Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:47

Meditation with Kim Soo-Gil

The Korean artist Kim Soo-gil was born in 1943. His artworks have consisted for long of corroded metal pieces. The series of works we are reproducing here consists of paper, ink and a few very restrained colors. They tell us about the passage of time and the subtle interplay between contrast and repetition.

We can look at them as an inner mirror-glass of the meditation process: there is a stillness in it that does not exclude a process of change; something silently happens through repetition and deepening. Colors are scarce but their quality and variations come even stronger because of their very scarcity.

In a few places one can discern a letter or a character half visible, half disappearing: is it the traces of the scriptures that first inspired the meditation? Language and writing are still present, but we are already beyond words.

We can contemplate such pictures as we enter in prayer: something occurs in us that we do not master and that leads us where we did not expect to go.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:45

Stealing Fragments of Time…

Beautiful? Ugly? It sometimes depends on our perceptions, our principles, our education…

Most of us will find a mountain landscape beautiful, suburbs ugly... but our judgments can differ widely when it comes to painting or music for instance… And we can find a strange, paradoxical beauty to surroundings that other people would find ugly but are linked to us to specific memories and emotions… Not so easy finally to determine exactly what is beautiful and what is ugly! Let us sometimes try to question our perceptions, to look again at our urban and natural landscapes, at the music we love and the music we hate… What make us find pleasure or displeasure in our perceptions? Thinking about this is also a way to know more about ourselves.

At the same time, beauty and ugliness are not only a topic of personal interest, it is a social one as well. Policy makers determine the everyday feelings that will arise in us when we walk in small or big cities. Noise pollution or ugly buildings can become a plague. The way people are confronted to beauty or ugliness shapes a nation’s culture and its moral character. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that tastes are largely dependent on social classes and education. This is why the debate about beauty and ugliness is also a public, social and even a political debate…

These photographs by Claire Shen, taken in the south of Taiwan, invite us to consider in a new way our everyday environment and how it is affected, depressed or beautified by the quiet passage of time… Sometimes, the things transformed by time and use suddenly recover a strange, surreal beauty… Pictures help us to recapture the essence of familiar things, to discover what makes them so dear to our heart and memory. Pictures take away a bit of time that we keep with us, like a treasure. And then, the distinction between ugly and beautiful disappears at last…

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A Chinese philosopher reflects on how “mutual enrichment” should shape the definition of our identities as well as international politics.

“The politics of recognition”, title of a paper presented by Charles Taylor, was formulated within the context of nationalist movement, minority group, feminism and multiculturalism. In that paper, Taylor has well analyzed the historical development by which Western world has arrived at the modern preoccupation with identity and recognition. There was first the collapse of social hierarchy based upon honor, followed by the switch from honor to dignity, which led to a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of rights and entitlement. Then came the second change, the development of the notion of dignity depending on individual identity, defined by Taylor as authenticity. Now the ultimate reference is switched from God or the idea of the Good to the fulfillment and realization of one’s own true self or originality. This gives rise to a politics of difference, in which we are asked to recognize “the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness form everyone else.”
So it seems, the politics of recognition plays within the contrasting tension of a politics of universalism and a politics of difference. On the one hand, under the name of recognition, we should be treated all as equals, regardless of our particular ethnic, religious, racial or sexual identities. “Treating as equals” should be concretized in the basic needs such as income, health care, education, freedom of conscience, speech, press, association, due process, right to vote, right to hold public office, religious freedom...etc. On the other hand, the differential originality or distinctiveness of each individual or social/cultural group should be respected and satisfied. We should be recognized in our innermost difference, from which are derived all cultural expressions and ways of life. Recognition plays therefore with the dialectics of equality and difference.
For me it’s good, though not enough, that Taylor, following M. Bakhtin’s model of dialogue, has well sensed the importance of the Other by emphasizing the formation of our authenticity in the process of dialogue. Taylor said,
“Thus my discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation, but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internal, with others. That is why the development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new importance to recognition. My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relation with others.”
But, as I see it, even if Charles Taylor has seen it clearly that human authenticity is formed through a process of dialogue, still there is no true recognition of the Other as the unfathomable, irreducible to any mode of my own constitution of it. For me, the Other is not limited only to the human but refers also to Nature and the transcendent, understood either as the Divine or as the Ideal. The Other is always an Other, though it might be in dialogical relation with myself. If one looses sense of this irreducible otherness, there will be no authentic dialogue for the formation of one’s self.

From Recognition to Mutual Enrichment
What I’m trying to say is that, without the dimension of the irreducible Other, the politics of recognition tends to be constrained within the philosophy of subjectivity and the framework of reciprocity. We can say that recognition in Charles Taylor’s sense is the recognition of a modern subjectivity: human beings as subject of cognitive capacity, as moral agent, or an agent worthy and creative of values. Also, there is reciprocity in this kind of recognition: I recognize you as a subject and you recognize me as a subject. This implies, if you like, a bourgeoisie commercial rationality, in which subject is recognized in the sense of pairing subject, a subject capable of responsive return of my act of recognition.
Now, identity and reciprocity, though to be posited as necessary for a minimal politics, does not constitute an optimal politics. For me, an optimal politics should be a politics of mutual enrichment. This is to say that, basing upon the recognition of each and everyone’s identity and upon mutual recognition, there must be realized in surplus a process of mutual enrichment. Every one of us can learn from each other and every social group could learn from other social groups, and be enriched thereby. That’s why difference is an occasion of creativity rather than an excuse for conflict. Without a process of mutual enrichment, we don’t even know what’s the use of dialogue and what is the meaning of authenticity in emphasizing each and everyone’s difference.
Now we can ask: by what strategy could a politics of mutual enrichment be made possible? Two consecutive strategies could be suggested here: First of all, the strategy of language appropriation, which means more concretely learning other ways of expression or language of other cultural traditions. Since, as Wittgenstein has well suggested, different language games correspond to different life-forms, therefore appropriation of another language would give us access to the life-form implied in that specific language. In our childhood, we have appropriated language by the generosity of significant others talking to us and thereby opening to ourselves a world of meaningfulness. When grown up, we learn more by appropriating different kinds of expression and language, no matter scientific, cultural or of everyday life. By appropriating different ways of expression or languages, we could enter into different worlds and thereby enrich the construction of our own world.
Second, the strategy of strangification, originally proposed as an epistemological strategy for interdisciplinary research, was enlarged by myself to serve as a strategy of intercultural exchange. By “strangification” I mean the act of going outside of oneself and going to the other, to the stranger. There are three types of strangification: the first is “linguistic strangification”, by which we translate a proposition of one particular discipline, research program or an expression or a value in one particular culture, into the language of or expressions understandable to other disciplines or cultures, to see whether it works or becomes absurd thereby. If it does work, then it means that this proposition, expression or value is universalizable. If it becomes absurd thereby, then it’s limit is thereby recognized and reflection must be made upon its principle and validity.
The second is “pragmatic strangification”, by which we draw a proposition, a supposed truth or a cultural value from one’s own social and organizational context, to put it into another social and organizational context, in order to enlarge its validity in other social and organizational context.
The third is ontological strangification, which, according to my interpretation, is the act by which we enter into other’s microworld or cultural world through the detour of a direct experience with the Reality Itself, such as a person, a social group or the Nature.
In the politics of mutual enrichment, there is openness to the Other. Our search for meaning begins with our act of going outside of ourselves and go to the other. I understand meaning as the outcome of this act of going to the other, an act of “strangification”. In this act, there is an original generosity of going outside of oneself and go to the other, otherwise there will be no dialogue. Therefore I would not agree with what Marcel Mauss proposed in his Essai sur le don that reciprocity is the principle by which society is made possible. I want to point out here that in every act of reciprocity, there must be already the going outside of oneself to the other, the act of strangification, considered by myself as the first act of generosity, which makes the society possible.

