Soh Chuah Meng Esmond
* An earlier draft of this essay had benefitted greatly from the feedback provided by Asst. Professor Koh Keng We. The author is likewise grateful to the various Nine Emperor Gods temples – Jinshan Si, Zhun Ti Tang and Jiu Huang Gong – in Singapore for hosting his presence during the Festival in 2020. Any mistakes in this post are entirely his own.
During the ninth lunar month, temples in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia would celebrate the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods. Besides the inviting and sending-off ceremonies, both large-scale events in themselves, a steady stream of devotees would visit Festival sites during the nine days and more, with vegetarian food prepared for them during the Festival. The Festival had become the largest public religious celebrations for Chinese communities in much of western Southeast Asia, both in terms of its scale and duration. Yet, 2020 was to be very different with the proliferation of the COVID-19 virus.
I titled this essay with an offhand comment from a video posted by the Nanshan Hai Temple in the Bedok Reservoir region of Singapore, not out of sentiment or personal experience with the organisation, but in admiration of the speaker’s optimism amidst the poignancy of COVID-19 restrictions on crowds and religious gatherings in of Singapore. This post, which focuses on the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in Singapore and Southeast Asia, provides an insight into the concerns that centers of the Nine Emperor Gods’ worship had to negotiate and navigate throughout this season. Among all else, I wish to problematise the consistent appeal to “simplification (简化/从简)” by the mass media, which, as this post will demonstrate, includes much more than the scaling down and/or outright cancellation of various rituals. Rather, the term also encompasses – paradoxically – a burgeoning body of measures taken to stem COVID-19’s spread as far as possible, which transformed the relationship shared by devotees vis-à-vis the occasion itself.
The ‘Simplification’ Narrative in the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods (2020)
Thoreau once noted that, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” On the surface, organisers of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods this year were forced to take a leaf from Thoreau’s book out of concern for the safety and well-being of its devotees. As early as September 2020, the Malaysian Federation of Nine Emperor Gods Temples had encouraged temples to perform their receiving and sending-off ceremonies within temple complexes instead of going to the beach with an accompanying crowd. It is no exaggeration that at crucial rituals – be it from crossing the Bridge of Peace and Safety to the receiving/sending-off of the Nine Emperor Gods at the coast – crowds are the norm at temples that host the Festival. Clusters of devotees in close contact with one another were seen as potential sites of COVID-19’s transmission, and precautions were taken.
Figure 1: A makeshift inner altar (which conceals the invited Nine Emperor Gods from public view) in the Nanshan Hai Temple, Bedok Reservoir, Singapore. Photograph from the Nanshan Hai Temple Facebook page, 16 October 2020.
In other cases – particularly for temples that do not have sufficient space to erect a tentage for the occasion – the Festival had moved entirely within the constraints of the home. The Nanshan Hai temple described at the start of this blog was one such instance (Figure 1), in addition to the case of Shen Xian Gong in Jurong West. Although both temples typically used a neighbourhood basketball court and open field for the event respectively, circumstances this year meant the visits to these premises-within-homes were to be made on a staggered and restricted basis.
Figure 2: Announcement by the Nan Tian Gong Temple in Ampang declaring the cancellation of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 23 September 2020. Wolfgang Franke and Chen Tieh Fan (1995) considered this temple to be one of the oldest and a centre for the Nine Emperor Gods’ worship in Malaysia.
Simplification was also manifested in the form of cancellation and truncated activities, where temples had either decided to remove certain rituals from their schedules or scraping the event’s observation entirely. A key node among the network of temples which commemorated the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods, the Nan Tian Gong in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur was one such instance, where reports not only announced that the event would not only be cancelled this year, but that the responsibilities and titles of the censer-masters of 2020 would be carried over to 2021 as well (Figure 2).
Figure 3: [Photograph taken in 2019] A procession of motorcycles and cars (the latter not pictured) followed the boat that would be used by Sam Siang Keng during the sending-off ceremony for the Nine Emperor Gods in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Photograph by the author, 7 October 2019.
