Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: taiwan
Monday, 01 August 2011 21:43

Tracking the Origin of Music with the Orbit Folks

Orbit Folks is a Taiwan based international creative music project that brings together people from different nationalities and different musical backgrounds. Lead by Belgian double-bassist and composer Martijn Vanbuel they experiment with combining jazz, folk, classical, world and improvisation. Orbit Folks has put out their first album “The Missing Link”, which was nominated in 5 categories and 2 awards for the Golden Melody Awards in 2011. The album features the live band, consisting of violin, piano, double bass and table, as well as special guest from Taiwan, Italy and Ukraine.

Monday, 23 May 2011 14:52

New Energy in Taiwan's Social Movements

From gritty Punk to technotronic Rave music; media savvy hoaxes to terrifying performance art; relaxing in activist cafes to energetic street parades; this months Focus we give you snapshots of innovation and creativity in Taiwan's social movements and in doing so a peek at the state of civil society in Taiwan. With local activist Zijie Yang as my trusted guide, I explored the recent history and the most dynamic of current social movement activity in Taiwan, choosing the increasingly active anti-nuclear power movement as a main focal point.

Having made the conversion to democracy from within the system rather than through outside powers, Taiwan can be an inspiring example for the aspirations of other democratic movements in Asia. Furthermore, Taiwan's advanced level of openness to outside ideas is unprecedented in Asia; the ideas they have brought in from outside have been modified and Taiwan-ised and may have a lot to offer the development of civil society in Asia, the Pacific and in China. The continuation of a robust civil society and social movements in Taiwan is all the more important due to the danger of relapses into more authoritarian governance that we are seeing in much of Asia, already known for being among the tightest regions in the world. Furthermore Taiwan itself is after all, still in a period of transitional justice; whether legally, systemically or in the collective psyche, traces of past terrors still remain, thus social movement aims can have a high relative value.

Before we can truly understand the current movement setting, we must first introduce the historical context and understand the background to activism in Taiwan. We therefore begin by abstracting Professor Ho Ming-sho's papers on social movement history in Taiwan. We also ask why much of Taiwan's youth seem so apathetic to social change. Is freedom no more than the 'right' to buy a Gucci bag? And yet we nonetheless witnessed many examples of highly motivated activists becoming ever more confident in their actions. What motivates these young activists to get involved in social movements? When looking at developments over the past few years it is impossible to sidestep the Wild Strawberries student movement which erupted in November 2008. We analyse two of the most comprehensive evaluations of these movements from two very different participants, to try and understand why the Wild Strawberries went mouldy, by looking at the organisational phenomenon and problems of new social movements in the post-modern era.

From there we can begin to question, what are the factors that will dictate future movements and what new energy is needed in social movements? One of the legacies of the Wild Strawberry student movement and its perceived failures, is what Sean Hsieh called "the opening of new spaces" for increased dialogue and stronger intra-organisational links. He introduces us to one of these spaces, Café Philo, and in particular its 'Philosophy Friday' which far less abstract than it sounds, focuses on concrete social, political and judicial issues, cultivating a much deeper and mature understanding in the socially active citizens that attend. A balancing act between knowledge, and practice.

demonstration_01

Another 'space' which is fermenting stronger, more informed activists is Go Straight Café, which inherited the legacy of the WildBerry House but rapidly reinvented themselves and is now home to the most innovative of movement activity, in particular the No Nuke Cultural Activism Group. They use music, art exhibitions and event organisation to open a dialogue with the wider public. Gong-li She use the medium of punk and rave, to channel the anger and frustration of the youth into action and activism, supporting social movements with music events. The communal fruits of these various groups can be seen with the 4/30 manifestation against nuclear energy in Taiwan, sparked partly in reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear disaster in March and in the exhibition 'Don't brush off what you see' where Esther Lu brought together 10 artistic works concerned with nuclear power and energy resources.  In a tribute to the Yes Men, the Jammers, printed 10 000 fake copies of Taiwan's major newspapers declaring, as a hoax, that the proposal for the controversial KuoKuang Petrochemicals factory had been rejected by the government. The stunt achieved its desired media attention and eventually the government removed its support for the project which could have endangered the survival of the last remaining Chinese White Dolphins. Another group concerned above all with nature and their natural rights are the Langyan Action Group, who every year since 2007 have lit pyres, setting off smoke signals that call for all indigenous peoples to unite and fight for what they see as incomplete transitional justice. This year they collaborated with No Nukes calling for a non-nuclear homeland.