Generosity and the Other in Modernity
Although subjectivity is the principle on which modernity is based, we can discern right from the beginning of modernity some significant discourses of generosity and openness to the other. I say this because Descartes, seen often as the founder of Western Modern philosophy, sustained already a discourse of generosity. Although Descartes is now the target of post-modern critique, that by his Cogito, ergo sum, he has founded modern principle of subjectivity. I myself would not blame Descartes of instituting the principle of subjectivity, rather I prefer to re-read in Descartes a very significant virtue of generosity and an openness to the other.
For example, in his Discours de la Methode, Descartes has proposes for himself a “provisional ethics”, such as to obey the laws and customs of the country, which means a respect of the other in their historicity and their customs, a principle that he has learnt from the Jesuit. Since this principle concerns ethics, though provisional in comparison with science, it is an ethics open to the other rather than limited within one’s narcissistic thinking ego. It is a discourse of openness to cultural differences and recognition of the other when it concerns other country’s laws and customs.
It is true that the Cartesian Cogito, ergo sum has well founded the principle of subjectivity in the realm of metaphysics and epistemology, we should not forget that, in the matters of ethics, Descartes proposed the virtue of generosity and recognition of the other. Especially in his Les Passions de l’âme, Descartes indulges himself in talking about generosity. He said,
“Those who are generous in this way are naturally impelled to do great things and at the same time to undertake nothing of which they do not fell themselves capable.. And because they do not hold anything more important than to do good to other men and to disdain their individual interest, they are for this reason always perfectly courteous , affable and obliging towards everyone. Along with that, they are entirely master of their passions, particularly of desires, of jealousy and envy, because there is nothing the the acquisition of which does not depend on them, which they think of sufficient worth to merit being much sought after:”
By definition, generosity is contrary to selfishness. Descartes has used quite a few pages to discuss generosity, sustaining the virtue of doing good to others despite one’s own interest. This is an altruistic act without expecting a reciprocal return. For Descartes, one will not lose one’s own freedom and liberality in the act of generosity. On the contrary, if without true freedom and independence, no body can become really generous. He said,
“Thus I think that true generosity which causes a man to esteem himself as highly as he legitimately can, consists alone partly in the fact that he knows there is nothing that truly pertains to him but his free disposition of his will, and there is no reason why he should be praised or blamed unless it is because he uses it well or ill; and in the fact that he is sensible in himself of a firm and consistent resolution to use it well, that is to say, never to fail of his own will to undertake and execute all the things which he judges to be best-which to follow perfectly after virtue.”
In other words, when in the act of generosity, one should be conscious of one’s freedom, that is, one could be generous only when one is free and responsible. The subjectivity is free, yet the best way to use one’s own freedom, is to be generous to the other, and it is through being generous that one has one’s own true dignity. In other words, one’s true freedom consists in the use of one’s own good will to be generous to others despise one’s interest. We can say that generosity is the most important virtue in Cartesian ethics.
This openness to Other continues itself in Western modern philosophy, although the generosity without consideration of one’s own interest as in the case of Descartes, is now replaced by reciprocity. For example, in Fichte, the recognition of the other is posited as necessary to the affirmation of oneself as a free cause. In the third proposition of the Principle of Natural Law, Fichte said, “The finite rational being cannot ascribe to itself a free causality in the world of the senses without ascribing freedom also to others, and therefore without assuming other finite rational being besides itself.” In this text, the Other is more than a condition of my freedom. The Other makes the subject available to itself in an original way by summoning (aufforden) the subject to freedom. Fichte says, “The influence was conceived as a summon(Aufforderung) of the subject to free action.” The relation of free beings to each other is a relation of reciprocity through intelligence and freedom. In this relation, if there is no reciprocal recognition of each other, no one can recognize another. No one can treat the other as a free being if both do not respect each other in a reciprocal way.
The reciprocal sense of Recognition (Anerkennung) could be found also in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel’s analysis of master and slave shows a non-reciprocal stage of recognition. The master needs another subject of desire to recognize him as master, but he himself will not recognize the slave as a subject. The Hegelian Anerkennung consists in the relation that a subject is recognized by another subject, to whom he himself recognizes as well. Here implied the dimension of reciprocity in the recognition of each one’s subjectivity. Although the dynamism of going outside of oneself and go to the other could be found in Hegel’s act of alienation, this dynamism is absorbed in the reciprocity of a larger inter-subjectivity. That is to say, the dimension of the Other is lost when it comes to the spirit integrating subjectivity in intersubjectivity, where “Ego that is “we”, a plurality of egos, and “we” that is a single Ego.”

