Odd bedfellows

Last night I picked up a copy of Nury Vittachi’s The Shanghai Union of Industrial Mystics. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s a good read so far. The series concerns the adventures of Singaporean Feng Shui master C. F. Wong, and takes a lighthearted look at Singapore’s more traditional side.

In this book, Wong is expanding his operations into Shanghai. His Australian assistant, Joyce, has become a vegetarian, and it’s mentioned several times that in Shanghai vegetarianism is associated with gangsters. I hadn’t heard this before, and I wonder if anyone out there can add some background?

Here’s the quote:

When she told her Shanghainese associates that she’d stopped eating meat, they replied suspiciously that vegetarianism was a cult traditionally associated with violence, gangsterism, and the underworld.

I could certainly make a guess at this connection, and I suspect that it’s because of the same forces that Scott Phillips (no relation) has been looking at with regard to martial cults in Taiwan, not to mention the Boxer Rebellion. In other words, a religious movement is suppressed (for whatever reason) and is faced with the choice of accepting defeat, or continuing in the underworld and surviving by any means possible – which can mean turning to crime. Something similar occurred in the British Isles, where the IRA – which was by its own reasoning a legitimate political force – was robbing banks, smuggling, etc in order to raise funds. The same would have happened in China, where pro-Ming forces gradually became gangs.

Anyhow, any pointers to more information gratefully received.

And yes, by the way, I am a vegetarian 😀

1 Comment

  1. Paul R. Katz, who I got to meet in Taiwan, wrote about a big rebellion against the Japanese in Taiwan around 1910. The book is: When Valleys Turned Blood Red: The Ta-pa-ni Incident in Colonial Taiwan
    Most of these rebels were vegetarian. It was a way they could demonstrate their commitment to the cause. It showed they were not seeking personal advantage, nor motivated by selfishness. However, rats were a big part of peoples’ diet in that part of Taiwan, so maybe that was a factor.

    Seriously, I think you’re right, gangs, or sworn brotherhoods (the hip term), think of themselves as defenders of righteousness. Sort of like some qigong and gongfu teachers take pride in not accepting money. Vegetarianism is a form of purification, but it is also a form of merit (gong) which you can dedicate to someone else. Perhaps being a vegetarian is like apologizing to your family for becoming a gangster!

    I’m guessing ‘though. I’ll have to ask my Shanghai contacts. Great question.

    ps. any chance you can put me on the blogroll? I’m told it helps my google ranking.


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