In academic theory, its accepted that the development of social movements, the consciousness that group organisations can affect social change arose with education and the freedom and dissemination of information. Mainstream education and media in Taiwan is often criticised for being too didactic, and foreign teachers lambaste that rote-learning is the norm. Indeed, eRenlai is also a 'space' - our mission is to train people to truly reflect, question and form their own opinions rather than recycle the morning editorials that tend to polarise opinions, fashion a culture of blame and rarely present constructive dialogue. In this spirit we invite you to peruse our selection of the spiciest activism in the Taiwanese social hotpot...

Photos: N.C.

 


Wednesday, 30 March 2011 18:20

The final proposition for the indigenous peoples’ movement in Taiwan

As Chairman of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan, Professor Sun Da-Chuan is the most influential person in the indigenous movement in Taiwan.


Monday, 07 February 2011 00:00

Taiwan's publishing industry needs South East Asia

The future of the Taiwanese cultural creative industry lies not in the East or the North, nor does it lie in the West. It lies in South East Asia.

 

South East Asia as Taiwan’s economic and trade partner

Since the beginning of 2010 the Taiwanese government has been busy trying to sign the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China and therefore hoping to enter the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market via this agreement. This shows the close connections between South East Asia and Taiwan as economic and trade partners and how important the market is to Taiwan’s economic development.


Monday, 31 January 2011 12:17

Going on a Pacific island 'holyday'

When discussing Taiwan’s links with the Pacific islands, it is well worth considering the religious dimension.  I have previously written about the connection that Taiwanese religious groups, in particular New Religious Movements, are seeking to forge with Mainland China[1].  However if we look in the other direction, from the gritty megacities of China to the lightly populated islands of the Pacific Ocean, we can see another current of religiosity that is circulating belief, culture and innovation.

The New Testament Church (NTC) is a small charismatic Protestant Church based at Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan. It was founded by a Hong Kong movie star in 1963 and has managed to survive leadership disputes, struggles with the Taiwanese government and natural disasters to now be in its fifth decade.  No small feat for a modestly sized and socially marginalized group. You can watch me give a brief introduction to the NTC here and here.

The NTC believes that God has chosen Taiwan’s Mount Zion instead of the traditional and better-known Mount Zion in Israel.  The mountain serves the important roles of not only being God’s home, but also the venue for the impending Tribulation (when Jesus will descend to Mount Zion and members of the NTC will ascend to heaven).  The NTC has developed Mount Zion into a community of around 300 adherents, complete with agricultural and educational facilities.

Furthermore, the NTC is a passionate and dedicated exponent of organic agriculture.  The rationale behind choosing organic farming over conventional (that is, pesticide-based) farming is that it is the ‘God-based’ way to farm. The NTC equates God’s law of creation, as outlined in the bible, with the natural method of farming.  As the bible does not contain any directive to use chemicals, the church therefore refrains from doing so.  In avoiding such pollutants, the NTC can more easily recreate their ideal of a holy and “Edenic” environment.  It seeks to do this on Mount Zion and at its properties abroad.

Mount Zion is an interesting place for tourists to visit, and one of utmost spiritual importance to the NTC.  However the spiritual power of the mountain is not limited to the peak in Taiwan – other places around the world also share in it.

The NTC has developed a series of ‘Offshoots of Zion’ around the world.  These rural properties are places where the NTC’s international adherents live, worship and farm.  Mostly scattered around Malaysia and the Pacific Rim, there are also two Offshoots of Zion on Pacific Islands – Eden Isle (伊甸島) on Tikehau, Polynesia and Mount Tabor (他泊山) on Tahiti.