Elsewhere, other key rituals were likewise shortened or altered to fit incumbent constraints. The temple where I had undertaken fieldwork in 2019 – the Rumah Berhala Sam Siang Keng in Johor Bahru – comes to mind, where instead of going to the beach with a convoy of lorries, cars and motorcycles (Figure 3), an altar within the temple’s complex was set up to welcome and see the deities off (Figure 4). Likewise, although the Bei Hai Dou Mu Gong in Butterworth continued with the bulk of their activities with a thorough Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) presented through a pre-recorded video (Figure 5), supplementary rituals such as the ‘Nine Offerings’ were scraped.
Figure 4: Sending off the Nine Emperor Gods from a makeshift altar in the heart of the Sam Siang Keng Temple complex, Johor Bahru. Photograph from the Rumah Berhala Sam Siang Keng Facebook page, 25 October 2020.
Figure 5: Screenshot from a detailed video uploaded by the Bei Hai Dou Mu Gong, Penang, Malaysia which informed devotees about the one-way flow of movement enforced within the temple’s complex, uploaded on 14 October 2020. Screenshot from YouTube, 31 October 2020.
In Singapore, temples that operated within smaller constraints were forced to modify rituals to meet the needs of their respective sites of operation. Zhun Ti Tang and Jiu Huang Dian come to mind (Figure 6). Previously, both temples had hosted the occasion from a large tentage. As of 2020, however, they were forced to operate – and host the Festival – within a smaller environment. Here, I wish to draw attention to the ritual known as the raising of the nine lamps, a practice that signals the temples’ observation of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods. In the past, a designated flagpole lashed with a stalk of bamboo would receive a pride of place outside of these two temples’ tentage. Given that both temples had opted not to erect a tentage for the Festival in 2020, the flagpole cum bamboo mast had to be shortened and situated under a roofed premises instead of jutting into the skyline as it did in the past.
Figure 6: The Heavenly Lamps raised in Jiu Huang Dian, Singapore to mark the beginning of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in 2020. Note the bamboo pole (a key ritual implement) and the banner emblazoned with the title of the Nine Emperor Gods. Photograph from the Jiu Huang Dian Facebook page, 15 October 2020.
Change, Continuity and Complexity during the Festival of 2020
Thus far, ‘simplification’ suggests that the Nine Emperor Gods Festival of 2020 lacks authenticity, and the absence of crowds as well as ‘hot and noisy’ renao (a key marker of aesthetic, emotional and psychological excitement at such events) festivities seem to imply that this year serves as a pale shadow in comparison to the years that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at an operations level, I think such a perspective does not do justice to the mental and physical acrobatics – both ritualistic and practical – undertaken by the organisers of the Festival, where they not only had to juggle the day-to-day affairs of their temples, but consideration of restrictions related to COVID-19 as well.
Figures 7 and 8: Floorplan of one-way movement planned for the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods at Long Nan Dian, Singapore; and the waiting area prepared for devotees while they wait their turn. Photographs from the Long Nan Dian Facebook page, 17 October and 27 October 2020 respectively.
Simply put, I contend that the discourse of ‘simplification’ or a ‘simplified’ Festival conceals a dynamic and complicated body of rules, practices and efforts undertaken to ensure that the Festival continues to run as smoothly as possible. One does not need to look too far to see how logistics have transformed to match the scale of crowd control during this season: SafeEntry QR codes are prepared around temples, whereas for Long Nan Dian and the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong, a queueing system with a one-way entry was provided for devotees. I singled out these two temples not because other temples have neglected this dimension of crowd control, but to draw attention to how both organisations had noted the scale and age of their devotees’ demographic. Long Nan Dian, for example, provided chairs spaced as per incumbent safe distancing rules (Figures 7 and 8), whereas a numbered-queuing station was set up behind the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong temple for devotees to register their particulars without clogging up key chokepoints within the combined temple complex (Figures 9, 10 and 11).
Figures 9: Infographic with instructions on how devotees are required to register and wait their turn at a temporary holding area at the residential estate adjacent to the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong, along with the premises’ modified opening hours. Photograph from the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong Facebook page, 12 October 2020.
Figures 10 and 11: Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong visits the queuing station and scans his SafeEntry QR code at the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong, Singapore. Photographs from the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong Facebook page, 19 October 2020.