A Case of Mutual Enrichment in Ancient China
Now I would like to take a case in Chinese political philosophy to exemplify my vision of recognition as recognition of the other and of mutual enrichment. In this way I return to my own cultural heritage to see in it elements which might enrich other traditions. This is the case we find in the Grand Categories (Hongfan) in the Book of Ancient History (or the Classics of Documents). Here we find a narrative in which King Wen, in 1121BC, the thirteen year of King Wen’s reign after his conquer of Shang, went to the inquire of Shang’s Viscount of Ji about the principle of achieving good relation among people. The Viscount of Ji, though refused to serve the Zhou by reason of his fidelity to the Shang, nevertheless told King Wen the wisdom of the Grand Categories, as legacy from the Emperor Yu.
The Hongfan, seen as a revelation of God to Yu, gives us somehow a structural vision of the universe in nine categories constituting thereby the earliest Chinese concepts of Nature (including the first category of the five agents, the fourth category of five arrangements of time, which concern division of time and calendar, the eighth category of confirmation from seasonable weather), of self-cultivation(the second category of five activities, which concern moral and intellectual conducts), politics and governance(the third category of eight governmental offices, which concern branches of administration, the fourth category of five arrangements of time, the fifth category of the Grand(Royal) Ultimate, the sixth category of three virtues, which govern responding to different people and times), of divination(the seventh category of the examination of doubts) and of happiness and misfortune of life(the ninth category of five happiness and six misfortune). The most important, Central to all these nine categories, is the fifth, which concerns the category of the Royal(Grand)Ultimate, which reads,
“Fifth, of Royal Ultimate, the highest, having established his highest standard of excellence, accumulates the five happiness and diffuses them to bestow to the people. Then the people will keep with you the ultimate standard.
Without deflection, without unevenness,
Pursue royal righteousness;
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the royal way.
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the royal path.
Without partiality, without deflection,
The royal path is level and ease.
Without perversity, without one-sidedness,
The royal path is right and straight.
Seeing this perfect excellence,
Turn to this perfect excellence”
The narrative side of this document shows us the recognition of an other by King Wen and the Generosity of Viscount of Ji. King Wen, acting now not as a Master, but as inquirer of wisdom from the political philosophy of an other, the Viscount Ji, not as a slave under his domination, but now as an inspiring other. As to the generosity of Viscount Ji, it is a generosity of contributing to his other the wisdom of his own legacy, the best of his own tradition. Also we notice that, in the philosophical side of this document, although the whole wisdom is constituted of a structural framework, it is seen as a legacy from God’s revelation to Yu as consequence of his own virtue. Therefore the best of his legacy is resulted from an effort to achieve virtue. In this document, political philosophy is not a human centered concern. It is rather situated in the context of nature and related to human self-cultivation. We can say that this is a political philosophy of universalizability, of impartiality, which defines the ancient concept of the Middle Path, a path which is without one-sidedness.

From Reciprocity to Universalizability
Since the politics of mutual enrichment depends very much on the virtue of generosity, I would analyze a bit more the concept of generosity in both Confucianism and Taoism, the two most cherished traditions of Chinese philosophy.
First, let me feature Confucius’ idea of generosity. In the Analects, virtue, as excellence of human abilities, never limited to individual excellence, refers also to the harmonization of relations. Confucius puts his emphasis on reciprocal generosity. When asked about a life of ren by Zizhang, Confucius answered that,
"One who can practice five things whenever he may be is a man of humanity.....Earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence and generosity. If one is earnest, one will not be treated with disrespect. If one is liberal, one will win the heart of the people. If one is trustful, one will be trusted. If one is diligent, one will be successful. And if one is generous, one will be able to enjoy the service of others.”
In this text, both liberality (or consideration for others) and generosity touch upon the reciprocal generosity, which have as consequence either winning the heart of the people or enjoying the service of others. Confucius puts emphasis on generosity that could be reciprocal on the level of consequence. But virtue according to Confucius does not stay on the level of reciprocity. A dynamism transcending reciprocity and going towards univerversalizability bases itself upon ren. Generosity comes from the universalizability of ren, which by essence is the transcendental capacity of each and everyone to respond and communicate with others.
For Confucius, the process of harmonization of relationship is a process of enlargement from reciprocity to universalizability. Reciprocity is essential for human relationship according to Confucianism. Once Zhaiwuo proposed two arguments against the maintenance of a funeral rites, the one was based upon the necessity of maintaining social order, the other was based upon the circle of natural process. Confucius answered him by the argument of human reciprocity, that, in the earliest time of our childhood, we were taken care of by our parents, and this was the reason why we observe those rites in response to the love of our parents for us. The form of these ritual practices could change according to the demand of times, but the essence of reciprocity in human relationship remains.
Good human relationship comes to its fulfillment when enlarged from reciprocity to universalizability. That’s why Confucius, when asked by Zilu concerning how a paradigmatic individual behaves, answered first by the cultivation of oneself for one’s dignity, then cultivation of oneself for the happiness of other’s, and finally cultivation oneself for the happiness of all the people. From reciprocity to universalizability, this means that we should transcend the limit of special relationship to universalizable relationship, even to the point of seeing people within four seas as brothers. Which means humankind could treat other fellowmen, with no regard of his family, profession, company, race and nation, but just with Jen, a universalizing love, only because he is a member of the humankind. I would interpret the virtue of shu as the excellence of capacity to go out of one’s self and go to the other through language appropriation and the act of strangification. First ren and then shu, this is the way by which Confucianism enlarges harmonization of human relations, the full unfolding of which is the process of formation of virtuous life, not merely a life of observing categorized obligations.

The Ontological and Cosmological Dimensions of Generosity
In the eyes of Taoism, the reciprocal generosity of Confucianism is too much constrained in human affairs without taking into consideration Man’s enrootedness in Nature. For Taoism, Human existence stands on the support of Nature. To be universalizable means, negatively, not to be limited to the tiny species of humankind, and, positively, to refer to the whole universe, to Nature, including other members of the biosphere, animals, plants and the like, and other members of the natural world. The concept of the Other includes Nature.
In Taoism, generosity gains its ontological and cosmological dimension. The Dao itself shows its original generosity in manifesting itself into myriads of things, and its no-action(wu wei), understood as taking universal action rather than particular action in nourishing and bringing up myriad of things. The Dao is impartial in that it never favors one particular stone, plant or animal,…etc., rather that all it does is for all things in the universe. Laozi said, “(The Space) Between Heaven and Earth, are like a bellows! While vacuous, it is never exhausted. When active, it produces even more.” This text testifies the generosity of the Dao in creating exhaustibly all things out from itself.
For Laozi, the Dao manifests itself first as the nothingness, understood as inexhaustible possibilities, which is the first phase of its generous act of going to the others. Then, among all possibilities, some are realized, and to be realized is to take the form of body. At this moment, it was engendered a realm of being. This is the second phase of generosity of the Dao. Then, through a process of differentiation and complexification, myriad of things emerge as given birth by the Dao, which remains in all things after they are created and becomes their De(virtue). This is the inner creativity of each and everything, the inner capacity and natural ability of each being. It is not virtue in moral sense, as in the case of Confucianism, but virtue in cosmological sense. De is the spontaneous creativity and generosity of all things to be able to go to the other and to return finally to the Dao. Ultimately speaking, the Dao is the inexhaustible reservoir of all creativity and generosity, whereas the De is the creativity of everything in Nature, by which all beings, not only humans, are creative and have equal right to creativity. Laozi said,
“Therefore the Dao produces them and virtue fosters them. They rear them and develop them. They give them security and give them peace. They nurture them and protect them. The Dao produces them, but does not take possession of them. It acts, but does not rely on its ability. Il leads them but does not master them. This is called profound and secret virtue.”
Basing upon these ontological and cosmological levels, generosity shows itself also on the level of political philosophy. For Laozi, the highest virtue incarnates and is concretely manifested in the person of a sage, who employs himself generously for the world. “The sage does not accumulate for himself. The more he uses for others, the more he has himself. The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own.” “The sage has no fixed (personal) ideas. He regards the people’s ideas as his own.” “Therefore, the sage is always good in saving men and consequently no man is rejected. He is always good in saving things and consequently nothing is rejected.” The sage, a paradigmatic individual both in self-cultivation and in political philosophy, is therefore not only an ethical and moral figure as in the case of Confucian sage, but rather as the incarnation of the Dao and its generosity.