Just as in Taiwan, the NTC’s community in the Pacific developed out of the Assemblies of God church. Having established Mount Tabor in 1985, the NTC has around 300 “exclusively Chinese” adherents in Tahiti[2]. The church has not limited itself to one island though, expanding elsewhere in the region.

Inhabited by the NTC since 1993, Eden Isle is a small island where the NTC has an organic farm and open-air church.  Based on reports by visiting sailors, the number of people living on Eden Isle seems to vary between 5 and 10.  This number can swell exponentially when international members of the NTC arrive for religious celebrations and various types of exchange programs.  There are a number of online reports from sailors passing by Tikehau who have been welcomed in by the NTC and given tours of the island[3].

In considering these two Pacific island spiritual centres, Mount Zion in Taiwan, and the NTC that binds them, we can get a glimpse of the dynamics between the two regions.  The main temple on Mount Zion was rebuilt in the late 1980s using indigenous Taiwanese techniques and designs.  In turn, the venues of worship on Eden Isle and Mount Tabor reflect the style of Mount Zion’s temple. Mount Tabor’s temple appears to be an almost perfect copy of Mount Zion’s temple. The Eden Isle temple is smaller and more open than that of Mount Tabor, yet remains true to the form of the temple on Mount Zion.  Yet it is not only a temple template that the NTC has imported.

Representatives of the NTC have been keen to point out to me the work that the church has done in the Pacific with regard to organic farming, particularly innovations in composting methods.  Indeed, the French Polynesian government has even engaged the NTC to provide consultancy services and training in organic farming techniques [4].

However, the flow of knowledge and religious concepts is not simply one-way.  Children from the NTC’s ‘Eden Homestead’ school system spend time in the Pacific centres learning about agriculture, in both its practical and spiritual dimensions.  These children are not just from Taiwan and Malaysia, but also Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.  In this sense, Eden Isle and Mount Tabor have become the metaphorical hub of a trans-Pacific ‘spiritual wheel’, circulating the beliefs of the NTC around the Pacific Rim.

The traditional costumes and accoutrements of the Pacific islands have also made their way back to Mount Zion. For instance, whereas once couples were married at Mount Zion wearing western-style wedding outfits, now they dress in more simple outfits that demonstrate a Pacific influence (through accessories such as floral garlands, shell belt buckles and bare feet)[5].  Alternatively, dressing like this could also reflect Taiwan’s own indigenous traditions.  Either way, it contrasts starkly with the modern wedding traditions that are so popular in Taiwan.

The New Testament Church is only small and has a fledgling presence in the Pacific. Nevertheless, it is a pertinent example of how a decidedly non-mainstream Taiwanese organization has created a presence in there. The NTC's exchange of ideas – be they religious, agricultural or cultural – is multifaceted and of use to us when trying to conceive how Taiwan sits in relation to its Pacific Island neighbours.

Photo: P.F.

[1] http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3982:an-overview-of-religious-life-in-modern-taiwan&catid=688:october-2010&Itemid=331&lang=en

[2] http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/1118#tocto2n3

[3] http://www.thebigvoyage.com/the-pacific/tikehau-day-2-lagoon-excursion/

[4] http://tahitipresse.pf/2009/12/le-bio-une-voie-davenir-pour-lagriculture-polynesienne/

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeFTDGwo8sA


Friday, 28 January 2011 19:09

Looking south: Taiwan’s diplomacy and rivalry with China in the Pacific Islands region

