撰文／Béatrice Badin de Montjoye 翻譯／雷恩
撰文／張俐紫（Cerise Phiv） 翻譯／吳思薇
撰文／張茵惠 攝影／余白（Hubert Kilian）
撰文│魏明德 翻譯│張令憙 圖│笨篤
撰文│杜耀德（Claude Tuduri） 圖│貝荷南．傅諧（Bernard Foucher）
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This story plays on the challenges for young children when they go to school for the first time. Mister Laflèche tries to help a pupil enjoy learning how to read and write on his first day. The letters are anthropomorphised, so as to exorcise the fear of the child. Each letter represents something meaningful for everybody, even if they are not involved directly in the western biblical culture. We have to go beyond contradictions that separate the living relationship (the spoken language) from the written language. Enjoy together with your mother, father, son or daughter.
Thank you to Nino Rota for the music and to Nick Coulson for the English translation
The term Xicanmei [lit. Little sister who eats Western food], refers to women, born and bred in Taiwan, who have a preference for partners from Europe and America in terms of sexual relationships and dating.
I'm not denying that this phenomenon exists, however, I'd like to take it to a deeper level. Why, for instance, haven't we come up with terms such as Xicandi for younger men, or Xicanjie for older women or Xicange for older men? We shouldn't limit our gaze to younger Taiwanese women, we can widen it to other groups, there are lots of people who want to date foreigners, whether it be young women or young men and they don't necessarily have to be young either, maybe they're older, or maybe they're gay.
The reason that there is this focus on young women goes back to manipulation by the media, what the media have created is the image of a Taiwanese girl who is more open, who lives a little more unrestrained life. There are also implied stereotypes surrounding the foreign men with whom they form relationships.
When faced with this kind of manipulation by the media we should touch upon a certain issue and that is nationalism. The reflections on the issue they make, such as asking why Taiwanese women don't love Taiwanese men, basically puts private relationships into a nationalistic light, wherein the private relationship no longer belongs just to you, it belongs to your country, belongs to this or that community or group, so, you have to view your own relationship through the eyes of others.
So a big part of the reason we talk about Xicanmei and nationalism is because of media manipulation, however, if we look at those people who refer to themselves as Xicanmei, as we do come across people on the internet who refer to themselves as Xicanmei or they say that they're dating a foreigner, that they're engaging sexual relations with women or men, we can discover two things. The first is that a lot of it seems to be simply for dramatic effect, in the story they tell to validate themselves, they'll say, I liked dating foreigners from when I was young and which parts of the body is stimulated during intimate contact with the foreigners they dated, what nationalities they've been with – German, American, Italian or French – and how many people they've been with. They can often list them at will, every one. A woman might say she's been with 6 handsome men or pretty girls, for example, where each event happened, in what bars, or in what villas. I think that the Xicanmei phenomenon, first of all is a media construction that was later fleshed out by internet users, but we don't really know if their experiences are real, maybe they are. I've seen some blog posts online, and my feeling after reading a few of them is that, the idea of Xicanmei was a media creation, and this was interpreted in two ways by internet users. The first interpretation was to dramatize it, as I just mentioned. The second was to eroticize contact with foreigners. Why is it that we only ever talk about sexual contact? Can't we talk about negative aspects, like misunderstandings thrown up by language barriers and cultural differences? Or how these differences can be resolved, and friendship can be formed?
Xicanmei are representative of a phenomenon in Taiwan. When we talk about Taiwanese people making friends with foreigners, we always view it through a lens of eroticism. We should broaden the way that we see the interaction between Taiwanese and foreigners, for example, we can talk about business people from America or Europe who come to Taiwan to work for multinationals, those who come to Taiwan to learn the language or on exchange programs, or those who meet their Taiwanese partner abroad, whether it be their wife or their husband, and subsequently comes to live in Taiwan. This will give us a chance to reflect on the idea of Xicanmei, and maybe approach the issue from a different angle.
I did research into cross cultural weddings and romance between Taiwanese and French people, and what I discovered was that they're not as great as we make them out to be. Feelings start to develop between a foreigner and a Taiwanese man or woman, and perhaps the Taiwanese person will marry the foreigner, but I wanted to research how they make the relationship work once they are in a stable relationship. That's why I think that we shouldn't see relationships between Taiwanese and foreigners as one-night-stands or as short term sexual intimacy; but rather, we should look more deeply at how they negotiate longer term relationships and friendships.
The terminology used to suggest these relationships, with an image of girls who eat 'Western food' being used to represent Asian girls who date Western guys or the image of girls who eat 'Chinese food' being used to represent Asian girls who date Asian boys employs food as a metaphor for a country or a culture.
In Taiwan Western food is used to refer to food and drink habits that don't come from Taiwan's indigenous food culture itself, and through these food and drink activities, Taiwanese people come into contact with the world outside, so the idea of Western food can be interpreted as referring to this, and of course the idea of Xicanmei exists in other countries too. Abroad there are several terms for people who like Asians, by saying they like Chinese food, or rice. In Asia and the US, if someone is said to like Chinese food, or rice, it can mean in some contexts that they particularly like Asian men or women, and that they like to date Asian men or women. So the concept behind the term Xicanmei – literally 'Western food girls,' is not unique to Taiwan.