Moving religious festivities into cyberspace – an effort that has been discussed in great detail by many others – was one solution to concerns over clustering and the en masse gathering of people. Livestreams of key ceremonies – such as the invitation and sending-off ceremonies – were conducted for the Hougang Dou Mu Gong and Feng Shan Gong, where for the previous, according to one estimate, reached out to at least 2000 viewers. The same also held true for the Pu Men Dian Dou Mu Gong in Malaysia: The poster, after admitting that he/she was not very fluent with social media, had “asked for the forgiveness of viewers if he/she had done anything wrong” before advertising the services and items that devotees can purchase online. The same goes for smaller temples in Singapore who abided strictly by the 50 pax rule during their invitation and sending-off ceremonies, such as the Jiu Huang Dian and the Nan Shan Hai temples (Figure 12).
Figure 12: Sending-off ceremony for the Nine Emperor Gods organised by Jiu Huang Dian. Note the one-meter spacing maintained between devotees. Photograph from the Jiu Huang Dian Facebook page, 26 October 2020.
Cyberspace, Community and Camaraderie: What Counts for (and can be Omitted from) a ‘Simplified’ Religious Experience?
Yet, we should not run away with the idea that COVID-19 had marked a flawless transition from the physical to the virtual worlds. As I have noted elsewhere, the trek into cyberspace by Chinese religious organisation, while praiseworthy, remains uneven and privileges temples with the funding and resources available to rally a mass of dedicated photographers and videographers to their cause. The Hougang Dou Mu Gong (Figure 13) and Feng Shan Gong as described have the privilege of being two of the oldest centers of the Nine Emperor Gods’ worship in Singapore. Bei Tian Gong in Malacca had also posted consistent updates about their worship ceremonies and programmes, a feat followed by temples in Phuket, where various shrines devoted to the worship of the Nine Emperor Gods maintained a steady stream of posts about the parades of their respective spirit-mediums.
Figure 13: Announcement cum cover photo of the sending-off ceremony (broadcasted live) performed by the Hougang Dou Mu Gong, Singapore. Photograph from the Hougang Dou Mu Gong Facebook page, 24 October 2020.
At the other end of the spectrum, what about smaller temples that have little means of migrating their activities online? To be sure, I am consulting an incomplete archive as of the time I am compiling this essay, however, from my preliminary findings, it is clear that the results are uneven at best. In contrast to the High Quality (HQ) official broadcasts by the Feng Shan Gong and Hougang Dou Mu Gong temples, other temples that have attempted a similar strategy have fewer resources at their disposal. The sending ceremony for the Jing Shui Gang Dou Mu Gong, for example, only included around half an hour’s worth of coverage. Smaller shrines and temples housed within homes – such as the Nan Shan Hai temple – posted consistent updates, but coverage like these pale out in terms of their length and media quality, given that they were taken and uploaded via smart phones. My point here is not to disparage the efforts of these temples who had attempted to balance their limited capacity of devotees cum visitors (we are again reminded that only 50 people are allowed to be a part of the core contingent charged with receiving and sending-off the Nine Emperor Gods), but to underscore the continued relevance of face-to-face participation and presence of the devotees involved, as I have argued elsewhere.
Figures 14, 15 and 16: Ringing a bell to welcome the Nine Emperor Gods into the temple; striking a drum continuously to mark the enshrinement of the Nine Emperor Gods in the temple’s inner-altar; and replenishing an incense censer with fresh sandalwood powder right after the Nine Emperor Gods were enshrined in the Jinshan Si Temple. Photographs by the author at the Jinshan Si Temple, Singapore, 15 October 2020.
Moreover, the migration of religious activities into cyberspace detaches the viewer from a panoply of emotions, sights, smells and sounds that are neither easily ‘processed’ nor experienced through a screen (Figures 14, 15 and 16). The scent of smouldering incense smoke, as well as gongs, bells and drums are all a part of the welcoming and sending-off procedures (alongside an air of solemnity that leaves no room for jokes or laughs when the moment is at hand), and I highly doubt that anyone who had participated in the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in-person would be able to enter a similar of state-of-mind while watching the proceedings in the comfort of their own home. In other words, we need to rethink the self-comforting and alluring – but inaccurate – narrative that religion can simply move into cyberspace during COVID-19. Devotes can be informed about what is happening by social media posts and livestreams, but to argue that they are also participating in the broadcasted activities seems to be a logical leap that I cannot uncritically accept.