[inset side="right" title="Fabrizio Bozzato"] is a doctoral candidate in International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University. He is researching Taiwan’s diplomacy in the South Pacific.[/inset]Six of the twenty-three countries that currently bestow diplomatic allegiance on the ROC are in the South Pacific. Therefore, the Oceanic region is of prime geopolitical importance to Taipei. The chief motivation behind Taiwan’s activities in the Pacific Islands is the defense of its ‘diplomatic space’ by countering China’s efforts to extirpate Taipei’s diplomatic presence. In addition, Taiwan uses its aid policy as a means to raise its international profile through promoting itself as a humanitarian power and aims to further its access to the natural resources of the area. Over the last decade, China’s growing economic power vis-à-vis Taiwan, and Beijing’s sturdy response to the ‘Taiwanised’ diplomatic policies of Taipei’s past presidency, have intensified the Sino-Formosan diplomatic conflict in the South Pacific. As a result, today the dynamic of the Cross-Strait rivalry - together with Taiwan’s until-recently runcinate relationship with the regional dominant power, Australia - deeply informs and shapes the relations between Taipei and the Pacific Island countries. At the same time, it appears that the island states have developed a greater understanding of the two dragons’ diplomatic competition, thus becoming more skilled aid extractors. The current Taiwanese administration has latterly educed a ‘diplomatic truce’ with the mainland and started meeting Canberra’s demands by reforming its aid policy and delivery. The diplomatic armistice with China allows Taiwan to improve its relations with Australia and foster its image as a responsible regional stakeholder. However, being fundamentally a Chinese concession predicated on concessions from Taipei, the truce is still precarious and reversible.

Part 1

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Part 2:

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Fabrizio Bozzato gave a speech on this topic during the conference "Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific" held in Taipei (Feb. 2011). The complete paper of the speech is available here.



Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00

The green dream of community farmers

We all have to eat, but what exactly should we eat? There is a saying in Chinese - “we would rather eat expensive food than take cheap medicine”. In other words, eating good food prevents us from getting sick.

Taiwanese homemakers are well known for how smart they are. However, planning to prepare good and healthy food for the family is one thing, being able to buy food that is free of toxic chemicals from a traditional market, supermarket or the internet is another. For all you homemakers out there who are caring, family-loving, smart and virtuous - are you sure the foods you buy for your family are non-toxic and healthy? In fact, the only thing you can be 100% sure of is that there are labels and instructions on the packages. The Homemaker’s Union and Foundation in Taiwan recently did some random checking on the concentration of nitrate in vegetables and discovered that they exceeded the standards of the European Union. The Council of Agriculture in Taiwan admitted that there is no relevant standard concerning the nitrate concentration in vegetables sold in Taiwan.

Can we really trust the current food standards in Taiwan? Taiwan has the highest rate of uremia sufferers in the world and there are way too many books on the market about detoxification therapy and the increasing number of people with skin allergies. Instead of pointing the finger at our homemakers, we should look to the producers, farms and rice fields. In fact, pesticide use in Taiwan was once the highest in the world.

Working together to make a military fort environmentally friendly

Coming out the number 2 exit in Tucheng MRT station and across Jincheng Road, we follow the leisure farm signs to see a military look-out post which was once an ammunition depot. Walking past the lookout-post, there are many warning signs declaring “for military use only”. Having crossed the culvert of the freeway, the scenery of the three surrounding tree-clad mountains emerges. It feels amazing and surreal to know that it is only a five minute walk back to Tucheng MRT station!

Xian-Hui Qiu is the owner of the “Hui-Yao Toxic-Free Vegetable Garden”

“I was an air conditioning maintenance man before becoming an organic vegetable farmer 4 years ago. The government was going to buy the farmlands here from us so they could transform the military ammunition depot into the second detention centre. My family has been farming here for many generations and then the government has ordered us to desert these farmlands inherited to us from our ancestors. Of course we refused the government’s offer. This is why the ‘Tucheng Environmental Guarding Association’ was formed, to make a stand against the government in an effort to protect the environment here. We only use natural compost on our farmlands now and no longer using chemical fertilizers and pesticides”.