As to whether the idea of 'Western food' in reference to sexuality has any relation to nationalism, I would like to give a bit of background on Taiwanese politics in the past decade or so. We all know that, from 2000, when Chen Shuibian got into power, Taiwan's academic and political circles have been looking to take part in academic and political movements to build up Taiwanese nationalism. The political movement aimed at broadcasting the name "Taiwan" to the world, that is to say, not a desinification exactly, but just that the word "China" wouldn't be brought up as often in rhetoric. They tried their best to use the name "Taiwan" in all arenas, like food and drink, culture, or in terms of politics and diplomacy. You can see that even our passports, Taiwanese people's passports, emphasize the name Taiwan. In this context, over the last ten years or more, there's been a growing atmosphere in Taiwanese politics, so that the time has come where we can talk about Taiwanese nationalism. Of course, academic circles have also had a contribution, particularly in research in the social sciences. A common term that often comes up is national identity, in other words, if you mention anything to do with Taiwanese history, sociology or anthropology, I can guarantee, that the words "national identity" will appear very frequently. So why is this? It was the fruit of this atmosphere, this political climate, which formed under the name Taiwanese nationalism. After this nationalism arose, a binary opposition was produced as a result, that is Taiwan was posed against foreign countries. This kind of contrast is often oversimplified. The first simplification is of Taiwan itself, Taiwan is not just Taipei, it also comprises Taizhong, Gaoxiong, aboriginal cultures, Hoklo and Hakka. The other simplification was the idea of foreigners, "the West" so to speak, which is not just made up of the US. Even when talking about the US, there was a tendency to overlook the diverse range of communities there, the urban rural divide being just one example. A lot of "the West" would actually include Europe too, but in this kind of political climate, things often get simplified, in order to make Taiwanese nationalism seem more profound, or more influential, we simplify it to "Taiwan" and ignore the diversity of communities therein. If viewed through this lens, the implications of the term Xicanmei takes on a clearer image.
As to why we praise foreigners who eat food Taiwanese people don't normally expect them to eat. I have to say this has already been discussed a lot in anthropology. In anthropology, if an outsider, when eating with the tribe, doesn't like their food, this is of great significance, it's not just practical, but metaphorical too. The practical meaning is, that you accept someone else's invitation, and that you should put a bit of effort into accepting the kindness of other people, because other people have given you something, so you can't refuse it, that's the first thing.
The second aspect is, the metaphorical layer of meaning, and that is why food and drink affect such a large range of transactions. You accept other people's food, and you eat it, when you eat other people's food, it signifies that your body is taking the good will into your bloodstream; it's a symbol in anthropology. What's it is really saying, is that when you eat food that others offer you, it's a way of accepting something they've made an effort to prepare for you, to accept their good will. When they see that you've eaten what they offered you, they'll think that you're accepting their good will, and that will signify that you're a person that they can interact with successfully.
And if we go back to the Taiwanese media, and why they put so much effort into reporting when foreigners eat Taiwanese foods that they don't necessarily like, stinky tofu for example, or Taiwanese black pudding, or chicken feet, or any of the innards of pigs and chickens, it's because the media want to say, "Look! This foreigner is willing to try something that's not part of their food culture," and they'll interpret this as the foreigner making an effort to understand Taiwanese culture - not just paying lip service mind, but actually eating it.
Hot dog stand picture by byronv2.
Interview translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart with further editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy.
Also refer to eRenlai past Focus on Women and Nationalism, featuring this interview with several women and one men about the expression "xicanmei".
In an interview given to the Jesuit cultural journals in August 2014 Pope Francis mentioned two thinkers he particularly likes: Henri de Lubac and Michel de Certeau. He has mentioned the latter several other times, particularly for his edition of the "Journal" of St Pierre Fabre, which inspired the Spanish edition he asked two Jesuits of his province to undertake.
The mention of Henri de Lubac might not be very surprising, as the author of 'Meditations on the Church" is certainly a Jesuit theologian universally respected and admired. The one he made of Michel de Certeau raises other questions. Famous among anthropologists and historians, Michel de Certeau may be a little less popular among Jesuits, and his style and thought have made him less consensual an author. But an exception to this rule should be made for... Latin America. Michel de Certeau taught on this continent many times, and several of his books were translated into Spanish at an early stage.
Michel de Certeau (1925 – 1986) wrote on history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences. He started by studying Jesuit mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries (especially Jean-Joseph Surin, and went on exploring the formation of history as an academic discipline, mobilizing his professional experience as a trained archive historian. He also tried to interpret the mystical authors he had been studying in historical perspective. The experience of the "night of the senses" or of "ecstasy" cannot be repeated or understood in the same way as in the past, but we are still experiencing the "departures' and "coming back" of God through the filter provided by social sciences, by psychoanalysis and by the institutional changes affecting the Church and society. In other words, we are still "travelers" and "migrants', but we travel through new landscapes and uncharted territories. Michel de Certeau was very sensitive to the inventiveness deployed by ordinary people in their everyday life (a dominant theme of The Practice of Everyday Life, probably his most influential book), and was thus able to speak about spiritual experience in its diversity and contrasts.
One can guess and feel what Pope Francis appreciates in Michel de Certeau's thought and works: a deep knowledge of Ignatian spirituality associated with a desire not to repeat the past but rather to be creatively inspired by it; a special attention given to the resources and ways of life of ordinary people; a deep sense of the crisis affecting Church institutions; and a love for cultural diversity and artistic sensitivity.
So far, four books of Michel de Certeau have been published into Chinese. An academic program is presently under construction for more and (better) translations. Several present-day thinkers consider that the resource offered by Michel de Certeau are nowadays more useful for understanding cultural and social patterns than the ones provided by more well known authors like, say, Michel Foucault. Here is a Jesuit author whose thought can and probably will grow influential in China during the years to come.
Actually, the influence of Michel de Certeau could be detected early in the words of Pope Francis. In 2012, in an interview to an Italian newspaper, the then-cardinal Bergoglio was declaring: "We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former." The word "self-referential" often comes in the words spoken by Francis, and it refers to something that he perceives as a specific temptation within the Church. In my view, the risk-taking attitude is the only one that can connect into a meaningful dialogue 'culture' - or "cultures" – and faith(s).