In the development from a politics of recognition to a politics of mutual enrichment, we are not denying the principles of identity and reciprocity. On the contrary, we have posited them as minimalist requirements, yet to be promoted by the openness to the Other and the principle of generosity, as was exemplified by King Wen and the Viscount Ji, who gave us the best part of the Chinese legacy right from its beginning. The politics of mutual enrichment, with its principle of openness to the Other and the principle of generosity, should be practiced not only by those in power to those who are governed, by the majority to the minority, by the central to the peripheral, but also by all kinds of differences, such as gender, ethnic groups, language, social class, age, education, profession, religion, nation, cultural tradition, civilization, region, planet…etc., which are occasions for mutual enrichment and creativity rather than excuse for conflict and war.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:33

Asian Children are bored…

Never in history has there been so much fun around: computers, TV, Cdrom, electronic games, educational books, movies, piano lessons, music players… and never have children around us so often expressed a definite judgment: “Boring!”

Of course, this wealth of riches by itself produces a feeling of boredom: too many goods around means that no good has a real value.

But could one go one step further? Maybe, children’s boredom does tell us something about a society that wants to have fun and has no real fun. Children’s boredom comes from adult’s boredom, from the lack of real interests in life that their parents have, except their work.

Children’s boredom might also have a more insidious reason: unconsciously, some parents might wish that their children stay bored… a bored child is often a child more easy to control, someone who is not looking for adventure, not fooling around with strange friends, someone who will stay at home and do his homework…

Boredom might also tell us something about the failure of our educational system, its difficulty in awakening children’s interests and creativity.

In other words, speaking about boredom is opening a fascinating window on our society and culture at large: the example we give our children, the values that dominate our educational system, the model of civilization that is developing.

Let us face boredom. Actually, boredom has also a positive side. Boredom is part of the human condition and, in some way, represents the inner space that allows us to think about human condition. But boredom also reveals what we are lacking, the loss of humaneness that is ours today.

May the reader do some introspection: “are the children I know bored? Am I bored myself, and why? How can I live a more meaningful live, a tasteful life, a life worth to be lived – and, above all, how can I teach the next generation to live their life with the fullness of their humanenes?

(First published in Chinese in Renlai, July 2004)

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:29

A Government Who Can’t Say ‘Sorry’

It is not easy to live as a non-Indigenous person in a western society that has made a significant impact on the lives of Indigenous people. As descendents of those who migrated to Australia, we can struggle to find the right words, express the appropriate symbols and live a way of life that discloses a mutually acceptable relationship with our land’s Indigenous people. We know, deep within our hearts, that any relationship we might want to establish has been significantly shaped and influenced by our past. Misunderstanding, ignorance, violence and racism have been key ingredients of our colonial history.

In Australia, political leaders over many decades have constantly re-named and attempted to re-define the relationship they wish the nation to have with its Indigenous people. In more recent years, some have preferred to emphasise new beginnings and possibilities. They argue against apologies for past hurts, reparation for ancient wrongs or formulation of treaties that might, in different ways, respect cultural rights and even recognise political forms of sovereignty. Instead, they prefer to seek a ‘practical’ reconciliation based on economic, social and health achievements and improvements. However, despite this political rhetoric and formulation of social policy, researchers have found that there is no evidence that such policies and programs are delivering better outcomes for Indigenous people at the national level than did previous ones.

One of most obvious difficulties for Australian political leaders is that, when compared on almost any social indicator, Indigenous people in Australia are faring much worse than non-Indigenous people. In addition, they are faring worse when compared with Indigenous people in countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America. This comparison includes rates of life expectancy, chronic disease, imprisonment, youth suicide and unemployment. It also includes many other indicators of social exclusion and marginality when compared with those that measure the benefits and privileges that the majority of people in western society enjoy. Research suggests that, while the Australian economy is growing rapidly, the social, health and economic outcomes for Indigenous people are likely to get worse, rather than better, over the coming decades.

There has never been a treaty negotiated or signed between the Indigenous people of Australia and its colonial government (unlike New Zealand and various tribal groups in Canada and the United States of America). As a result, there remains an unresolved challenge about the possibility of ever achieving reconciliation between the nation and its Indigenous people. The question continues to face all Australians: how does a nation become healed of its past hurts, violent memories and a litany of ancient and present injustices? How does it recognise the past but also foster a spirit of deep, inner reconciliation between ancient ‘holders of the land’ and more recent migrants? How can it develop a more unified nation without some return to, and acknowledgement of, the past? Is there a place or a process that could express a nation feeling ‘sorry’ for its past and, if so, how can that experience forge a new future with its Indigenous people? Can non-Indigenous and Indigenous people come together without some experience of ‘sorrow’ for the past but with a renewed hope for the future?

The following story recounts a real event that occurred within a remote Indigenous community a few years ago. It describes a common occurrence within many Indigenous communities, a community’s response to an unexpected death. As it remembers an Indigenous response to sadness and tragedy, it highlights Indigenous understandings of the word ‘sorry’. It suggests some possibilities for a renewed use of the word ‘sorry’ by non-Indigenous people with implications for national reconciliation.