Figure 17: Bento-style vegetarian meals packed by the Bei Hai Dou Mu Gong in Butterworth, Malaysia, for distribution to devotees. The notice reads “Our temple will be providing three vegetable dishes and rice for our devotees. Given the pandemic, and for the sake of safety and takeaway purposes, we have chosen to use disposable boxes (to pack food). We welcome our devotees to collect a box from us at the following times…” Photograph from the Tow Boo Kong Temple Butterworth Facebook page, 17 October 2020.
This also held true as far as food was concerned. A key marker of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods includes the sale and distribution of vegetarian food to devotees by temples that host that event, as Cheu Hock Tong had already described in detail for the case of Nan Tian Gong in Ampang. Given spatial, logistical and time constraints, many temples chose to forego this element of communal dining. Partially the legacy of tightened food preparation licensing issues in a post-COVID-19 world, and partially the need to ensure that devotees do not clump together in dining halls, many temples have decided to omit this dimension of the Festival this year. Temples that continued to provide meals had also taken special precautions that added to their workload: Bei Hai Dou Mu Gong in Penang, for example, offered a limited number of bento-style meals for takeaway during mealtimes (Figure 17), whereas the Dou Mu Gong in Sungei Dua and temples in Phuket insisted that their own devotees bring their own food and tiffin containers for food to be packed for takeaway (Figure 18).
Figure 18: Infographic posted to remind devotees at the Vegetarian Festival to prepare their own tiffin containers for takeaway, alongside other related safe distancing and hygiene precautions. Photograph from the Kathu Shrine Facebook page, 14 October 2020.
The role of ‘simplification’ in practice is also understood and manifested differently on many fronts. The same term – however applied – can be interpreted differently, and the examination of sacred time is instructive in this instance. Some temples chose to extend the operation hours of their respective institutions in the hope that devotees could be better spaced out to prevent clustering. Long Shan Yan Dou Mu Gong and Long Nan Dian, for example, operated on a 24–hour model in the hope that devotees can come during off-peak hours and thus minimise instances of bottlenecking during the 11-day long event.
On the other hand, sacred time has likewise been compressed in other instances in order to reduce the opportunity for intra-communal transmission: Sam Siang Keng in Johor Bahru, for instance, given that rituals that once lasted into the night were truncated, had their operating hours shortened to the typical opening hours of 0800 to 1700 hours daily. Likewise, Feng Shan Gong – despite having one of the earliest invitation dates for the Nine Emperor Gods in the previous years starting from the 24th day of the 8th lunar month in 2017 – had shifted the invitation ceremony to the 28th day of the eighth lunar month in 2020. Suffice to say, ‘simplification,’ although tossed around in the media’s characterisation of the situation this year, remains a vessel that is approached very differently by the leadership of various temples observing the Festival this year.
Figure 19: Miniature altar deployed by the Choa Chu Kang Dou Mu Gong to receive the Nine Emperor gods from the coast. Photograph from the Choa Chu Kang Facebook page, 17 October 2020. Also note how the invitation ceremony took place within an enclosed tentage (in the background) in the day, instead of the night as per previous years.
Some temples who were forced to shrink their operations had tried to make the best of the situation by humorously suggesting that the smaller scale of worship meant that they had fewer things to worry about. On the other hand, it is precisely because of ‘simplification’ that new changes and rituals have to be developed on the spot to correspond with the unprecedented limitations imposed upon religious activities by COVID-19. The palanquins that are the feature of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in almost all of the eighteen temples in Singapore, for example, necessitated adaptation. As a result, temples who deployed palanquins this year had create substitutes in the form of covered and portable altars that can be wielded by two bearers within a meter’s distance from one another. (Figures 19 and 20).
Figure 20: Miniature altar deployed by the Nan Shan Hai Temple to receive the Nine Emperor Gods from the coast. Photograph from the Nanshan Hai Temple Facebook page, 17 October 2020.