"Culture" is not a luxury product, is not something like paintings or flowers that we would hang on the walls or put on the table after everything else is ready. "Culture" refers to the worldviews, languages, ways of translating emotions, identities and insights that are developed and perpetually transformed by individuals and communities. Cultures are one with the "languages" (oral, written, artistic, emotional) that shape communication among peoples, and also communication between peoples and the Church. The Word took flesh within a given culture, expressed Himself with the resources of this culture while He was also challenging it, and He asked us to continue the "translation work" that He started when He was "explaining" to us (literally: "making the exegesis" cf John 1,18) of the mystery of the Father. By doing so, by asking us to continue this "exegesis" of the divine mystery in various languages and contexts, Jesus encourages us to go from the "scattered diversity" of Babel to the "unitive diversity" of Pentecost. When we close on our own "clerical culture" we refuse to open up the walls of our house, we refuse to surrender ourselves to the fire, the wind and the diversity of tongues that constitute the Pentecostal gift. This is the perspective from which I propose to consider not only our "cultural apostolic works" but also our mission among cultures in its totality.
For a Jesuit, the intuition according to which we are evangelizers only if we are "evangelized' by the people with whom we meet remains a basic one. Reflecting on Church history teaches us that building up a position of "superiority' from which to preach without ourselves begin changed ultimately produces rotten fruits. I am often reminded for myself of the words of Jesus: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are." (Mt 23, 15) In a context where Jesus reproaches the Pharisees to impose on people burdens impossible to bear, it certainly requires from us to examine whether we make our teaching, our living and our understanding of human situations one and the same endeavor. It happens that zealous "converts" generate more negative than positive energies. Preaching the faith and fostering a process of human growth need to be two interrelated endeavors. 'Pulling on the shoots to help the rice to grow" ruins the harvest.
A more personal note: when I include in a textbook of Latin and Roman Religion, as I did recently in Beijing, excerpts and commentaries of Tertullianus, Augustine, Minucius Felix, etc..., showing how their intellectual and spiritual elaboration was closely linked to the developments happening in the Roman Empire I may contribute in my very modest way to an "understanding of the faith" which is not direct evangelization but attempts to nurture a rooting of Christianity into sound intellectual and spiritual insights. The same could be said of what we do in a variety of fields. While not hesitating to be counter-cultural, we also try to make the Christian worldview better understood by contemporary culture, while trying to make the Church emerge from what is presently a kind of cultural ghetto.
Going one step further, I have no problem either in the fact of devoting - as I do - a large part of my time to the study of Chinese religions - as we could also invest in paleontology of biology. The Jesuit charisma should remain to be at the frontiers of knowledge, with a sense of gratuitousness - the very gratuitousness through which God created us - for it is the way we "praise God" by marveling at the work that his Spirit accomplishes throughout the course of natural and human history - a praise that remains on our lips even when we are confronted to realities that seemingly challenge our faith and introduce us into an 'intellectual dark night."
Thanks to Francis and to Michel de Certeau for helping us to become more sensitive, in everything we undertake and we reflect upon, to the wonderful gratuitousness of a God who delights in dwelling among us.
Illustration by Bendu.
I heard about this film on the Sinica podcast, where it was described by a critic as a Coenesque dark comedy. When I heard Coenesque I was thinking Burn after Reading, The Hudsucker Proxy or Fargo, not No Country for Old Men, but the film resembled the latter more than the Coens' out-and-out comedies. Despite this, I thought many aspects of the film were funny, especially the comparison between Lü, the hotshot Beijing lawyer and the ruthlessness and uncouth spite of the "simple" people of the West of China. For this reason the climax of the movie, in which Lü suddenly grows a conscience was a little forced for me, and took away from the idea that despite his education and his sophisticated life in the city, he is no different from the extortionists and bullies he meets in the West of China, even though he thinks he is, which had been the underlying premise of the film in my eyes up to that point. Sadly the director feels the main character needs redemption, and he sacrifices himself selflessly when he could have gotten away, which seems a little bit of a stretch for the character, as we know him, up to that point. The film has a little bit of the character of Yu Hua's 'Leaving at Home at Eighteen' (余華的〈十八歲出 門遠行〉) but all that grit is lost to the melodrama of the 'brave self-sacrifice' trope that is typical fare in Chinese films and crime dramas.
The villain of the piece didn't have any of the gravitas or psychological depth of Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, and by the end of the film we're left confused as to his motives, as he neither seems purely motivated by money or psychotic enough for his desire to kill being about anything more than money, which results in a two dimensional traditional pantomime villain role, instead of the potentially more nuanced role i felt the character could have been given. The other characters from the west were more believable, including the comic scene where one of the falcon dealers is hammered to death by an innocent-looking mentally handicapped rest-stop resident.
The film is interesting in that it lends another, slightly more gritty perspective, to traditional American monster flicks, like Wrong Turn, or The Hills Have Eyes, except that the monsters aren't some bizarre inbred mountain tribe, they're just people driven by poverty or greed to survive. I thought that the discussion about the difference between animals and humans was another interesting aspect to the film, which I talked about in another film review here. It also came up in an interview with Professor Huang Zonghui of National Taiwan University here:
In this film, many of the characters featured are "animalized humans" as Cary Wolfe puts it, which makes the title a play on words – as in there are no people in this place, only animals masquerading as humans – they have been reduced to fighting for survival. One scene that highlights this, is the scene in which Lü is stuck behind a truck carrying straw, which results in a confrontation, in which one of the men in the truck pisses on Lü's car, like an animal, displaying its superiority . What makes Lü's emotional journey in the film a little incomprehensible is that his behaviour towards the denouement of the film is at odds with his insistence that the only difference between man and beast is that man can make fire. This is the moment in the film when I thought he was going to set himself alight, but ended up just setting the truck alight with him inside it. I wasn't sure how his thought process turned towards redemption, as he had previously rationalized all his actions on the basis of survival. Why then does a country bumpkin girl's attempt to save his life, stop him from abandoning her, when he had been deaf to her pleas before.