It was around the middle of the day when the community heard the news the family was coming. We left what we were doing and quietly walked to a large open area. According to an age-old custom we gathered as one. We prepared to meet the returning group by putting white ochre on our foreheads. Some of the men also put it on their chests and some of the women on their breasts. We sat and waited, talking quietly, men and women in separate groups. It was time for ‘sorry business’.

A few weeks previously a number of people from our community had gone east to a neighbouring community for a sporting weekend. There had been a car rollover on one of the dirt roads and a young girl, a year old, had died. They were now returning home.

Finally, they arrived. The convoy of vehicles, including the parents of the deceased young girl, entered the community slowly and deliberately. They stopped a few hundred metres from us. The group disembarked after their trip of a few hundred kilometres. They, too, put white ochre on their bodies and separated into men and women groups. The ceremony began with the usual gestures of formal recognition. Senior men, armed with boomerangs and shields, approached one another then moved back. Some men and women, tilitja or kinship brothers or sisters of the deceased, then came forward to lead the ceremony. The two groups came together. As one group of men met another, so did the women. People would approach according to their kinship designations within desert society. Everyone was related in some way to the deceased and her parents. As brothers or sisters, cousins or parents each group came together. There was much wailing, hugging and crying and occasionally someone would cut themselves on their head with a rock and then be gently restrained. Forwards and backwards the people moved, certain people directing and guiding the various groups. Many tears were shed as the community shared and wailed its loss.

This was a ceremony to demonstrate grief and share sorrow with the family and relations of the deceased, especially the young father and mother. Everyone in the community stopped what they were doing and came together. They showed the extended family that they cared and wanted to share in their sorrow. There was no talk of blame as to who caused her death and who should be punished - this might happen at another time - this was ‘sorry time’. There was also no talk of the funeral. That would be discussed after the ‘sorry business’ ceremony had been fully and finally completed.

‘Sorry time’, ‘sorry business’, ‘sorry ceremonies’, are all English phrases used to describe elaborate and traditionalist Indigenous rituals that continue to be expressed in Australia today. They convey simple and enduring social and religious realities. People share sad and tragic times with others. They support each other when there are experiences of great sadness and loss. These ceremonies reinforce the primacy of relationships between people and across families and communities. They confirm the need for social connection and inter-dependence. They enable those who have suffered to move beyond loss and tragedy with a renewed sense of the affection and care of others. They publicly proclaim that those who mourn shared no part in the tragedy and the suffering that unfolded. They provide a social context for linking the present with the past, while offering a renewed and shared future for all.

In Australia, the Federal Government has refused to say the word ‘sorry’ in its formulation of social policies with Indigenous people. It continues to believe that such a process would only open itself up to an endless line of claimants and a long process of litigation. The Government has reason for concern. There is the example of the ‘Stolen Generations’. These ‘stolen generations’ describe the removal of children from Indigenous families, over a number of decades (largely, for the purpose of assimilation and in the first half of the twentieth century), and placed in institutions run by non-Indigenous people. These people, now adults, feel deeply and painfully the effects of their separation from family, land and culture.

The refusal by the Government to use the word ‘sorry’, or enter into any process of apology or restitution, may derive from some sound legal advice. However, as Indigenous people gather for those times when expressions of being ‘sorry’ are considered important, any refusal to be ‘sorry’ or share being ‘sorry’ can have serious implications. When the Government refuses to say ‘sorry’ for its past policies, Indigenous people can perceive that, not only are non-Indigenous people NOT sorry for what occurred, but they actually support the practices and attitudes of the past. Saying ‘sorry’ for the national government may be economically or politically expedient. However, in the longer term, it simply postpones the memories and healing this country needs, and the possibility of a shared future between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The Government’s refusal to say ‘sorry’, and admit its sadness over past injustices and the causes of present day Indigenous disadvantage, continues to reflect the state of this nation’s soul. It suggests that, as non-Indigenous people, we are not yet at peace with Indigenous people and our place in this land. We remain a fearful people. Any process of reconciliation is as much about relationships, as it is about political or economic achievements. It offers the promise and process of dialogue but also an admission of the ways things have truly been. When entered into with honesty and sincerity, a process of ‘sorry business’ can generate a deeper relationship and bond of respect, and offer a shared future with greater purpose and resolve. As this national Government continues to express fear and rejection towards those seeking asylum in this land, many ordinary Australians continue to fear facing the truth of their own migration and the legacy of privilege it provided. We can all learn much from the ancient ritual of Indigenous ‘sorry business’ and the freedom it offers.

(First published in Chinese in Renlai, October 2005)

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:26

Pilgrim's progress

In memory of Matteo Ricci’s 400th anniversary of arrival in Beijing

A painter from Sichuan narrates his visit to the native town of Matteo Ricci…

"On August 13, 2000, Jacques Duraud and I took the train departing from Rome. It took about more than two hours to Macerata — the hometown of Matteo Ricci — the sacred land which I had dreamed of days and nights. I would be seeing you very soon, my dear friend Ricci…. My heart was full of hope. “Where exactly is Macerata?” I urgently asked when Fr. Duraud opened a map of Italy. “This is Macerata,” Jacques Duraud said, pointing to a little spot next to the railroad line on the map."

“Macerata! Macerata!” When Jacques Duraud was whispering the name in French, I somehow felt that the voice was so mysterious, as if it was coming from a far distance, and yet so close to the heart. Where was it from? I could not answer the question. But I just felt that it was very genial, very close, and then even closer. I was about to arrive the holy land I had dreaming of — a place where the holy spirit was born. (...)

April, 16, 2001.
© copyright 2001 by Taipei Ricci Institute; translated by Eddy Chang.

The whole tale with a set of 10 paintings are available on the Tale Image website
Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:23

The Women of Ciji

Master Zhengyan is certainly one of the main religious figures of Taiwan, a figure that expresses a multi-faceted personality: she is at the same time a Buddhist master, a visionary, a mother, a patriarch, a commander-in-chief… In her youth, she struggled with her mother and her family, rejected the socially-expected roles of wife and mother, wandered in the wilderness of eastern Taiwan and became a Buddhist nun. In all these acts, Zhengyan was a rebel, and yet she became famous as a champion of traditional Confucian ideals through her particular interpretation of Buddhism.
Read the entire article (pdf)
Another article on Buddhism by Elise

Attached media :
Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:20

Mercantilism, Millenarianism and Monasticism

In this paper, first published in 1998 in the “Inter-religio”Bulletin, I was not intending to offer a comprehensive survey of the present-day Taiwanese religious landscape. I was trying to point out some major trends, the understanding of which might help us to better grasp overall changes in Taiwanese culture and society. I summarize these trends by the formula “mercantilism, millenarianism, monasticism.” It seems to me that the formula has still some relevance for the understanding of religious trends in the whole of East Asia at the beginning of the 21st century.

