Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: taiwan

Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: taiwan
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 10:00

Art and Social Activism: Mutually Beneficial?

In this interview, Betty Apple attempts to delineate the different modes of interaction between art and social activism. In the end of the interview she reflects on the tension between her identity as a modern, solitary individual and and the collectivism that is required in social activism.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:34

Gender and Weddings in Taiwan

Red candles, ceremonial cannons, fresh flowers, everybody coming together to celebrate, but with all the throwing of fans (the bride throws a fan on the ground to represent that she's leaving her youthful temper behind her), the bride's mother throwing water at the bride's departing car (spilled water can't be retrieved, which signifies that the daughter should not go back to her old house just like the water can't be unpoured) and walking over broken tiles (which represents overcoming the past and expelling evil deities), the bride can't help but be a little overwhelmed. "Rites" are a kind of standard or a restriction, if a wedding is supposed to be for both the bride and the groom, then why are all the restrictions during the marriage rite imposed on the woman?

Translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart



Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:26

Keening: Taiwan's Professional Mourners

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photos courtesy of Liu Junnan and Wang Zhengxiang

When did keening become so forced?

A Mei: 'There was always someone there saying: Now you should cry... You can't cry now...My brother and I often got mixed up, "Do we have to cry now? Or not cry?".
                                                                                                                 -Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

The film, Seven Days in Heaven (Fuhou Qiri) from the short story of the same name, describes the experiences of A Mei, the female protagonist who has been working in the city for many years, on her return to her rural hometown for her father's funeral. There was a montage in the film with a lively Spanish dance track playing in the background, in which the 'keening' during the funeral preparation process is satirized – at one point A Mei hasn't finished eating, and later hasn't finished brushing her teeth, but hears the call "the girl should come and cry", and she has to don her mourning clothes and sprint to the altar to cry – in a very memorable scene. This scene must have made a lot of Taiwanese watching laugh (at least that is what happened with my friends and I), not just because of the comi-tragic sorry figure she cut, but also because we've all had similar – even if not quite as dramatic – experiences and sentiments.

Funerals, always touch on death and separation. Being grief-stricken or crying, is a natural emotional and physiological reaction; however, having to cry or 'keen' under the strictures of a pre-formulated ritual, is hard to think of as 'natural'.

How old is traditional? How new is modern?

In Taiwanese funerals the time to cry is appointed and when that time comes you have to cry, even if you have to fake it, and it's a loud keening wail – this is an element of Taiwanese funeral culture which is often criticized as a corrupt practice. When watching Seven Days in Heaven, A Mei's embarrassment, and the laughter of the audience, reflects the distance that people nowadays feel towards funeral rites.

For the past 20 or so years, a trend towards modernization in funerals has gathered momentum; the customs surrounding the funeral rites, often seen as esoteric were rebranded under the new moniker 'the study of life and death' (a field of study in the Chinese speaking world: shengsixue), advocated in the context of Metaphysics. A milestone in this trend has been the regulatory impact of the 'Mortuary Service Administration Act' promulgated by the Taiwanese government at the end of 2002, an act that states its purpose as essentially advocating conforming funeral customs to reflect the demands of a modern society.

If one compares the funeral model listed under the Citizen Ceremonies' Model ratified by the government in 1970 and similar models offered by funeral businesses today, one discovers that there's not much difference – clearly we haven't completely gotten rid of the old, and welcomed in a new way of doing things, but rather we've adapted and reinterpreted some of the finer details. So, before we rush to accept the traditional/modern dichotomy, perhaps we should ask ourselves what is this tradition that we are talking about? How old is it really? And what about the meaning of it should be reformed?

The shift from secular to religious funerals

To continue the example of keening, let's do a bit of historical research.

Normally people from Han culture think of funeral rites as pertaining to three separate traditions, the Confucian school, Buddhism and Daoism, at the same time, different characteristics sprang up in different localities. The fact that a funeral rite is called a rite () implies that it not only a religious activity; comparing the Confucian, the Buddhist and the Daoist traditions, the relationship between rites () and the Confucianism is much older and much deeper.