One possible explanation is that it is the only way that Lü can see himself as different to the falcon dealer, and as more than just an animal. The falcon dealer can thereby be seen as a mirror for Lü, in which he sees his true nature, from which the only escape is the final gesture of self-sacrifice.
Despite this rather forced ending, the movie is darkly comic in a good way at parts, which distinguishes it from Yu Hua's short stories (which are simply dark without the comedy). 3.5/5
For Chinese speakers, you can read reviews by film critics Wang Mu and Zhou Liming here
Aude Fluckiger was born in Switzerland, but has been living in Taiwan for four and a half years. During that time she worked on a paper titled "Case Study of an Urban Indigenous Healer in Taiwan". In this interview, she tells us about her experiences researching alternative healing in Taiwan and the specifics of one case study in particular.
Investigating healing rituals in Taiwan and the ethnological case study of a sound healing practitioner
What first led you to Taiwan?
Many different things, but I've had this strong fascination for Asia for as long as I can remember, a strong interest to understand local peoples' way of perceiving their own cultures and beliefs in very distant areas of the world, and it is also a kind of personal quest, maybe even a spiritual quest, because I am very attracted to Eastern philosophies and traditions, I'm very sensitive to Oriental aestheticism, Chinese painting, martial arts, meditation, yoga, and so forth. In addition, I completed a Bachelor's degree in Chinese studies and History of Religions in Geneva and had this opportunity to come to Taiwan on a Huayu scholarship and after a while I realized I had to stay to pursue with a Chinese Master in ethnology, because going back to Europe would be a pity, for the language mostly.
What does your current research project consist of?
I've conducted anthropological fieldwork research in Taiwan on an indigenous healer who is not living in her tribal setting anymore and has no connection with her native village, she moved at an early stage near an urban centre in Northern Taiwan. My research was trying to understand how this Amis indigenous woman established a unique healing practice that she calls "Sound healing", as well as to investigate the nature of this particular healing method (e.g. decipher the indigenous features from the more global influences), and tend to understand the conditions for a successful healing process in relation to the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
Does this "Sound Healing" involve a fusion of disciplines?
You could say so. As most indigenous people in Taiwan do, she received Christian influences in her village since she was very young. Some of the older generations were more resistant to this, but she was born in 1955 and definitely felt the Catholic influence. Of course there is also a huge influence of Buddhist concepts in Taiwan, which she references, helping to attract many Buddhists. In addition, certain elements in her speech can also be connected to Taoism. However, the main influences I was able to identify from her speeches and actions were those of New Age globalised religions and movements that have been present in Taiwan since the 1980s. I didn't mention the Amis aspect yet because in comparison to all the above it's practically nonexistent. For the most part her speech is related to those international New Age movements. Sound healing finds its roots in many archaic cultures and societies, but with the present revival of shamanic ancestral practices and worldviews through New Age media, sound healing is also finding its legitimacy and presently a growing number of alternative therapists worldwide rely on theories of emerging fields like "cymatics" (lit. "science of waves or vibrations") to legitimize "sound waves" as a therapeutic tool.
What kind of people seek her help and what kind of ailments do they usually suffer from?
I would say because of the nature of her method, she attracts people that often move in those New Age circles with the means to attend her workshops, which are often very expensive. The majority of them are middle aged women who have a stable economic situation, but there are also men and women of all kind of ages and nationalities, the youngest being usually in their thirties. They generally come searching for spiritual growth. I didn't see that many people come in with physical ailments. When I asked her about this, she said she can help anyone as long as they are willing to "face themselves". She claims that even if you have cancer and you are really ready to face yourself, then she can heal you. She also conducts private healings and in that case the mode of interaction with is quite different..
Can you tell us more about her method?
She's using her own voice as a major tool for healing. Her actual chanting is monosyllabic and without lyrics, it isn't a "language". She considers that the sound of her voice is reflecting the primal force of nature and that it's through that sound that she gets her power to heal people. In this sense she is using sound in a similar way to other practices such as Himalayan singing bowls and other methods stemming from both traditional and New Age backgrounds. She often starts the therapy by insisting that people have to "face" the things they have issues with. In the case of a patient having unresolved issues with a father, for example, she would say she would call his soul (the father being alive or not), she would "become him" (through a "possession" related process), and then the patient would face him and interact with him. It doesn't necessarily need to be a person, it can also be a feature of one's personality, such as anger. In this case, the healer would "become your anger" so you can face it. When she "becomes" those features or embodies a "soul", she claims that the other alien soul manifests itself through her body by standing momentarily next to hers. She's completely conscious, and there is no memory loss. In ethnology this type of possession is certainly not "traditional" in regard of the traditional use of "possession states" employed by the Amis or other Austronesian groups in Taiwan. Because of her connection and past training with international transpersonal models of healing (more psychologically orientated), these types of states can also be put in relation with today's Western psycho-therapeutic developing methods such as techniques to induce so-called "trance-like" states in the patient, or more simply therapeutic "role playing" in order to help the patient to put awareness and re-enact and transcend a painful event. She also developed a more discursive aspect that I call "guided dialogue" where she "guides" patients to realise and speak out so far unconscious parts of themselves, and this speech part has been one of the focus of my analysis as it can reveal how the healer is establishing her authority in the therapeutic relationship.
What is her background?
She comes from a very disadvantaged background and she hasn't had any connection with her tribe for many years. She has been through a lot in her life and is very committed to her spiritual practice At 38 years old she arrived to a non-return point where she realised her mission to become a healer. She was sick with cancer herself. According to my informants at some point she was only given three months to live and she kind of found a way to heal herself. She has mentioned that the main thing that helped her in her healing process was the "facing of herself" with the help of international New Age leaders, amongst them Supreme Master Ching Hai. However she is never specific about her masters and will only divulge a few clues from time to time. This mystery related to her own background is often encountered with certain leaders (not just in the spiritual field) and plays a critical role in the gathering of potential followers and the building of a charismatic relationship.