Ren-Zhi Huang, a former graduate of Building and Planning from National Taiwan University, once the secretary general of “The Organization of Urban Re-s”, is now an important member of the Tucheng Environmental Protection Association. Mr Huang said

“I volunteered to come and assist the farmers here. This farm village is able to remain unchanged because of the moratorium on the military ammunition depot, so why can’t we make this place into a conservation area? This place is very close to Tucheng MRT station and developing here would increase the land value. However, the locals are against developing this place, they chose to guard their homes and protect their farmlands. Farming does not bring the farmers much income, but the joys and satisfactions of farming cannot be purchased by money”.

Mr Huang took out the government’s brief and planning report on the military ammunition depot and said

“During the years of stopping the county government from developing this place, there have been many eco-tours, farming experience tours and fun markets held here. Li-Lan Liu, the director general of the Tucheng Environmental Guarding Association, set up the ‘Ms Liu Environmental Classes’ here, promoting events such as ecological education and leisure coffee house, to show the government that we will never give up farming. There are now a total of 13 people in the ‘Military Ammunition Depot Promotion Cooperative’ and they will be working with farmers from other communities to regularly hold a farmers’ market to jointly promote their farm products. I believe Taiwan is a huge community and what we are doing here is community supported agriculture”.

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a new type of direct marketing. Every growing season consumers sign contracts with farmers for a fixed amount of money. This amount is determined by how wealthy a certain consumer is. The consumer then has the products from the farm delivered once a week. The consumer and farmer share the risk together. In an age where the price of resources and foods keep rising, CSA reduces the wastage from transportation of resources. The consumers enjoy the freshest foods of the season and the farmers guarantee their source of income even when there is a nature disaster or in a time of under-harvesting. The local people are able to claim their “rights on food” from this type of direct marketing.

Photo courtesy of  Tucheng Watch Green Union. Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen

 

 

 


Friday, 21 January 2011 13:30

If these Walls could Talk

Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen

Abandoned houses are probably some of the most common ruins we can see in Taiwan. From the things left inside these houses we can briefly understand the life style of the previous owner. Although we might feel some shame or guilt by invading other people’s privacy, by getting into their memories and private life we can adorn our curiosity with a sense of intimacy.

The past appearance of these luxurious ruins

If a certain abandoned house once belonged to a member of the gentry, the memory of the house would also bring out the local history of the place, making the ruin even more valuable. An example would be the Chi Qay Residence in Wurih in Taichung: This red and white mansion was built in 1919, and is the former residence of a well known local poet, Ro-Shi Chen. The county government appointed this house as a Third-Level historical site, recognising its excellent condition. The mansion combined both the Baroque and the Taiwanese traditional courtyard houses styles, making it a very unique building in the history of Taiwanese architecture.

 

What is special about the Chi-Qay Residence is that it is a historical site under management but at the same time, no one really looks after the place. During the holiday periods one can find many photographers and people from the wedding industry there. The house even has exclusive stamps for people to stamp, making it a sightseeing spot. Not under strict management, there is a sense of “freedom” in this place. Although there are security guards watching and it is only open during certain times, the guards normally turn a blind eye for tourists to slip in from the side door, not really obeying any rules.

The Chi-Qay Residence is almost too luxurious compare to other ruins. However, as you go deeper into the mansion, you start to see some old furniture, wrecked outdoor bathrooms, tilted beams and walls that are exposed of bricks, making tourists feel like they are really in a ruin. Interestingly enough, many visitors take photos of the pin-up calendar hanging inside the mansion (some of the models are shockingly sexy, to their amazement), to prove they have been to the place. The Chi-Qay Residence brings out the memories of the past beyond space and time and beyond social class, smiling warmly at the public.

Collective memory that fades

moment2If there is not just one but several abandoned houses in an area, it gives people a totally different feeling. One lone abandoned house only leaves traces of the families who lived in it over the generations. The ruins of a whole village, however, hide the collective cultural memory of an entire group. For example, the military dependent villages in Taiwan.