Very early on, China already had the concepts of ghosts, deities and ancestor worship, however, from the time of Confucius and Mencius, the rites, although they took their origin in belief and sacrificial rituals, developed by Confucian intellectuals from the rites of Zhou has always been secular, the main thrust of which was concerned with governing the behaviour of man. Confucianism tends to a belief that improving one's own sense of morality can give order to society, and allow one to accept one's place in life; they didn't feel the need search for consolation in imagining ghosts or deities. Therefore, the funeral rites and customs Confucianism advocated didn't include religious mysticism, but rather they reflected the 'normal' social order and social contract.

Pursuing harmony and rationality in this world, cannot ease the primal terror that people feel when faced with death, and this pursuit is unable to answer people's questions or speak to their imaginings of the afterlife. The narrative of life and death in Confucian thinking, advocating the ideas of putting the service of man before the service of spirits and that of keeping a respectful distance from ghosts and deities, is not enough to satisfy these questions; so, as Buddhism, which had come from elsewhere, and the home-grown Daoism came to fruition in the Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties, the system of rites surrounding funerals associated with Confucianism became intertwined with those of Buddhism and Daoism; with the changes in the way people think about the world, the secular Confucian orthodoxy has gradually become less dominant, under attack as it was from modern ways of thinking; supernatural religious belief was able to come to the fore in funeral rituals, revealing even more clearly the shift towards thinking from a religious perspective.

哭喪04Restraining Grief, a Thousand Year Old Ritual

However, in the midst of this trend, keening is considered an example of a more 'classic' ritual.

As the Chinese equivalent to "I'm sorry for your loss", which translates roughly as "Restrain your grief, so that you can adapt to the loss", which people today still use regularly, can attest to, the main tenet by which the Confucian system of rites deals with crying or keening during the mourning period emphasizes mediating grief by controlling one's physiological reactions. The passage 'Questions about Mourning Rites'in the Classic of Rites (Li Ji) is an early record that, even in the case of mourning for parents, the mourning period shouldn't last more than three years, the purpose of this is in the hope that people will gradually be able to exercise emotional restraint, and return to their customary life in society. This current of thought continued until after the Song (960–1279) and the Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, when Confucian scholars gradually compiled Family Rites wherein the role of crying as a stage in funeral rites was laid down more clearly in writing, this included instructions like the following: on the death of a relative or a friend, you cry loudly (the person is dead so you can cry); throughout the period when one is offering sacrifices for the dead, one can cry if one feels sad (there's no appointed time for crying, when grief comes one may cry); but once the body has been interred, during the 'Enshrining the Spirit' ritual, one can only cry in the morning and in the evening (crying at dawn and at dusk); after a year of mourning, one should stop crying – this is where the idea of appointing the times when one could and could not cry came from in part.

As well as this, keening in this context, isn't simply 'crying', but rather it involves singing a keening song (dirge). From the perspective of the Han people, the folk keening dirges can be sung in several different ways, some are freestyle with no limitations on content, others, however, have words, but most are sung by women, such as wives and daughters on the death of an elder; during the funeral rites of the Zhuang, the Yi and the Jingpo peoples, all minority ethnic groups from the South West of China, one can always find rituals which fuse dance and keening dirges to express and relieve grief.

Can grief-stricken keening be carried out by proxy?

We can say for sure that keening is a part of a funeral culture with a long history, and it had a rich significance, and not a negative one, so is it right to label keening as a aberrant practice?

