! identity!that!
contrasted!with!secular!nationalism!by!formulating!a!genealogy!of!masters,!the!=&"."%<(
道統,!that!integrated!the!spiritual!lineages!of!Confucianism,!Daoism!and!Buddhism!into!a!
single!civilizational!narrative!that!now!aspired!to!universality,!as!a!response!to!Western!
civilizationLabsorbing!Christianity!and!Islam,!as!well!as!modern!forms!of!philanthropy!
and! social! engagement.! The! Chinese! redemptive! societies! created! a! space! for!
maintaining! and! revitalising! the! link! with! China’s!spiritual! history.!Besides! their!own!
scriptures!revealed!through!spirit-writing,!other!Chinese!scriptures!and!morality!books!
circulated!widely!within!their!networks,!and!they!organized!classes!for!the!study!of!the!
Chinese! classics.! As! a! result,! the! Chinese! redemptive! societies! always! remained!
organically! linked! to! the! broader,! deeper! and! older! Chinese! religious! matrix,! which!
ultimately!subsumed!them.!Not!surprisingly,!today,!most!of!the!redemptive!societies!of!
the! early! 20th!century!have! largely!blended! back! into! Chinese! popular! religion! (Clart!
1997;!Palmer!2011).!The!only!major!one!to!have!sustained!its!development!to!this!day,!
Yiguandao!一貫道,! also! a! Xiantiandao! offshoot!with! close! genealogical!and!theological!
similarities! to! Caodaism,! is! an! active! force! in!the! promotion! of! Confucianism! and! the!
Chinese!classics!(Billioud!2015).!!
!
Caodaism,! on! the! other! hand,! gave! itself! the! mission! of! creating! a! specifically!
U,0.%&?0+0kcentred!universal!civilization,!and!went!farther!than!its!Chinese!“cousins”!in!
formulating!notions!of!nationhood!and!independent!religious!institutions.!But!given!that!
Caodaism’s!religious!roots!or!“DNA”!were!direct!extensions!of!the!Chinese!Xiantiandao!
tradition,!Caodaism’s!formulation!of!Vietnamese!identity!was!not!self-evident.!It!was!the!
abolition!of!Chinese!characters!in!Vietnam,!the!Romanization!of!Vietnamese!writing,!and!
the! first! phase! of! Caodai! translingual! practiceLthe! conversion! of! the! Xiantiandao!
tradition!and!its!textual!production!into!Romanized!VietnameseLthat!cut!Caodaism!off!
from!the!pull!of!its!Chinese!religious!and!civilizational!matrix.!Chinese!sources!could!no!
longer! be! directly!read! by! new! generations! of! Vietnamese,! contributing! to!Vietnam’s!
spiritual!independence!from!China.!!
In!the!second!phase!of!translingual!practice,!the!Daoist!and!Xiantiandao!heritage!
was!reformulated!in!French!as!a!universal!esotericism.!The!redemptive!societies’!duality!
of!inner/outer!cultivation,!with!Daoist!inner!alchemy!at!the!core!of!the!inner!practice,!
was!converted!into!the!French!concepts!of!“esotericism/exotericism.”!Caodaism!situated!
itself! squarely! within! the! French! religious! field,! in! which! the! Occultist/Esoteric!
movements!defined!themselves!in!opposition!to!the! “exoteric”! Catholic! church,!as! the!
true!universalists!who!hold!the!key!to!the!hidden!meaning!of!Christian!doctrine!and!of!
all!religions.!As!a!depository!of!“esoteric”!knowledge,!Caodaism!likewise!positioned!itself!
in! opposition! to! the! hegemony! of! the! Catholic! church! in! Vietnam,! turning! Christian!
idioms! and! tropes! against! the! Church! itself! through! its! claim! to! possess! the! occult!
meanings!of!Christian!symbols.!Through!this!move,!however,!Caodaism!not!only!aligned!
itself!with!the!reformed!Catholic!French!Occultist!movements,!but!also!claimed!spiritual!
leadership!over!them!through!its!promulgation!of! the!new!revelation!of! the! universal!
Esoteric! Third! Alliance.! Thus! the! linguistic! and! religious! fields! shaped! by! colonial!
modernity!in!Vietnam,!created!the!conditions!for!the!transformation,!through!Caodaism,!
of!a!Chinese!tradition!into!a!religion!that!could!claim!to!be!both!universal!and!national:!
U,0.%&?0+0;!and!%".(an!extension!of!Chinese!civilization.!
! !
!
Acknowledgments!
!
This!article!is!an! output!of! the!Chiang!Ching-kuo! Foundation-funded! project! on! “Text!
and! Context:! Redemptive! Societies! in! the! History! of! Religions! of! Modern! and!
Contemporary! China,”! and! the!Universiti! Brunei!Darussalam!(UBD)-funded!project!on!
“Vietnamese! religious! connectivity:! a! multi-sited,! anthropological! and! historical!
approach.”! We! are! grateful!to! the!CCK! Foundation,!to! the! Hong! Kong! Institute! for! the!
Humanities! and! Social! Sciences!at! the!University! of! Hong! Kong,! and! to! UBD! for!
supporting!the!research!leading!to!this!article.!
! !
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... 10 For information about how this crowdfunding platform works as well as about projects financed by it, please see: https://www.ethiscrowd.com/ 1 We are grateful to Joshua Gedacht and an anonymous reviewer for their fruitful comments and insights on the late version of this Afterword. 2 For a full discussion of the concept of 'translingual practice', see Jeremy Jammes and David A. Palmer (2018). 3 According to W. Palaver (2007). ...