Are her sessions one-on-one or group sessions?
She actually does both. She holds group workshops about every two weeks in the mountainside, near where she lives. There are always new followers, she is never lacking. She is very popular and attracts people through her various indigenous flavoured performances. I would say that the main difference between the one-on-one and the group sessions is that in the group sessions, the requirement for commitment is much smaller, there is less pressure put on the patient whilst the one-to-one sessions are more challenging in terms of personal involvement and unpredictability.
Is there a personality cult surrounding her?
There is, but it is not so obvious in the group setting. Most of my fieldwork was conducted in the individual setting, and, there it was more intense. In her practice, it is never a case of healing one time and goodbye. Whenever a newcomer arrives, she sets a few rules. However, these have changed drastically in the years I have known her. In the beginning she would sometimes even offer healing sessions for free, but today her one-on-one sessions are quite expensive considering the Taiwanese living standards.. The last time I saw her, however, I was quite alarmed by radical her conditions to accept new patients were, and that's why I had to put an end to my fieldwork. It had come to a point where it was obvious that what she was looking for where not patients, but disciples. She was then requiring that those that come to her be extremely committed, implying in that case a consequent change in their lifestyle, an important degree of suspending one's critical sense and free will. These conditions are not always expressed in a clear-cut way. It also happened several times that maybe after the second or third meeting, she changed the rules of their interaction so that patients barely had any choice about what aspects they wanted to take, which left them in certain cases almost completely disempowered, and at the mercy of the authority of the leader, much like in a sectarian dynamic. People who are usually passionate about her often just break contact and leave within the three first sessions. That being said, there are people it might work for. One of my informants was extremely vulnerable when I first met her, and close to suicide. She is a young foreign woman who was very lonely, with lacking Chinese which made it hard to communicate with others. She was feeling rather left out, and she said that this woman became both a mother and a spiritual teacher who taught her how to manage herself. So, despite what we might say and how we may judge on the surface, it's true her method might help some people. However, I also believe it can be dangerous for some types of personalities who may lack resources to escape her influence. The interesting aspect to study in her case is the efficiency of symbolic ritual in regard to the therapeutic interaction. For example people who are more inclined to submit to her authority claim to feel better quite immediately after the first sessions. People who are maybe more "psychologically grounded" in the way they conduct their lives seem to be much less inclined to assess efficiency in a clear way and they usually don't go back after the three first sessions, the therapeutic frame being unable to offer them a space for doubts or self-process and assimilate the healing experience by referring to themselves fully, rather than referring to the assessment of the healer. The last case is usually part of a therapeutic relationship based on grounds of mutual dependence.
What other healers have you met?
I've met some "titong 乩童" or as they're often called by some specialists "Chinese shamans", Taoist priests and ritual specialists conducting rituals for healing or re-guiding "lost souls" to the other realms, certain mediums in temples or installed in a private practice, and some Taiwanese and Western shamanic workers who are more closely associated to what we can call "Neo-shamanism", as they allow the revival and the spread of ancestral shamanic knowledge of different parts of the world (like the Amazonian traditions) and render them accessible through workshops and teachings worldwide.
I remember when I first came to Taiwan I met this Shaolin master using Qigong to "heal", to work on body energy, and I could see him, it was quite impressive. He had his patients lying on their stomachs bareback with suction cups on their backs, and he would start to work with the energy and you could clearly see the cups moving in all kinds of directions, following the movement of the bones, all while he was one meter behind the patient! Seeing that right after leaving the very Cartesian-structured West-European society I come from, I could only be convinced that what cannot be "objectively visible" cannot be arbitrarily considered as non-existent or discarded for the comfort of the analytical mind that can only show resistance in those situations.
Has your subject read your research?
No, we didn't really keep in contact. Actually, she wanted me to become a healer like her and she didn't really understand the research perspective and my role as a participant observer that is proper to ethnology during fieldwork, so there was a growing tension during my fieldwork. It got to a point where it was impossible for me to observe from a distance because I had to be completely involved, to completely subdue and adhere to her therapeutic frame involving her own beliefs and rules. As there was no in-between ground possible there, I had to leave in the end. In any case, I don't think she would really be interested in reading it as her practice is primarily focused on experience by opposition to analysis, which is what we're suppose to do in a perspective of academic research. This research indicates how preponderant the New Age is in Taiwan today, how it dialogues with tradition and modernity, and points at the fact that the sectarian phenomenon is not an isolate case in Taiwanese religious landscape, the reasons for which would definitely be worth investigating in further research.
Interview and editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy.
Many years ago, when I was settling into my first full-time job in the US and before I even knew if my political alignment was with the Left or the Right on this side of the planet, I met the son of a Nobel-Prize winner in economics, a well-known economist himself. Let's just call him SNW for convenience. It was a small gathering. When the hostess introduced me to him and his wife, they were busy solving a math problem (I cannot possibly have made this up)! After briefly greeting me, they continued to be absorbed in this exciting game for a while until they both solved it almost at the same time and smiled to each other. What a match made in heaven...
Like a recovering addict, I was drawn irresistibly to their nerdy game. I used to love math because it represented reason, clarity and certainty. I asked to work on the problem, even though I had not tackled math after high school and forgot nearly all the formulas. Luckily, there was nothing in the problem that could not be solved by basic reasoning, or bon sens with which Descartes assures us that we are pretty much equally endowed. It involved finding out how a perfect equation became absurd in the course of seemingly logical operations. The culprit, of course, was a hidden zero that materialized somewhere along the way. It took me longer than I wanted to solve the problem, in a humbling test of my ego and perseverance. I surely got rusty, but at least can flatter myself to be a worthy interlocutor of SNW.