Most buildings in Taiwanese military communities were illegally constructed. We can tell the people in the village have lived a difficult life by looking at the simple architectural structure of their houses and the scarce use of their little room space. When the houses were built, most people believed they would only be temporary accommodation and they would be able to “go back home” soon. However, after a period of time, these people started to realise that they were unable to return to their homes on the other side of the ocean. They would have to settle in Taiwan. Once the people living there started to age, die or relocate, and the commercial value of the land increased, these military communities began to be demolished one by one.

Thanks to the artistic skill of an old gentleman, the “Rainbow” military dependent village in Chun-Nam-Theun in Taichung became popular almost overnight. This old gentleman and his small group of neighbours live in semi-ruined houses in the Rainbow military dependent village. In their spare time they painted artworks on some of the abandoned houses. Unexpectedly, their efforts attracted a large number of tourists to come visit the village. Eventually politicians also became interested in the place and recognised its commercial potential, temporarily delaying the fate of being demolished.

For the time being the Rainbow village looks like it is not going the way of so many other military communities as the government has promised that the place will be preserved. However, the so called “preservation policy” actually forces the current residents to relocate before the village is transformed into a "leisure-village". Without the artistic skill of the old gentleman and the living traces of the original residents, what makes the Rainbow community unique? What if the memories of the community are removed and all that remains are the cold but colourful buildings? This scenario may be even more miserable than the community being smashed into ruin and redeveloped.

The survival of Wan-Chun Residence

moment3Post-disaster wreckage is a different type of ruin that can bring a tear to one’s eye. Normally, these kinds of ruins are formed after a natural disaster hits a place, completely destroying buildings, killing and injuring residents and a leaving a painful memory in community’s collective memory.

Some post-disaster wreckages are preserved to warn future generations and teach them a lesson. After the 921 earthquake in 1999, some earthquake parks were established in central Taiwan. Whether it is the remains of a elementary school building that has collapsed or the surface of a playground that has been uplifted, these spaces were all transformed by the horrifying power of the earthquake.

What is most scary about these types of ruin is that it is not only natural disasters that create them but also man-made, and therefore avoidable, disasters. In 2009, Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan and the reconstruction process still remains difficult. Whenever heavy rains arrive in an affected area, the residents evacuate immediately, fearing the tragedy might happen all over again.

Mr. Wu, a blogger who has previously written for Renlai, made a special trip to Namasia Township, Nansha Lu in Kaohsiung County (the place most severely affected by the Typhoon), in order to film a documentary. From Mr Wu’s work we were able to see the area after the disaster, including the abandoned houses that were hit and partially buried by landslides.

Compared to the wreckage Mr. Wu saw, what happened in the Tseng-Wen River Across Territory Water Channel Construction Site was probably even more unforgettable. Although the tragedy of Tsiao-Lin Village and Nan-Sa-Lu Village that were destroyed during Typhoon Morakot could not be directly linked to this construction project, the two villages were closest to the site. For safety reasons, the government has decided not to carry out construction work for the next 3 to 5 years.

However, when Mr. Wu and his friends travelled near the construction site, they saw gravel trucks and excavators were still working there, even channelling the river towards the direction of Nan-Sa-Lu Village. While Mr. Wu was taking photos of the scene, a construction personnel came and queried them as to the department they work for. Mr. Wu wrote in his blog:

“I ignored the guy’s question and he turned to my friend and asked him the same question. My friend replied, 'we are only here to take photos, we don’t work for any department.'

The Construction personnel requested us to leave and pointed out to us that the south and north sides of the site are not related. We didn’t want to cause any trouble so we just left. Later we told President Lee (who is in charge of the Nan-Sa-Lu Village Reconstruction Committee) about what happened there and he said to us “You guys are lucky being able to made it out of the site without being bashed up!”