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The first volume to explore Muslim piety as a form of economy, this book examines specific forms of production, trade, regulation, consumption, entrepreneurship and science that condition – and are themselves conditioned by – Islamic values, logics and politics. With a focus on Southeast Asia as a site of significant and diverse integration of Islam and the economy – as well as the incompatibilities that can occur between the two – it reveals the production of a Muslim piety as an economy in its own right. Interdisciplinary in nature and based on in-depth empirical studies, the book considers issues such as the Qur’anic prohibition of corruption and anti-corruption reforms; the emergence of the Islamic economy under colonialism; ‘halal’ or ‘lawful’ production, trade, regulation and consumption; modesty in Islamic fashion marketing communications; and financialisation, consumerism and housing. As such, it will appeal to scholars of sociology, anthropology and religious studies with interests in Islam and Southeast Asia.
... 170-72), based on the document published by the Holy See of Tây Ninh in 1970: "Hạnh Đường Huấn luyện Chức việc Bàn Trị Sự nam nữ". 4 This belief is intensified among the "esoteric" branches, who place an emphasis on personal, spiritual cultivation through Daoist inner alchemy and meditation-, with the aim of refining the hồn (魂 hún) and phách (魄 pò) souls on the path to immortality (tiên 仙 xiān). The Chiếu Minh or Chiếu Minh Tam Thanh Vô Vi (照明三清 無為 Zhàomíng sānqīng wúwéi; literally, Radiant Light of Noninterference of the Three Purities), is the leading "esoteric" branch of Caodaism, as the complement of the "exoteric missionazing" run by the Holy See of Tây Ninh (Jammes and Palmer 2018). Dying with the left eye open--which is mostly claimed by Chiếu Minh members--can be interpreted as a visual proof to consolidate the spiritual authority of the small, esoteric Chiếu Minh branch over the dominant Holy See of Tây Ninh. ...
Article
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This article sheds light on the sophisticated funeral process set up by the Cao Đài religion (or Caodaism), combining both a theological and an ethnographical analysis. After introducing how Cao Đài theology represents both the body and the spiritual components of each individual in the specific millenarian conception of existence that characterizes Cao Đài, we trace the ritual process of funerals from the altar and coffin preparation to the collection of prayers and talismanic rituals conveyed to save souls in a Cao Đài manner. Read together, these sources present a genuine project and spirit of reform in the ideas, imaginaries, and practices related to death in Vietnam from the 1920s onwards, crystallizing a specific Cao Đài identity in Vietnamese and also East Asian redemptive societies’ deathscapes.
... While these two approaches are described in theological terms in Cao Đài scriptures as complementary and mutually reinforcing, they correspond to divisions and tensions within the Cao Đài religion, as it evolved from a small group of elite cultivators into a proselytising religion of universal salvation that rapidly attracted millions of followers. While 'exotericism' (ngoại giáo công truyền; wàijiào gōng chuán 外敎公傳) was claimed by the Holy See of Tây Ninh to be its responsibility-in developing social activity and "universal salvation" (phổ độ; pǔdù 普度)-the Chiếu Minh branch was described by this same Holy See as the 'esoteric' side (nội giáo vô vi tâm truyền, nèijiào wúwéi xīn chuán 內教無為心傳; literally, "heart-to-heart transmission through non-interference") of the Cao Đài religion (Jammes and Palmer 2018). 16 From the 1920s until today, the Holy See of Tây Ninh instrumentalises this original schismatic division by claiming the monopoly of proselytism and social action, as well as by presenting itself as the sole possessor of the 'exoteric knowledge' (thế pháp; tǐ fǎ 體法; the 'Law of the Life'). ...
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Chapter
In many ways the researcher in the social sciences and humanities aims to ‘reveal’ secrets, that is to say, to divulge new and often hidden knowledge, known by a small number of people, or at least presented as such. The fieldworker, as with working in the archives, must read between the lines, interpret the unsaid, refute lies, gather clues and finally give meaning to the sociological whole. Facing family secrets, hidden personal agendas or alchemical recipes, time as well as conviction and a talent for listening selectively and discerning overlapping information allow the researcher to unveil one’s terrain and the (non)stories of one’s interlocutors, pushing the researcher constantly to open old notebooks with a fresh outlook. To depart from transparency and suggest the power of the invisible are an obsession of religious movements, a fortiori of groups described as ‘secret societies’ by the literature or the state. This chapter reflects on two decades of research on Cao Đài (Caodaism) and the Minh spirit-medium groups in Vietnam, analysing my own approach to these secret societies and societies with secrets. The contours of a paradigm of homo secretus is outlined, in which the secret—real or presented as such—becomes an inherent dynamic of the social bond, of power relations and of the work of a researcher.
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This article outlines the spread of the Bahá’í religion—known in Chinese as Datong jiao 大同教)— as a form of religious cosmopolitanism in Republican China (1912–1949). Originating in Iran, its spread to China can be traced to links with the Ottoman empire, British Palestine, the United States, and Japan. By tracking the individuals, connections, and events through which knowledge of the Bahá’í movement spread in China, our study reveals an overlapping nexus of networks—intellectual reformers, liberal Christians, Esperantists, Confucian modernizers, redemptive society activists, and socialists—that shared cosmopolitan ideals. The Bahá’í connections thus serve as a thread that reveals the influence of a unique ‘cosmopolitan moment’ in Republican China, hitherto largely ignored in the scholarly literature on this period, which has focused primarily on the growth of modern Chinese nationalism. Leading nationalist figures endorsed these movements at a specific juncture of Asian colonial modernity, showing that nationalism and cosmopolitanism were seen as expressions of the same ideal of a world community. We argue that the sociology of cosmopolitanism should attend to non-secular and non-state movements that advocated utopian visions of cosmopolitanism, map the circulations that form the nexus of such groups, and identify the contextual dynamics that produce ‘cosmopolitan moments’ at specific historical junctures and locations.
Book
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