In the film Seven Days in Heaven, as well as the 'genuinely' filial daughter, A Mei, who feels bewildered by the keening ritual in the process of the funeral, there is also another classic role associated with crying: the 'fake' filial daughter A Qin, who keens professionally. In the film, A Qin is a larger than life career keener who can turn her tears on and off at the drop of a hat; the idea behind this character comes from the Chinese expression for a professional keener 'Xiaonvbaiqin'(孝女白琴 literally: filial daughter Baiqin), which formed a part of Taiwanese funeral processions (zhentou 陣頭) ten or twenty years ago. Somehow, compared to the relatives of the dead not knowing how to cry, spending money to hiring a perfect stranger who is in this profession to keep up appearances for them by 'performing' grief, seems a lot harder to reconcile with the practice of 'rites', but in Taiwan, this phenomenon has really taken off.

In fact, as well as "Filial Daughter Baiqin", another element of the parade tradition (zhentou 陣頭) with which Taiwanese readers will be familiar is the part called "Five sons cry at a tomb" (Wuzikumu 五子哭墓), these all play a part in "orthodox" Taiwanese funeral customs: the latter takes its origin in a Hoklo folktale; the former, on the other hand, is derived from the character 'Filial Daughter Baiqiong' in the 1970s' Taiwanese popular classic puppet theatre The Great Confucian Knight-Errant of Yunzhou (雲州大儒俠) – so these are all relatively "new traditions", so to speak. That's not to say that these more performative examples of keening don't have an element of filial piety or that they don't count as an expression of grief; however if one really goes back through historical records it becomes clear that these performances were actually invented by Taiwanese funeral homes – another relatively "new tradition" which only really started to become popular from the 1960s onwards.

 Because of its close connection with the rise of local funeral home companies, most of the professionals performing as"Filial Daughter Baiqin" normally work for relatively small organizations, often with staff shortages, and they're often responsible for weddings and other celebrations in addition to funerals - working in a variety of different roles, not just in the funeral sector, like performing as show girls on dance floats at weddings - a common sight at local weddings, celebrations and sometimes even funerals. For that very reason, the "Filial daughter Baiqin" profession is one of the most denigrated within Taiwan's contemporary funeral cultural industry, indirectly reinforcing people's negative impressions of this keening custom at funerals.

Overcoming the diametric opposition between "traditional" and "modern"

From another perspective, however, no matter if it's the services performed by the undertaker, the"Five sons crying at the tomb" (Wuzikumu) or "Filial daughter Baiqin", given that the structure of society has changed over time, the way funerals are held has adapted accordingly, making up for something that is now missing from our society (the popularization of funeral homes reflects the weakening of the bonds between people living in the same area and within families, as well as the scarcity of people familiar with rites; the rise of this kind of performative keening by professionals is not unlinked to the shrinking of families and the decline in the number of children), that reflects the psychology and demands of a bygone era. The custom does not take its origins in temples and it does not have a long history, but compared to the esoteric mysticism of the religious conception of rites, it is perhaps closer to the true essence of rites as they relate to the life of the ordinary man.

With the tide of modernization concerning funeral and burial customs, people have advocated freeing ourselves from the corrupt practices of traditional funeral customs and rites: they should be more solemn, there should be no loud mournful keening; they should be simplified and adapted to the times, there shouldn't be such extravagant decorations; one should follow religious practice, and not indulge in petty superstitions... however, these imagined "traditions" cannot be so easily homogenized, and one cannot break away from them simply by constructing modernity in opposition to them. Using the example of keening, we can even go far as to say that 'modernity' surfaces in order to resolve that which seems to be a contradiction or an aberration in any given society – here it would be the aberration would be the idea of a stranger being paid to mourn for one's relatives, but often in problematizing this aberration we flippantly iron out the creases in history, and simply thrust upon it the term 'tradition'. In this way we often remain ignorant to how the same practice, in this case keening, in a different time and place can change in the way it is carried out (i.e. from family members to professional keeners); and how this kind of aberration is a product of historic shifts within a society, and shouldn't simply be banished as a corrupt traditional practice.

Ghosts and deities remain outside of the grasp of human perception, and so judgement of whether something is good or bad is simply a product of our way of thinking and we shouldn't ignore the historical realities that lie behind apparent aberrations.