One of the main feature affecting religious activities in Taiwan is mercantilism, which goes along with a strong individualistic focus that characterizes the spiritual quests of many Taiwanese. However, the way mercantilism answers the needs expressed within the "religious market" reveals deep social fears which could one day crystallize into millenial movements, which are not unknown in the Taiwanese tradition. Furthermore, the way millenial tendencies are at the same time generated and controlled has much to do with the very peculiar political situation of the island. Finally, monasticism functions as a social model, a model which at the same time answers and transcends the needs revealed in the course of our analysis.

Taiwan’s religious landscape

In the Chinese context, determining the boundaries of religious affiliations is always a risky process and, to a certain extent, a meaningless one. The concept of "diffused religion" is widely used when observers seek to describe the unique intertwining of social and religious rites, as well as the intermingling of different religious traditions and practices that has taken place throughout Chinese history. Studies have shown that nearly half of the people of Taiwan define themselves as Buddhists, when they are asked about their religious affiliation. However, some surveys that include more detailed questions about observance of Buddhist beliefs and practices have indicated that only 7 to 15 percent of Taiwanese are Buddhist believers stricto sensu, the lowest figure of this estimate being probably more accurate.

It is generally estimated that folk religion constitutes the religious system of at least 65 percent of the population. It should be stressed that the beliefs held by followers of new religious movements are not easily distinguished from those pervading folk religion. The ’"folk-religion" label comprises believers belonging to the traditional social and ritual network as well as members of small-scale organizations with a strong sense of identity.

Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Baha’I Faith, Tenrikyo, Li-ism, Tiandejioa, Yiguandao, Xuanyuanjiao and Tiandijiao are the twelve “religions” officially recognized as such by the government. However, recently, some “churches” and new religious movements have also been “recognized” in one way or another by the government. Their official status is often ambiguous. Such is the case of the Unification Church that the government has accepted to recognize as a Protestant organization, despite the protests of most Churches.

A 1996 report of the Interior Ministry offers very accurate information. Among the twelve religions officially recognized in Taiwan it lists 3,938 temples of various Buddhist denominations, served by a clergy of 9,360 monks and nuns (as will be shown in this paper, the present figure is already higher). The faithful registering with these Buddhist associations totals 4.8 million people. The number of temples affiliated under the Taoist association’s banner, and home for most folk religious practices, amounts to 8,292, with registered persons numbering 3.8 million. A very loose definition of Taoist clergy results in a total of 31,950 persons in this category. Among the recognized new religions, Yiguandao (see below) claims a membership of 942,000 persons. It is followed by Tiandejiao (200,000 followers) and Tiandijiao (roughly the same figure). Tiandejiao was founded in the Mainland in 1923 and legalized as a religion in Taiwan in 1989. Tiandijiao, founded by Li Yu-chieh in 1980, might be the fastest growing new religion in Taiwan. Xuanyuanjiao, established by the legislator Wang Han-sheng in 1957 claims to have a membership of 136,000 (but the claim is dubious, and this is certainly the less dynamic of the new religions), and Li-ism , one of the syncretistic religions having flourished in China throughout the ages, gives a figure of 140,000. Let me note also that Xuanyuanjiao, Tiandijiao and Yiguandao have recently formed an “alliance” or “network” (zongjiao lianyihui) which might enable them to enhance a new approach of what “Chinese religion” (as being characterized by the “three religion in one” tradition) can signify in modern society.

According to the 1996 report, Catholic membership is 304,000 and the membership of the various Protestant denominations is 402,000. The Catholic Church and the main Protestant denominations have remained at a standstill in growth, or might even have experienced a slight decline, for the last twenty-five years. This might be partially due to the fact that Christianity is still considered as a "foreign" religion, which is an impediment now that cultural pride has been restored and further enhanced by economic successes. However, the influence of Christianity in Taiwan goes beyond its institutional boundaries, and some of its core ideas and symbolism sometimes appear in new religious movements. Nevertheless, the latter basically rely on the pattern provided by "Chinese religions" throughout the ages.

The above mentioned figures cover only the religious movements legally recognized, and thus partly ignore the flourishing of movements and masters outside these official associations. However, many new movements fall under the umbrella of the Buddhist or Taoist associations, and it would be inaccurate to draw too strong a distinction between "established" religions and "marginal" ones. The Taiwanese religious landscape is characterized by its fluidity, which may explain why many Buddhist masters are anxious to draw a line between self-declared spiritual leaders and mainstream associations through the enacting of a law on religions (see below).

How do religious groups operate within the social fabric? The recognition of a religious group as an "official religion" is generally done on political grounds, and such recognition facilitates its establishment within society. Furthermore, in the process of gaining official recognition, the religious movement may lose its messianic or “”radical” overtones (granted there are such overtones at the start). But even religious groups not recognized officially can become channels of social integration rather than of radicalization. This is due to the fact that many new movements emphasize the importance of literacy, relying on a given set of "classics" and enhancing the status of its followers by the cultural background they claim to provide them with. A continuous process may lead from the fluidity of folk religion to the boundaries of institutional organizations through the channel provided by new religious movements. Furthermore, the transitional function played by small-scale religious movements is manifested in the fact that some of their adepts may later evolve towards orthodox forms of Buddhism. The movement has provided a first contact with Buddhist scriptures, and this contact will continue, while other beliefs and practices they were associated with in the first place will eventually falter.

Religious consumerism in Taiwan

Roughly speaking, it can be estimated that Taiwan had around 4,000 temples in 1960 and has well over 15,000 today. The accumulation of wealth has made places of worship bigger and even more richly adorned. The building of temples and their ornamentation now represents huge business. Generally speaking, the amount of money going into religious activities as well as its proper use represents a growing concern. Some religious leaders, such as the respected Master Cheng-yan, have openly expressed their fear that this might generate a moral and cultural crisis within the various religious communities.