You may have noticed that some people enjoy being teachers while others being students. It is not hard to figure out who was which as we started to chat about economics. I genuinely wanted to know more about his field and had absolutely no intention of challenging him on his turf. When he praised free market economy as the best possible system, however, I could not help but wondered if in some cases it might be unfair to some people. When he refused to admit it, we both became stubborn. Even though he possessed incomparably more knowledge on economics, my task was easier: I merely had to prove that free market can be unfair sometimes, and he had to defend it in all situations.
I started with the US textbook market, of which I had some direct knowledge. It seemed unfair to me that authors of first-year textbooks make much more money because there are always more students at the beginning level, with the consequence that it is extremely difficult to find good textbooks at advanced levels, while the market is flooded with so many lower-levels textbooks that publishers send unsolicited copies to professors hoping they would adopt them. Generally speaking, first-year textbooks are of better quality as publishers invest more money in the review and editing process knowing they can sell more copies, while upper-level textbooks sometimes contain many errors. SNW said it proved that market was working beautifully, as competition would weed out weaker products and drive down costs; since we let the market determine the value of a product, we should not think that authors of advanced-level textbooks deserve better pay, not if fewer people need their product. I countered that competition surely did not drive down the costs of US textbooks, notoriously expensive. In addition, a shortage of good textbooks at the advanced levels hurt educational outcome, but a free market has no incentive to care about that. Neither can we claim that during the course of competition it is necessarily weaker products that get weeded out. Sometimes an unlucky author chooses a textbook company that becomes bankrupt quickly, and in the chaos of a takeover, good products, well regarded by both professors and students, can be discarded; at the same time, a financially well-run company, having decided to "invest" in a textbook, would spend money to support and improve a poor product for as many years as possible. When I was a Teaching Fellow at Boston College, lured by successful marketing, we once adopted an intermediate French textbook that contained so many errors that the publisher paid us each $100 to help clean up them. It is as if in order to be a successful textbook writer you need to act like a stock picker. It is not obvious: over the years, I have seen respectable companies that produced excellent textbooks went bankrupt, while the ones that dominate the market may not necessarily offer better choices. SNW asserted that free market always works efficiently, unless there are factors that distort it. With arguments like that you can never lose. He did not say, and I later found out from his writings that, "market distortions" include government regulations, taxes, court, police, public education, etc.
SNW remained unfazed by various other situations I mentioned, until I brought up the case of retirees with fixed income in a high inflation environment, with the specific example of my father. Before he retired, my father was a senior engineer and vice president of the most important construction company in my home city (the president was always the Party leader). He was the onsite director of numerous projects in our city: bridges, water supply systems, and the TV Tower, as well as several construction works in Tibet. In order to meet the often arbitrary deadlines (finish this bridge as a gift to the National Day!), he often had to work overtime and sleep in temporary sheds with construction workers. Growing up, I learned not to miss him as he was so often gone for extended periods of time. He retired during the early ninetieth with what was considered a very high pension for a small city. With only modest adjustments, his pension did not keep pace with China's skyrocketing inflation, unlike those of civil "servants".
Perhaps too "nice" to argue with me over my father's story, or perhaps he knew periods of high inflation existed in the US as well, SNW conceded that "inflation can hurt savers, and retirees are savers." He stopped short of admitting that free market can be sometimes unfair; and as naïve as I was I understood the distinction: you can be hurt by something not because something is inherently unfair, but because you are not smart enough to protect yourself. Smart people like SNW would not be hurt by inflation because they know how to hedge against it.
I have not since run into SNW, not belonging to the same world, but my imaginary quarrel with him has continued over the years as I started to pay more attention to the impact of economy on people, and survived a few market downturns aided more by ancient philosophy than modern economics. What bothers me now as then is his dogmatism. When we believe that a system, or any system, is the best, it takes away our motivation to design ways to mitigate its shortcomings and improve its outcomes. We should not have to choose between a pure, hundred percent planned economy and an equally pure, hundred percent market economy. In the name of freedom we have submitted ourselves to the blind force of a global economic system that market fundamentalists like SNW would want to let run on a logically programmed autopilot. I hope against hope that SNW can remember and apply the lesson of the math problem we solved: there can be a zero somewhere that renders your seemingly logical equation nonsensical.
(Image extracted from the movie Rites of Love and Maths)
At the mountains and the margins of Taipei exist diverse unique ecologies, old communities and new socio-experimental laboratories. These can act as liminal spaces giving us clues to alternative ways of living in the increasingly globalised, homogenous modern city. Exploring the remnants of leftover architecture, nature and community doesn't necessarily leave us inebriated on irretrievable moments of the past, but can inspire us to creative solutions and ways of living in the future.
Huanmin Village is a unique historical and architectural gem of a community, assembled upwards from the foot of Toad Mountain, Taipei, the last mountainside military dependents' village remaining. Military dependents' villages are makeshift communities built by Mainlander soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan in the aftermath of the Chinese civil war. With a lack of space to accommodate the huge influx of immigrants, most of the communities were built in leftover pockets of land, often at the mountain or the riverside. The Toad Mountain settlement lies at the margins between the natural and urban jungle, was built with a gleaners ethic and maintains an intimate community life increasingly elusive in our cities. In 2013 the decision was taken to partly demolish the settlement to make way for campus development. This triggered an ongoing preservation movement, from which time we decided to explore, document, question and connect with the community and the movement while it still existed.