 

 

 


Friday, 26 April 2013 18:56

Peace, Love, Unity, Respect and Struggle: The Taiwanese Theatre of Party

In the following video Chen Xiaoqi, a theatre student at National Taiwan University of Arts, discusses the concept of rave parties both as a form of theatre and as a form of protest and how the interactive and decentred nature of parties affects the social aspect of the art of DJing. 


Friday, 19 April 2013 14:47

The Soundfarmers: Electronic Music Composes Anti-Nuclear Statement


In Dec 2012, A DJ collective called "Soundfarmers" from Taipei released an electronic music compilation "I Love Nuclear," which has been reviewed in Paul Farrelly's eRenlai article A Sonic Meltdown: A Review on "I Love Nuclear!?"

Listen to the concept behind the album. For more information, check out their website or buy the album on the Green Citizens' Action Alliance webstore.


Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00

Amateurs in Tokyo - Reasonable Riots

Study, graduate, work, start a family,
I've tried my hardest, but I've always been down and out. Whose rules am I supposed to be playing by? What course have I been put on?
Let's break the rules! Take the piss, to get back a bit of logic!

by Zijie Yang, translated by Conor Stuart and Julia Chien from the original Chinese, photos by Park Swan


Wednesday, 03 April 2013 15:27

Human Rights in Taiwan Under Review

From February 25 to March 1 2013, an international group composed by 10 human rights experts and legal scholars was invited to Taiwan to supervise the review process of the country's initial reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that Ma Ying-Jeou signed in March 2009. The structure and dynamics of the review meeting made the event unique in its genre, as it did not only expose the official human rights records to the scrutiny of an international committee, but it also provided Taiwan's civil society with the opportunity to actively participate and be directly involved in the monitoring process.

Despite not being a member of the United Nations (UN) since 1971, Taiwan ratified the two UN covenants with the aim to gradually conform its domestic laws and legislations to the international legal framework concerning the protection and safeguard of human rights. The Implementation Act was thus promulgated in December 2009 precisely with the objective to integrate the two UN covenants into the national legal system and to guarantee the actual legal effect of the two international treaties. To assess the degree of compliance of the domestic legal framework with the two UN covenants, an official human rights report was issued by Taiwan's government authorities in April 2012 and was subjected to the accurate examination of the review committee.

"The fact that a group of 10 international experts has been invited to Taiwan to review independently the human rights system of the country is undoubtedly an important fact," said Brian Barbour, Executive Board Member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network. "Moreover, it was remarkable to have hundreds of officials attending the review meeting every day, along with the presence of local NGOs which had the opportunity to directly speak with the committee members," he further added. Every day from February 25 to 27, the review committee attended formal meetings with NGOs members in the morning and with government representatives in the afternoon. The international panel of experts had therefore the possibility to incorporate human rights official records with in depth information provided by civil society actors.

The panel of international experts has repeatedly stressed the pivotal role that civil society actors had in submitting detailed comments on the situation of human rights in Taiwan to the review committee. Unlike the UN official model for the review of the implementation of the ICCPR and the ICESCR - which does not contemplate the formal partecipation of NGOs in the process, the review mechanism in Taiwan offered local human rights activists and practitioners "the opportunity to establish themselves as an authoritative voice," highlighted chairman of the Union for Civil Liberty Danthong Breen. During the review process, Covenants Watch, a coalition of civil associations set up to supervise the implementation of the two international treaties, and Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) jointly presented a list of 45 core issues that, in their opinion, deserve closer attention by official authorities – and that are further addressed in the human rights "shadow report" which they published in May 2012.

After carefully examining the information discussed during the review meeting, on March 01 the panel of experts finally made public a set of recommendations in a press conference. In the "Concluding Observations" report, the committee members clearly pointed out that since the ICCPR and the ICESCR have been adopted by Taiwan's government as part of the national legal framework, they are already abiding and, in case of contradiction with domestic laws, they should take the precedence over the latter. The international experts thus called for Taiwan's government to strengthen the training of judges, legal practitioners and prosecutors in order to guarantee the proper application and enforcement of the two UN covenant also in practice.

