Friday, April 25, 2014

Matsu, Goddess of Annexation

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A religious procession in Tawu, Taitung.

Taichung city's tourist bureau is out to build the world's largest statue of Matsu, a sea goddess much reverenced in Taiwan and China. Taipei Times says:
Among the NT$1.2 billion (US$39.8 million) to be spent building the proposed Daan Matsu cultural park in Greater Taichung, around NT$600 million of the funds will go toward constructing a nearly 70m tall statue of Matsu, including the foundation and a path of reverence for the sea goddess. Greater Taichung’s Tourism and Travel Bureau Director General Chang Da-chun says, “This will definitely be the tallest Matsu statue in Southeast Asia.” There are already many official and private tour groups from China making queries, Chang says, adding that he is confident that, along with Jenn Lann Temple in Dajia, “It will create a huge tourist attraction.”
The Taichung city government has long complained that those busloads of Chinese tourist dollars leave Taichung port and head directly to Sun Moon Lake in Nantou without dropping a cent in the city. Determined to change that, the city government proposed a few years ago to build a penguin exhibit in the city, to which tourist flows would be diverted, presumably because everyone knows you go to Taiwan to see the native penguins. That idea was greeted with general derision, but this one is more interesting.

Interesting because Matsu worship has long been an important vector of pro-China, pro-annexation propaganda and activities on both sides of the Strait. Remember when the emerald Matsu statue landed at Taichung harbor, there to be received by Taichung Mayor Jason Hu and the head of the Jenn Lann Temple in Dajia, pro-annexation politician/businessman/but not gangster, no siree Yen Ching-piao? Several years ago BBC noted this connection between Matsu and China's drive to annex Taiwan, in the context of visits by Chinese religious representatives to the famous Matsu procession:
But for China, sending its temple representatives here to join in the celebrations is not without its political motivations.

The Chinese government has placed great emphasis on reviving Mazu in China – seeing it as an important way to underscore its insistence that Taiwanese people and culture came from China – and that Taiwan is a part of China.

Beijing hopes to reunify with the island one day and has not renounced the use of force to do so.

"They’re doing this to show both sides believe in Mazu and have a similar heritage," said Tsai Ming-hsien, a volunteer Mazu celebrations organiser who has had many dealings with Chinese temple officials.
In 2009 Yen Ching-piao's right hand man Cheng Ming-kun, whose formal position is deputy Chair of the Jenn Lann Matsu Temple in Dajia, the center of Taiwan's Matsu worship, was in China discussing with Beijing how to use Matsu to help China annex Taiwan. In May of 2009 a boat carrying Cheng Ming-kun and a load of Mazu pilgrims was the first passenger ferry to cross the strait. Of course Ma Ying-jeou appointed Yen Ching-piao, who says he is not a gangster at all but merely a misunderstood businessman, his "local spokesman" for ECFA.

It may seem like a silly religious stunt, but building a giant Matsu statue in Taichung where it will face China across the Strait, is a stunt with serious pro-annexation political overtones.
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9 comments:

Andrew Kerslake said...

It is interesting to note that over the past 20 years, Taiwanese pilgrims have been going to China to officially sever ties with the "home temples" to relocate Mazu's home to Taiwan to shift the authenticity to Taiwan.

About 10 years ago there was a schism at the Jenn Lan Temple, in which the religious focus of the temple was shifted to a second tier priority with tourism taking the lead as the primary function of the temple. It is probably no coincidence that this coincided with Yen Ching-biao's rise to prominence as Taiwan's underground president, where he could use the temple to mask his dubious business and political dealings. His deployment of the Mazu for these purposes has been increasing. I think this new project is another example of Mayor Hu's close cooperation with the organized crime figures in Taichung.

This raises a very interesting aside. With Yen's ascendence, he has eclipsed the White Wolf in terms of his political and financial power (a role once coveted by the Wolf). It will be curious to see how the political axis of the underworld will shift in the near to medium term as rivals compete for power. Much like the Ming cosmology of the heavens, there seems to be a mirror of above and underground political worlds taking shape.

Hans Liao said...

Yen and his son will appreciate the way you clarify Yen's status as "politician/businessman/but not gangster, no siree Yen Ching-piao". Very sweet description of Yen indeed :D

Anonymous said...

Does Taiwan have no laws pertaining to the separation of church and state? Is it legal for a city government to favor one religion (or cult thereof) by subsidizing a giant statue of its deity? Would it matter of it were a statue of Jesus?

Michael Turton said...

Christian groups want to put a large cross there. Or a statue of some famous figure from Xian history. But apparently there is no Church-state separation, if construction companies and organized crime are making money....

Anonymous said...

The Dajia Mazu pilgrimage is the 3rd largest annual religious event in the world, yet it's not nearly as well known as some smaller ones in other countries. If this statue can bring more attention to it, then that can only be positive for Taiwan. Normally I'd say that government money shouldn't be involved in religious events but when something is up their in size and importance with the Hajj or Kumbh Mela or Holy Week at the Vatican, it's transcended the religious and become something that represents human culture, and thus the use of government money is proper. This will be a big boost for Taiwan and big boost for Taiwan's culture globally.

Michael Turton said...

4:46 anon, who runs the festival and why?

Anonymous said...

4:46 anon, who runs the festival and why?

That's like saying who runs the Kumbh Mela or the Hajj. It's irrelevant. Someone has to organize things but it's a religious and cultural festival that is much, much bigger than any agendas that anyone may have. It's a great advertisement to the world about Taiwan's vibrant culture and deserves all the support it can get.

Michael Turton said...

It's totally relevant that the largest religious festival on the island is run by KMT-linked gangsters with a pro-annexation agenda and strong links to Beijing. You'd have to be living in a fantasy world to imagine otherwise.

You can attend the festival and give money to gangsters in support of Beijing's goals, and I will continue to point out and describe its crucial political functions. We'll both be happier that way.



Anonymous said...

To make it fair to atheists, they should also put up a big statue of...nothing!

Or how about the World's Largest Muhammad Statue? I bet that would attract some international attention.

Here's hoping that their Matsu will be done in that cute, mangified Hello Kitty style!