Gleaning for Intimacy (山城台北）is a film by Pinti Zheng and Nicholas Coulson
For more information on the Toad Mountain history, preservation movement and The Hole’s urban projects, see:
On entering the no.4 warehouse in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park for the originally named Taipei Original Festival 2013 (原創基地2013), one is informed that they are about to be taken on a journey back to ‘La Belle Époque’. La Belle Époque was a time supposedly full of optimism and joie de vivre in late 19th and early 20th Century France, when there was a relative peace between turmoil and war and the arts were brought into everyday urban life. Technological advances were numerous: automobiles, motion pictures and neon lights were invented, vaccinations were developed and radioactivity was discovered, all leaving legacies which have shaped modern life. This year’s City, Play Stage (城市‧遊‧戲台), curated by Meta Hong (洪雅純), borrowed the idea of La Belle Époque to refer to the period since democratisation in Taiwan. The songs of local rock band Mayday (五月天), love tracks such as Love, Love-ing (戀愛ing) and Peter and Mary (志明與春嬌) were chosen to represent the era, alongside the legacy of the island’s rapid advancement to become a top global exporter and science & technology hub.
Passing through to the Sound Lab, visitors are immediately hit with a sonorous stun grenade by the huge, bold and booming techno robots, designed by Akibo (李明道). After recovering your blunted senses as the inebriating loud music pauses, the visual multi-luminosity of colours on the screen wall opposite come into view in which direction the Akibo bots appear to be blasting their lasers. The multi-coloured screen is psychedelic, trippy and visually pleasing, leaving shadows of nature hidden amongst the minimalist white warehouse setting. Occasionally small shards of lightning flitter across the screen, in this work which gently nudges rather than slaps your senses, subtle enough that many of the visitors will miss the sparkles completely and move on, numbed as their senses are by the smorgasbord of sound coming from works in all directions of the warehouse.
In his work, The Next Memory, the sound mélange is something French artist Alexis Mailles is trying to convey of his observations about sound culture in Taiwan. For Mailles, Taipei exists in a constant noise barrage, “Sound is coming out of all the shops, all the time, all mixed together and everyone is really used to it, it’s quite incredible, people work 12 hours a day in that sound, which would be unthinkable in Paris, and it doesn't seem to bother anyone.”As a sound installation artist, Mailles is used to having a space where the loops he produces play in unison with the visual installation on display. Here, for the first time he did not add any sound to his installation, deciding not to go into open battle with the dominant sound forces of his surroundings, and instead adopting guerrilla warfare with the use of huge spotlights and colour glistening amongst the white noise.
“The war is to let something different exist,” Mailles claims. “Contemporary art is very distant from mainstream Taiwanese culture. There is Karaoke, there is culture but they seem to have no need for art.” At this sort of commercial event with one warehouse for exhibitions and performances and one warehouse full of shops, all creative culture is lumped together including student works, design pieces, technological displays, sound, installation and performances. Whether or not Mailles' musings on Karaoke culture fairly represent the visibility of contemporary art in Taiwan, in this setting, he feels any piece of art is going to lose its context. The work that goes on behind is forgotten and undergoes a 'recuperation’ as just another piece of culture like all the rest. This as an appropriation and commodification of culture, by commerce, from the people with whom culture belongs and a recuperation of art from the artists.
To allow art to exist in this space, rather than confronting mainstream consumer culture directly, the installation chooses to focus on lighting instead of competing and adding to the sound inebriation. Even if people can take the time to breathe, to concentrate amongst the information overload just a little, that is enough to suggest that there are different ways of doing things; a little bit of terrorism, without direct confrontation. This is a minor detournément, a hacking of Belle Époque linguistics to provide the vocabulary for different opinions to exist and be expressed in mainstream culture.
“Can we hack culture?” asks Mailles. With a background in computer engineering, it is perhaps not surprising that he prefers to adopt the philosophy of the hacker to that of the artist. He feels that hackers are now freer than artists, with fewer rules, and find it easier to reuse one thing for another function. “In the hacker philosophy the beauty does not come from the composition, but from its efficiency.” And nothing is more efficient than growth in nature, with branches and foliage always finding a way over, under, around and through the proceeding obstacles. While putting the installation together with land artist Chris Lee (李蕢至) they also tried to follow this principle of efficiency. Mailles points out the example of the bamboo which holds up the spotlights: rather than fixing them at level points, he fixed the nodes at the strongest point of the bamboo, the joint, leaving a pattern reminiscent of musical notation.
The hacker philosophy also emphasises transparency and openness. The process behind open source software is not hidden, instead the full workings of their creations are there for the whole world to see. Indeed, those who stay a little longer to appreciate may continue on to see the workings of the installation, behind the screen wall on which they are reflected, though some curiosity is required to venture into the hidden away room. Mailles works always make sure to include this surface aesthetic or retinal layer and colour manipulation, creating a space in which some people not yet versed in the complexity of contemporary arts might yet stay longer and reach a deeper level of contemplation (see eRenlai’s 2010 interview about his works). Chris Lee’s trademark is the creation of natural settings in built spaces or the reconstruction of natural landscapes, always with an emphasis on the greater interconnectedness of nature (see blog for Lee’s impressive collection of works). With electricity cables laced amongst plants, lamps perched on branches, and spotlights affixed on bamboo, we feel nature’s reinvasion of the artificial city and here we feel the subversive charm of the work. With the booming robots visible through the cloth screen, you are in a living imprint of humanity after the apocalypse, where only machines and plant-life remains.
Mailles felt it rather ironic that he was invited to make an installation based on Mayday and a vague, optimistic notion of the wonderful years. He used The Noah’s Ark song which Mayday performed for a year leading up to the supposed Mayan apocalypse as a starting point for building a piece themed on “La Belle Époque”. In the lyrics of the apocalyptic No Where tour (末日版), Mayday asked:
"At last, all we can take away is the garden called memory [...] Which memories to be kept for commemoration?" (最後我們只能帶走名為回憶的花園[...] 你会装进什么回忆纪念).