The establishment of an independent human rights commission in Taiwan was highly recommended by the committee members, who further called for government authorities to adopt other UN international treaties and to better comply with the mechanism of human rights protection illustrated in the "Paris Principles".

Professor of law and human rights at the University of Vienna and former UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak pointed out that the most serious problem under the ICCPR is the continuous use of the death penalty in Taiwan[1]. Nowak, who already visited the country in November 2011 to give a speech on torture at National Taiwan University, stated that in the last 15 executions carried out by Taiwan's government there was a clear violation of Article 6(4) of the ICCPR, according to which "anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence."

The issue of the death penalty was a significantly debated topic during the review meeting, especially in light of the recent six executions that Taiwan's government carried out on December 23 2012. When rumors regarding the imminent executions of death row inmates began to spread in late November, two members of the review committee - Novak and Eibe Riedel, had sent a letter to president Ma Ying-jeou asking government authorities not to carry out any execution before the review process would be completed. They stated that any eventual execution would seriously undermine the successful outcome of the review meeting and cause the international experts' possible withdrawal from their review assignment. On February 26 during the examination of ICCPR Articles 6 to 13, Novak has pointed out that notwithstanding the recent executions, the review committee members nonetheless decided to accomplish their duties and perform their responsibilities as previously accorded, with the aim of fostering the process of abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan.

Government representatives have repeatedly stated that the abolition of the death penalty is a sensitive issue in Taiwan, since 78% of the population supports it. The recent executions, for instance, had been carried out in the context of a growing concern regarding the actual level of security of Taiwanese society, in order to avoid further negative public reaction[2]. Given that the majority of the public opinion perceives the death penalty as a deterrent to criminal activities, official authorities have argued that the process of abolition must be a "gradual and progressive" one.

Asma Jahangir, head of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, has however stressed that in many countries where the death penalty has been now officially abrogated, the vast majority of the population was actually in favor of its use before the abolition process took place. She has moreover added that she understands that the process of abolition in Taiwan has to be "gradual and progressive", but she also called for government authorities to show a greater commitment in fastening the whole procedure.

Reiterating Jahangir's words, Novak has also pointed out that there is no clear evidence that the use of the death penalty acts as a crime deterrent, by adding that in the path toward abolition Taiwan should guarantee a greater compliance with the ICCPR with regard to the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence. All six death row inmates recently executed in December had indeed applied for pardon and were waiting for the president's decision on their request prior their execution. The priority of Taiwan's government, the international experts unanimously stated, however still remains to promptly impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty .

Another important issue highlighted by the review committee was the problem of forced evictions, which are currently affecting hundreds of family all over Taiwan. The experts addressed a number of specific cases, "but the most important point consisted in calling for Taiwan's government to provide proper consultation and adequate housing in case of proposed evictions," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International's East Asia director.

Particular attention was laid on the highly controversial case of the forced eviction of the Huaguang community in Taipei. While a group of supporters and activists was demonstrating outside the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), showing their concern about the dramatic future of the community, some Huaguang representative members had the opportunity to directly illustrate their problematic housing situation to the international experts during the review meeting.

Huaguang residents are indeed facing an imminent and drastic eviction due to their "illegal occupation"[3] of the land where their dwellings are located, which is formally owned by the MOJ. The dislocation of the inhabitants and the demolition of their residences are the first steps toward the complete renewal of this traditional neighborhood located in the heart of Taipei, which seems to be doomed to become the new financial district of the city.

