The Haunting Fetus: Abortion, Sexuality, and the Spirit World in Taiwan
224pp. May 2001
The Haunting Fetus: Abortion, Sexuality, and the Spirit World in Taiwan
Author: Moskowitz, Marc L.;
The Haunting Fetus focuses on the belief in modern Taiwan that an aborted fetus can return to haunt its family. Although the topic has been researched in Japan and commented on in the Taiwanese press, it has not been studied systematically in relation to Taiwan in either English or Chinese. This fascinating study looks at a range of topics pertaining to the belief in haunting fetuses, including abortion, sexuality, the changing nature of familial power structures, the economy, and traditional and modern views of the spirit world in Taiwan and in traditional Chinese thought. It addresses the mental, moral, and psychological aspects of abortion within the context of modernization processes and how these ramify through historical epistemologies and folk traditions.

The author illustrates how images of fetus-ghosts are often used to manipulate women, either through fear or guilt, into paying exorbitant sums of money for appeasement. He argues at the same time, however, that although appeasement can be expensive, it provides important psychological comfort to women who have had abortions as well as a much-needed means to project personal and familial feelings of transgression onto a safely displaced object. In addition to bringing to the surface underlying tensions within a family, appeasing fetus-ghosts, like other dealings with supernatural beings in Chinese religions, allows for atonement through economic avenues. The paradox in which fetus-ghost appeasement simultaneously exploits and assists evinces the true complexity of the issue--and of religious and gender studies as a whole.

"Well-written, thoughtful and sensitive. . . . It would be equally useful as case-study material for undergraduates or postgraduate teaching in Asian studies, gender studies, studies of religion or medical anthropology." —The Australian Journal of Anthropology (14, 2003)

"The most interesting book on Taiwan I have ever read." —Taipei Times (12 August 2001) (Read full review)

"A prime example of how to approach such wider issues of social and cultural change through an in-depth investigation of a particular set of religious practices. The book further recommends itself by its accessible style: it is one of that rare breed, the serious scholarly work that is at the same time a good read." —Journal of Asian Studies (November 2002)

"This is a very strong study, and anyone seeking to understand the popular religious belief scene in contemporary Taiwan, or wishing to do a comparative study of attitudes towards abortion, sexuality, and religion in East Asia, will need to refer to it." —H-Net Reviews (August 2002) (Read full review)

"A study rich in suggestions for the analysis of modern Taiwanese society." —Asian Folklore Studies (51, 2002)

Author: Moskowitz, Marc L.;
Marc L. Moskowitz is associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.
Read the introduction (PDF).

1. Introduction

2. Beyond the Percentages: Abortion and Meaning in Taiwan

3. Made in Japan? The First Stages of the Adoption and Adaptation of a Japanese Religious Practice in Taiwan

4. Fetus Ghosts and Traditional Beliefs in Taiwan

5. The Haunting Fetus

6. Written and Visual Media

7. Religious Masters and Their Temples

8. Illness, Healing, and the Limitations of Fetus-Ghost Appeasement

9. Sexuality and the Haunting Fetus

10. Blood-Drinking Fetus Demons: Greed, Loathing, and Vengeance through Sorcery in Taiwan

11. Conclusion: Fetus Spirits and the Commodification of Sin

Appendix. Dragon Lake Temple’s Red Contract