Everything, it seems, induces Taiwanese people to invest more and more in religious practices, goods and proselytizing activities:
- Religious affiliation is about networking, starting from the level of neighborhood. Preserving one’s face, securing moral leadership or asserting the strength and position of a community are all factors that encourage one to invest in temple construction, ornamentation or ceremonies.
- The religious “supply” in Taiwan is extremely competitive: after 1947, many religious leaders took refuge in the island (Buddhist masters, Catholic missionaries…), starting a process that has utterly changed Taiwan’s religious landscape. Hence the desire of many believers to strengthen the visibility of their own community of faith. This also accounts for the intense competition between rival Buddhist organizations. Recently, this quest for visibility has prompted investment within the media. For instance, the Buddhist Compassion Tzu Chi Association has started the “Da Ai” TV channel, and Catholics lay people have created a support group for financing religious programs.
- In time of economic boom, especially at the beginning of the 90s, religious “investment” was often seen as a way to enhance one’s opportunities in life, to take one’s share of profits generated by the stock market, the lottery or land speculation. Now that Taiwan has entered sober times, the trend seemingly continues but the stress is not as much on “opportunities” as on “security.”

Recalling a few events of the last two or three years might help us to further the analysis:
- Throughout the year 1996, there has been a craze around TV shows centering on after-worldly experiences such as encounters with the souls of dead people. These shows have been accused of having too strong an impact on the psyche of vulnerable individuals and even to be partly responsible for the suicide of some teenagers. The Ministry of Interior has announced the setting-up of some regulations for limiting the scope of such psychic manipulations.

- In October 1996, a famous medium named Sung Chi-li was arrested for allegedly swindling NT$3 billion from his followers in Taiwan and 400,000 renminbi from 20,000 followers in Mainland China. He had sold a huge number of "miraculous" objects such as lotus seals or pictures of him featuring his "halo", but later admitted that his claims of possessing supernatural powers were fraudulent. It was estimated that at least one hundred mediums operating in the Sung Chi-li style were active throughout the island.

- At almost the same time, another religious leader, Master Miao-t’ian, was accused of cheating followers of more than NT$ 2 billion by selling space in illegally built pagodas and temples that would supposedly benefit the owner’s ancestor. A third similar case involved Master Ch’in-hai, although it should be noted that allegations made against her are somehow more controversial. In any case, the association she founded is among those accused of having made dubious contributions to the Clinton election campaign. Similarly, around the end of December of the same year, a well-known Taiji master has been accused of various financial malpractices.

- It should be noted that none of these financial scandals affected the large-scale Buddhist organizations, although the extent of their wealth is now the subject of public attention. The cases disclosed are certainly to be understood in the light of the struggle presently engaged against corruption, a struggle whose scope and efficiency is often questioned. Furthermore, they allowed the government to advance drive for a law controlling the activities of religious organizations. This is a project supported by prominent Taoist and Buddhist organizations, but staunchly opposed by the Catholic hierarchy, afraid of anything that would limit religious freedom or tighten the government’s control on religious activities.

- Open scandals have seemingly vanished during the last year, although some marginal millenial cults have drawn public attention. At the same time, the development of new practices and schools, especially the astonishing growth and multiplication of Tibetan Buddhist groups, have drawn concern and sometimes criticisms from other denominations. Most of the criticisms might be biased. However, they point out a common point. They all relate the growth of Tibetan Buddhist practices to the consumerist attitude of Taiwanese people towards religious phenomena. The “religious goods” offered in this case are: esoteric knowledge supposedly deeper than the one possessed by other Buddhist schools, practices leading to enlightenment and salvation that can be learned in a quick and safe way, and, finally, religious exoticism. Actually, one can overhear Tibetan masters expressing the same kind of concern.

Once put into context, the meaning of these various phenomena can be analyzed as follows:
- In the first half of the nineties, religious fervor in Taiwan has reached a climax: one witnesses a "religious consumerism", with people anxious to buy religious goods supposedly ensuring happiness, security and enlightenment.
-In this perspective, religious consumerism is the result of a mix of material affluence and psychological insecurity.
- This climate has provoked an influx of money for religious organizations, which has in turn aroused the interest of local mafias and unscrupulous individuals in this potential source of profits.
- The media have likewise participated in the dramatization of the religious phenomena, playing on fear and curiosity.

New Religions and Millenarianism

In Taiwan, small-scale religious movements presently emphasize individual spiritual needs and provide psychological support which can sometimes supplement that offered by the village community, especially when it comes to movements aiming at simple people. Such is the case for the "Church of Compassion", Cihuitang, which is very much an association of local chapters. They may offer a religious world-view tainted with millenarianism, but in fact their impact on millenarian thought in Taiwan remains limited. Likewise, it would be interesting to know exactly how many new religions are of Japanese origins, and, of those that are, if they display clearer apocalyptic features. But the small scale and secrecy of such organizations make any evaluation problematic. Experts believe that "at least twenty religious movements" come from Japan, though they are not specific about which ones. Actually, considering how close links generally are between Japan and Taiwan, it seems that that the impact of the Japanese "doomsday cults" has been rather limited. Furthermore, the "Aum Shinirikyo" scandal has caused new religious movements in Taiwan to distance themselves from new religions in Japan.

Therefore, I shall focus rather on two of the more important new religions, Yiguandao and Tiandijiao. To what extent do such movements display millenarian features? As we shall see, the answer is not a clear-cut one.

Yiguandao or "Unity Sect" shows certain affinities with the White Lotus Society (bailianjiao) , although this assertion has been recently challenged by the organization itself, a further sign of the "legitimization process" noted above. The history of its foundation is obscure. It was active on the Mainland during the 1920s and 1930s and banned by the Communist regime in 1949, as a result of accusations of collusion with the Nanjing puppet government. Some of its leaders began arriving in Taiwan in 1945. Internal rivalries within the organization, its tradition of secrecy, and the constraints imposed by political prohibitions (see below) divided the movement into a large number of small associations, organized around family altars. The proselytic character of the religion, whose main target now seems to be overseas Chinese communities, is certainly a sign of its initial millenial focus, as the increase in numbers of faithful and places of worship is seen as the means for bringing xitian, the "Western Paradise", to earth. Yiguandao, therefore, is partially of millenial origin and has a tradition of secrecy which has influenced its earlier development in Taiwan. However, its success has coincided with the social promotion of the kind of people it was aiming to proselytize, such as native Taiwanese who are small entrepreneurs for example, and who are able to bring their employees into the church. This has made the religion something of a success story and, on the whole, a firm supporter of Li Teng-hui’s government. Might its millenial potential be reactivated if social circumstances were to change? The question remains an open one, though I personally doubt it.