Photos: Lordcolus

Tuesday, 18 January 2011 19:16

Taiwan: Apart from or a Part of the Pacific Region

Professor Tsang Cheng-Hwa (Institute of History and Philology at the Academia Sinica) discusses the need for researchers to work across disciplines on an international scale towards a more comprehensive understanding of the Pacific and Taiwan's current and future role there.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011 17:04

Dispelling Cultural Imperialism: Taiwan's Gaze towards the Pacific

Professor Tung Yuan-Chao discusses the problems of anthropology in the contemporary world, given the questionable moral origins of this academic field. She attempts to define a new framework in which Taiwan can look at its Pacific neighbours without echoes of Western imperialism affecting their gaze. As well as discussing how body habits can be more important to identity than ancestry.


Friday, 14 January 2011 18:59

The Land-Locked Island: Taiwan's Lack of Pacific Perspective

Professor Hsia Li-Ming talks about the need for mainstream society to start realizing their role in the Pacific and calls on the arts to provide the impetus for the Taiwanese to turn their heads East to the strange, terrifying and unattainable waters on the other side of the Island.


Friday, 24 September 2010 19:30

Product of Taiwan

Ask someone what they know about Taiwan and you will get any number of answers.  There are many things that people associate with the place – the world’s second tallest building, the Cold War icon Chiang Kai Shek, a fragile relationship with China, lots of factories, bubble tea, that chubby guy with a fringe who sings Whitney Houston songs.  But the details are probably still a bit sketchy.  Did you know that the Giant bike you rode around the lake on the weekend was made by a Taiwanese company?  Or that the Asus/Acer/BenQ laptop and D-Link modem that you are using right now are also Taiwanese products?  Probably not.  Taiwan’s ubiquitious electronic gadgets are but just one product of the recent decades of reform and development. Religion has also boomed there.

Taiwan’s religious groups have expanded extensively. The Foguangshan Buddhist group has built several large temples around the world and a university in Los Angeles.  Tzu Chi, ‘the Compassion Society’, dispatches aid teams to disasters across the globe and has been granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.  It has also been active in disaster relief in China for over a decade.

While not quite reaching the ubiquity of Taiwan’s hi-tech brands, Taiwan’s religious groups are out and about establishing themselves around the world.  And it is not just the big groups either.  The New Testament Church, a radical Protestant group who are based on their own Mount Zion in southern Taiwan, have built a small network of sacred lands (that double up as organic farms) throughout Asia and the Pacific.  The Taiwan-based Supreme Master Ching Hai had paid for a large poster in the Canberra airport warning Australians of the danger of rising sea levels.  Have you looked at the flyers and books that your local vegetarian restaurant has by the front door?  These pamphlets could well have been placed there by a religious group from Taiwan.

Taiwan’s religious scene is illuminated by the innovation that certain groups invest to spread their message.  The Taiwanese community has spread across the world, as has the Chinese, and abroad these religious groups first find their feet in immigrant communities.  ‘China towns’ around the world are havens of new religious movements and it is from there that these religious groups take their first steps in a new country before trying to find acceptance in the wider community.

Not to forget the potential of China.  Taiwan’s colossal neighbour has long been an abundant market for Taiwanese capitalists and entrepreneurs to invest in.  The centuries’ long immigration between the two lands reached a peak when hundreds of thousands of Chinese fled in 1949 with the rise of the Communist Party.  Now, with cross-strait relations appearing to slowly thaw, the opportunity is better than ever before for Taiwanese religious groups to also take the plunge into China.  The cultural, linguistic and religious bonds are so strong between these two political foes that China is a ‘religious market’ that can no longer be ignored, and in fact is ripe for the taking.

But building a temple in Shenzhen is not the same as opening a hi-tech factory there.  Despite the gradual concessions that the atheist Communist Party of China has given religion in recent decades, the religious scene in China remains subject to a net of bureaucratic controls, something that ambitious foreign groups are well-served to abide by.

How Taiwan’s religious groups navigate the tremendous opportunity that China offers, yet manage to keep themselves (and their adherents) within the boundaries of the law will be fascinating to watch.

To find out more, please watch the following videos, where representatives from the Lord of Universe Church and Huang Ting Chan talk about how their groups are seeking to make inroads into China:

(Photo by C. Phiv)

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