With the planet still standing, Mayday immediately began to perform the optimistic play on words Now Here (明日版) version of the tour. Mailles’ work is not so optimistic. The age of crises is not over. Noah’s Ark was based on disasters dispatched by God. The disasters of the day are now manmade. Since the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 and the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the world has lived in fear of a human-caused destruction of the living planet. We are reminded of pictures of Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster, where nature now exists, aesthetically crawling over the human ruins, trees climbing up walls, and all is silent. There is still a sense of impending nuclear disaster after Fukushima, and one legacy of Taiwan’s Belle Époque is to become the most densely nuclear producing area in the world as it continues to expand its nuclear capacities. In this context, the work poses us the question, what could be left over, what might be “The Next Memory”?
But how many people will go behind the screen, appreciate the layers of work behind it, let alone be affected by it? And perhaps there lies the true irony of this cultural hack, an exasperated self-mocking of sorts, destined as the deeper meaning is to remain hidden behind a façade of colourful allure.
The following quotation from Marcel Proust’s novel, Swann's Way, included in the work's introduction, gives a hint of the cultural hack Mailles is performing, making salient the absurdity of this memory-fest. After taking a bite into his madeleine cake, the protagonist proceeds to contemplate the memory that has been stimulated by the taste, questioning the essence of memories contained in objects:
"When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."
(Translation by Scott Moncrieff)
“After the bomb, after the people are dead,” Mailles explains, “the vast structure of recollection is far less credible…”
Watch a video of the installation:
Photos courtesy of the artist.
 A rerouting, hijacking or hacking of the expressions of media culture and the capitalist system, pushed by the Letterists, the Situationists from the 60s and later the culture jammers.
I recently had a conversation with a Taiwanese-American friend of mine visiting Taipei from California about the future of Taiwan in relation to the rise of China. He was of the opinion that Taiwan had already lost the long term battle for sovereignty, and that it was only a matter of time before it would be absorbed into China in a manner similar to Hong Kong, the "one country, two systems" model. As a business man, however, he viewed this eventual unification as likely to take place in the manner of a corporate merger, with the possibility of a military conflict between China and Taiwan completely forgone.
John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, a renowned theorist on US-Chinese relations, weighed in on the debate last month with his much talked-about piece "Say Goodbye to Taiwan", published in the National Interest. Mearsheimer is an academic know for his solid support of the realist theory of international relations, namely that all states exist in a state of anarchy and are constantly seeking to maximize their power vis-a-vis competitor states. In Mearsheimer's estimation, every country would relish the chance to rule the entire world given the opportunity. It is this course of the accumulation of regional hegemony that will eventually bring the United States and China into conflict over the issue of Taiwan.
While it is true that successive leaders of the People's Republic of China have made it clear that China's stated intention is eventual unification with Taiwan, Mearsheimer's quite pessimistic view of the future of Taiwan is based upon the assumption that the current status quo is unsustainable. The 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and the subsequent Trade Services Agreement signed between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, however, demonstrate some of the headway that the countries have made in mutual recognition of the other. Critics of the agreements would argue that the agreements actually bring the two sides closer to unification, but the much feared Chinese takeover of the Taiwanese economy following the signing has yet to occur. If anything, the recent conclusion of the first government to government meeting since the end of the Chinese Civil War gives credence to the idea that, at least for the time being, China is willing to at least partially acknowledge the authority of the government in Taipei.
Taiwanese national identity has undergone a rejuvenation in the past two decades, particularly since the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the emergence of a multi-party democracy. Should pro-de jure independence advocates have their way, China will almost certainly respond with military force, despite the doubts of those who believe Beijing would never resort to such an extreme solution. However, the issue of Taiwanese independence is something to which the Chinese government would almost assuredly respond to with a fervently nationalistic knee jerk; there is little room for a rational, measured response where issues of high sentiment are concerned.
Mearsheimer argues that the best way for Taiwan to solidify its current status would have been the bomb, though he concedes that neither Beijing nor Washington would be comfortable with a nuclear-armed Taipei. Mearsheimer, however, reveals his tendency to view all these developments through the lens of great power competition. There are other ways Taiwan can preserve its current status into the the long term, namely by coalition building with other Asian states anxious about the rise of China in the region. By remaining relevant in the continuing territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Taiwan asserts its position as an agent in the Asia Pacific region rather than merely a bystander. Though few states recognize Taiwanese sovereignty, building closer economic and cultural relations with states like Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia would give Taiwan valuable Asian allies in its struggle for self-determination.
In the estimation of realists like Mearsheimer, a strong offense is the best defense, and Taiwan, with its limited military might, cannot stand against the Chinese for very long. While this is true, it is not necessarily true that Taiwan would be completely abandoned by the United States were it to be threatened by mainland China. While China sees the issue of Taiwan as an internal challenge, and an attempted takeover of Taiwan would most likely not be a prelude to Chinese expansionism throughout Asia, in terms of strategy a Chinese Taiwan would not bode well for the United States. By shifting much of its naval might to the Pacific, the United States has made a strong statement that the region is of great value to its interests, interests that include containing the growing might of China.
Mearsheimer, though an accomplished academic, has a penchant for a viewing events in a way that feels more like a Netflix series than a balanced interpretation of facts. In the long term, China is facing an environmental crisis far more devastating than is being talked about and an economy burdened by an aging population and growing inequality. Their military, though rapidly modernizing, is still at least a decade away from catching up to other world powers. The political consciousness of young Chinese is growing at a fast pace thanks to new exposures to media and communication, and an invasion of Taiwan may do more harm than good to China's face. None of this is to say that China will forgot about the issue of unification with Taiwan anytime in the near future, but if Taiwan is careful about the way they approach the issue, their doomsday may not be as imminent as Mearsheimer believes.
Originally published on the blog: One Student's Thoughts on the Way the World Works
Image source: WebProNews