The review committee has pointed out that in this case, government legal proceedings aimed at the eviction of Huaguang community members and the demolition of their dwellings are evidently not complying with Article 11 of the ICESCR which, along with UN ICESCR General Comment 4 and 7, guarantees the right to adequate housing and declares the incompatibility of forced evictions with the requirements of the covenant. In particular, as highlighted by TAHR Executive Secretary Shih Yi-Hsiang, UN ICECSR General Comment 4(8) guarantees the legal protection of tenure, the latter defined also as "emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property" – definition that clearly addresses the peculiar legal status of living communities such as the Huaguang community in Taipei.

In the "Concluding Observations", the international experts have therefore call for Taiwan's government to act accordingly the ICESCR by providing a formal consultation with Huaguang residents and by developing a settlement plan for the community members. In the meantime, they further added, the MOJ should halt forced evictions and demolitions plans in the area – and as pointed out by Shih Yi-Hsiang, Article 6 of the Implementation Act defines the "Concluding Observations" as a human rights report which has legal status, thus making it not just a compendium of suggestions but a set of abiding legal provisions.

With regard to refugee rights, Brian Barbour stated that Taiwan is one of the few Asian countries that actually has a refugee law, although still at draft stage. He suggested official authorities to take into account the comments that local NGOs submitted on the law to the committee members, with special reference to the exclusion of the Tibetan and Mainland Chinese population from the refugee law draft in Taiwan. He then added the importance of further investigating the issue of immigration detention and the situation of children who, in order to be kept with their detained parents, are currently imprisoned in Taiwan.

Most significantly, the international experts urged Taiwan's government to develop a follow-up plan and stressed the importance of an active collaboration between official authorities and civil society actors to comprehensively address human rights issues in Taiwan. According to the committee members, the government and local NGOs should interact more consistently to guarantee that progress is made in the implementation of the two UN covenants and in the enhancement of human rights protection in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

 


[1] After an unofficial moratorium on executions lasted from 2006 to 2009, in 2010 Taiwan's government resumed the use of the death penalty by carrying out four execution in April of the same year, five in March 2011 and six in December 2012.
[2] On December 2 2012 in Greater Tainan, a 10 year-old boy was found killed by a man who claimed that he was not worried about either the process nor the sentence, since he added that in Taiwan no one is sentenced to death for the murder of one or two people. The episode fueled a general feeling of indignation for and dissatisfaction with the national judicial system, which public opinion accused to be too clement toward criminals and inmates.
[3] The Huaguang community members have been recently sued by the MOJ with the alleged accusations of "illegal occupation" (違法占用) and "illegal profit" (不當得利), but given the particular history of this neighborhood, government's decision has triggered the indignation of Huaguang residents and their supporters. The peculiarity of this residential community has indeed to be traced back to 1949, when the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, KMT) flew from mainland China to Taiwan, followed by a high number of military and party officials, along with their families. As the lack of abundant land where to build dwellings for the "new incomers", government authorities offered military and official employees the chance to settle down in Huaguang neighborhood, which at that time was property of the MOJ. Since then, relatives of the first generation of KMT officials have been living in Huaguang, by paying taxes and being provided with water and electricity, among other services. What has been recently labeled as "illegal" seems suddenly not to take into consideration the "legal" agreement between KMT government and its employees in the past, which had not been questioned until a decade ago when a new urban project for the area was proposed.

 


Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:23

(Dis)belief in Taiwan

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the experience of people from different cultures of faith or lack of faith in Taiwan is explored.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:19

(I believe therefore) I'm moral

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we look at what role faith and religion has in the formation of our morality whether directly or indirectly, and whether or not morality goes beyond a utilitarian social contract.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:14

The form of (In)divinity

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we explore the different images people have of god, and how this changes with time and with the progression of our journey through life.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:09

Divine In(ter)action

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the way different people conceive of the way in which any god might interact with the world and with humans is explored as well as the different ways that people try and communicate with their god.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:04

Living (Dis)belief

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the trials and doubts undergone by those who have already committed themselves to a belief or life without belief.

Published in
Focus: My God?

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