Alternatively, new ways of carrying these palanquins to maintain social distancing were adopted. For temples that chose to keep their palanquins of old, no longer were the palanquins allowed to sway, since such an action necessitated the close contact of two bearers at the front and end of each pole. Instead, the handles of these palanquins were now wrapped in yellow cloth and served to distance bearers from one another (Figure 21). ‘Simplification’ is thus much more than striking key events and rituals from the schedule, but a complicated activity that demanded the ingenuity of temples to conceive of acceptable substitutions within the span of three weeks.
Figure 21: The handles attached to the palanquins from Jiu Huang Gong, Arumugam Road, Singapore were wrapped in yellow cloth, and were no longer carried around in a swaying motion by the palanquin bearers in 2020. Photograph by Louis Lim, Facebook photograph, 26 October 2020.
I also argue that ‘simplification’ had presented both the devotees and organisers of the Festival with an opportunity to reform and rethink their operations in 2020 and (possibly) beyond as well. Given the growing number of devotees and temples that are participating in the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods, one wonders if this rethinking has also prompted a greater focus on the spirit of the Festival – namely “sanctity,” “purity,” and the discipline of keeping oneself morally and spiritually “clean.” Interestingly, this had already begun in some quarters even before COVID-19. Some time back, the Malaysian Federation of Nine Emperor Gods Temples had dissuaded the association of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods with Getai by emphasizing the need to focus more on the core values and spirit of the festival.
Figure 22: [Photograph was taken in 2019] The author’s table at a temple dinner hosted by Jiu Huang Gong, Singapore, at the end of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in 2019 (the author was the also photographer, and thus absent from this photograph). Photograph by the author, 11 October 2019.
The restrictions on the scale and scope of activities for the Festival this year have, nevertheless, had a great impact on the broader religious economy in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Elsewhere, Victor Yue argued that COVID-19 had hit catering and religious offering businesses as well as traditional arts and performances especially badly, and temples who worship the Nine Emperor Gods are now left to ponder about how best to buffer the next year’s budget without fund-raising banquets typically organised at the end of the festivities (see, for example, Figure 22). A Chinese religious environment in a post-COVID-19 world, as tensions like this show, is one that attempts to balance the new with the time-tested rituals and traditions of old.
Figures 23 and 24: Parasol-esque sedan chairs prepared to transport the Nine Emperor Gods to-and-from the coast to Long Nan Dian, Jalan Kayu, Singapore. Contrast these sedan chairs with the four-men palanquins of old, the previous which only need two bearers. Photographs from the Long Nan Dian Facebook page, 26 and 27 October 2020 respectively.
Paradoxically, replacement, truncation and alteration can also translate into a form of elegance appreciated by devotees of old. The nine palanquins deployed by Long Nan Dian every Festival – one for each of the Nine Emperor Gods – come to mind, where they were replaced by lantern-esque parasol screens that sway gently in the wind (Figures 23 and 24). For myself – speaking as much as a researcher and a participant – and perhaps an aspect that I think is characteristic of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in all of its manifestations, is the continued presence of community. It is precisely in spite of (despite?) COVID-19 that Festivals should be celebrated, for they re-forge old bonds and rejuvenate the institutions of old, be it from within families or a religious community (in another part of the world, a similar case was made for Halloween’s continued observation in a post-COVID-19 world).
Figure 25: A senior devotee waits on his knees at the threshold of Jinshan Si with incense sticks in hand to receive the palanquin bearing the Nine Emperor Gods into the temple. Photograph by the author, 15 October 2020.
Let us not forget that temples continue to remain key sites for senior citizens (for example, Figure 25) – who are a demographic especially hard-hit by the Movement Control Orders (MCO) and Circuit Breaker (CB) measures enforced during first half of 2020 – to interact and re-connect with one another. Again, we do not need to look too far to affirm the communitas that the Festival promotes: When I returned to Jiu Huang Gong in Arumugam on the sixth day of the ninth lunar month, the temple had continued to remain a center for the communal gathering of a Teochew enclave that used to live at the Lemongrass Village of old. Some signature rituals – namely the Nine Emperor Gods’ annual yew kampong tour into the heartlands of Singapore (Figures 26, 27 and 28) – which served to strengthen the bonds of this community with the temple, to be sure, had paused in 2020 given incumbent restrictions. Nevertheless, the continued participation of senior citizens and devotees in the temple’s activities is again testament to the resilience of the organisation as a communal institution. It is also buttressed by the appearance of greater number of younger devotees.
Figures 26, 27 and 28: [Photographs were taken in 2018] The Nine Emperor Gods from Jiu Huang Gong in Arumugam Road, Singapore, visited various different tentages erected by devotees to ‘welcome the Gods’ in the heartlands of Singapore during the yew kampong (‘tour of the village’) held on 14 October 2018. Most of these devotees (and their families) had originally hailed from a Teochew enclave located in the Lemongrass Village and Tai Seng areas until the villagers – and its associated temple – were relocated in the 1980s. Photographs by the author.
Similarly, at Zhun Ti Tang, it was largely the devotee base from the old Sengkang neighbourhood estate that propped up the temple’s operations and activities. Parents and their children from the Rivervale and Sengkang east regions continue to feature in the temple’s volunteers. COVID-19 had changed many parts of the world, but the socio-cultural bedrock that underpinned the successes and operations of these temples have remained resilient, and while we should not take such continuities for granted, it is nevertheless a heartening experience and view for an otherwise volatile and uncertain post-COVID-19 world as of today.
Figure 29: Presentation of food offerings to a spirit-tablet of the Nine Emperor Gods and the Matriarch of the Dipper in a private residence. Photograph by Jackson Tee Nirvana, Facebook photograph, 20 October 2020.
On a penultimate note, I wish to draw attention to the role of private practice during the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods. Worship can refer to a diverse set of practices, and a “relational” means of worship that focuses on a religious institution’s engagement with the Nine Emperor Gods and/or community is only one out of many other possible modalities of “doing religion.” Although I have detailed many instances of communal observation, the personalised dimension of the Festival should not be discounted as well. Unlike the afore-mentioned instances, these largely-private instances of practice have continued with little or no change to the incumbent status quo (Figures 29 and 30). In some cases, they occurred precisely because of incumbent travel restrictions, as COVID-19 had grounded international travel to a halt since the first-quarter of 2020. Granted, some of these compromises have taken place because of incumbent restrictions, but we too should note that personal devotion and practice has – and will continue to – remain a part of the body of practices that give the Festival meaning and significance.
Figure 30: The author worshipping the Nine Emperor Gods at an altar installed in his own home. Photograph by the author, 13 October 2020.
Conclusion: What does the Future Hold?
COVID-19 has been portrayed – very accurately – as a crisis for the world as we know it, for routines that we were one familiar with – social, cultural and even political (both locally and abroad) – were all re-shaped by the restrictions imposed in order to stem the pandemic’s spread. Yet, as this post had shown, despite the consistent harping (and over-exaggeration?) about how Chinese religious festivals and rituals had to undergo a ‘simplification’ in order to survive and continue throughout these trying times, the reality – at least on the ground – is much more complicated than we had previously understood.
Some aspects continue fairly unabated, whereas other parts of the Festival – contrary to popular impressions of ‘simplification’ – involved creative manoeuvring within the span of a few weeks before and during the Festival itself. ‘Simplification,’ to borrow a common quip, is nothing more than an empty bottle that remains to be approached and filled by the many temples who are confronted with it. Under the narrative of ‘simplification’ belies the greater focus on the core values, rituals, and spirit of the festival. The need to reduce the scale and scope of events have led to a deeper soul-searching of what this Festival is about, for the organizers and its devotees, viz. on its core and essential values, rituals, and spirit.
In other cases (as per cyber-religion), ‘simplification’ remains difficult to enforce in practice; more often than not, although livestreams help to bring rituals to their devotees, the reality is that ‘ritual’ is in fact entangled with a panoply of emotions and sensations that cannot simply cross-over into cyberspace, even though many of us have had taken conclusions like these for granted. Some institutions, such as community and ritual, continue to remain resilient despite the impact of COVID-19, and this trend (as I have consistently argued elsewhere) will continue to feature in the days to come. Yet, challenges – largely of a logistical and financial nature – continue to await Chinese religious institutions and their devotees in the horizon. How will the latter cope if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to last well into 2021? Only time will tell.