Li Yu-chieh (1901-1994), the founder of Tiandijiao, has related his original spiritual experience to the Sino-Japanese war, when, secluded in Mount Hua, he received a message from Tiandi , “ the Lord on High , a message which was at the same time about personal enlightenment and collective salvation in these times of hardship for the Chinese nation. Tiandijiao became an established religion only in 1980, after a split with Tiandejiao. The teachings of the religion stress the necessity for its followers to pray and strive night and day in order to delay or avert a global nuclear holocaust, and maintain world peace and to safeguard Taiwan as a base for the peaceful unification of China under the Three People’s Principles. The orison of the Tiandijiao’s evening prayer states: “May the tide of fate be turned and imminent cataclysm be averted in the non-physical realm. May there be faith without confusion, to clear away the miasma of brutal power, bring rescue to the vulnerable beings under heaven, dispel the threat of nuclear holocaust and let this great earth be reborn!”

In the beginning, this stress on the nuclear threat reinforced the millenial outlook of the teachings of the movement. Recently, however, personal healing has been emphasized more than collective issues. As is the case for so many new religions, there is a strong belief in the healing powers of Qi and a cultivation of these powers. It may be the case, however, that the tension arising between Taiwan and Mainland China (where Tiandijiao is very active and has obviously high-level contacts) might lead the movement to emphasize its specific message on millenarian matters. Tiandijiao is certainly a new religion that states its political outlook clearly, and its stress on nuclear threats emphasizes its millenial tendencies. It seems to me that such tendencies might or might not be realized according to an assessment of the political situation made by the leadership of the organization.

Both Yiguandao and (perhaps more clearly) Tiandijiao provide us with examples of religious movements which exhibit a millenial potential without fully realizing it. It is not enough to look at their teaching however. The social context where it occurs also must be carefully examined.

The millenial potential

The situation in contemporary Taiwan is not unprecedented. After the Taiping Tianguo rebellion (1850-1864), many leaders moved out of Fujian and came to Taiwan, where they somehow continued to spread their messianic world-view. This was manifested by the development of vegetarian cults and halls in Taiwan during this period. Vegetarianism has always been strong in some areas of Taiwan, especially in the south, and is easily linked with marginal religious movements. At the turn of this century, the cult of the God of War, Guandi, witnessed a tremendous increase, related to the development of automatic writing activities, the concern for opium addicts (who were often cured through the intervention of mediums) and the growth of nationalist feelings at the beginning of the Japanese occupation. Such a movement had obvious millenial overtones. However, none of these tendencies has developed into an open millenarian mass movement.

The millenial movement has always been in some way linked to the struggle conducted by Taiwanese people to assert their own identity, and is also connected to the fear that the Taiwanese autonomy and specific character might eventually disappear. The vegetarian cults uniting villages and guilds outside the religious cults promoted by the Qing rulers, the devotion surrounding Guandi when Japanese were trying to assert their authority, and the spreading out of the Yiguandao religion in the south of Taiwan in the first period of the Kuomintang regime are all examples of this permanent trend.

In this conceptual framework, the problem becomes: what has been the religious behavior preferred by Taiwanese people for expressing the fear of a Mainland invasion, since such an invasion could be easily perceived as a good substitute for an apocalyptic ending? Historical distinctions are required here: during the first part of the Kuomintang rule, there was strong political censorship of any movement which could have induced public disorder or anxiety. This explains, for instance, the successive bans imposed on the Yiguandao in 1952, 1959 and, in harsher fashion, in 1963. Starting in the eighties, the liberalization of the regime and the taiwanisation of the KMT occurred simultaneously. This has been followed by an institutionalization of previously marginal religious movements, this institutionalization process expressing the move from the margin to the center of power achieved by Taiwanese natives.

Once again, the dominant trend during the eighties and the first part of the nineties has been toward institutionalization much more than toward millenarianism, since social sectors formerly marginalized have begun to find place in the social and political fabric. We are beginning to witness the end of this process: the consolidated Taiwanese power is now faced with growing social and political troubles. Furthermore, after having induced social cohesiveness Taiwan’s economic and educational apparatus has begun to show its propensity to marginalize categories of people unable to cope with Taiwan’s success story. As we have seen already, these new trends have not merged into a consistent and recognizable millenial discourse, but the potential for this appearing is clearly present.

When assessing the millenial potential a word remains to be said about millenial tendencies in Chinese Buddhist thought and the way they find their way into Taiwanese religions. When speaking about Buddhist millenarianism, one inevitably evokes the figure of Maitreya, milefo, the Future Buddha. The figure of Maitreya is indeed very much present in Taiwan’s temples, as it is in so many parts of China. However, the kind of eschatological thought it embodies can have a revolutionary flavor or, on the reverse, it can lead one to believe that no cosmic change will occur before a term that goes well beyond any future the mind can possibly envision. Maitreya’s figure is important in the sense that it provides any aspiring religious leader with an opportunity to play a role by displaying the right combination of Master-like, Revolutionary-like and Savior-like features. Furthermore, Maitreya gives popular Buddhism its universal and cosmic dimension, and, mixed with other devotions, displays a very strong millenial appeal. In this case also, the realization of the millenial potential depends on the historical circumstances.

Millenarianism and the Taiwanese religious psyche

If a millenial movement were to consolidate in Taiwan, what would its characteristics be? Would it belong more to a "Western" or an "Eastern" species of millenarianism? I have already noted that, although some fundamentalist Christian movements are active in Taiwan, their audience remains a very limited one. Even more important is the fact that millenial phenomena observable in Taiwan presently relate much more to classic Chinese millenarianism than to any Christian influence. Taoist overtones are especially obvious. Taiwanese people spontaneously draw a link between any crisis of cosmic nature, such as an earthquake, and the accumulation of social evil or the general disorder of the society. The world is viewed as a global equilibrium, and a dysfunction in some part of the system automatically affects the other parts. Too strong a desequilibrium might bring irreversible damage. The renowned Taoist scholar Li Fung-mao has recently written several papers about Taoist eschatology, stressing its importance in today’s context and the role played by Taoist liturgy for putting in order social mechanisms. If I interpret his latest productions correctly, he believes that the Taoist tradition can provide Taiwanese with an eschatology that allows them to cope better with the tensions provoked by their present situation and to reduce the impact of internal and external conflicts.

As a way to conclude this long discussion about millenarianism in Taiwan, let me consider the following statement: "Chinese millenarianism ... exerted its greatest appeal among marginal or peripheral members of society who, though not necessarily economically deprived, were denied access to power and prestige in the orthodox world. Through mutual aid and group solidarity, these people were able to gain self-respect and a sense of worth from their affiliation with sectarian organization." Given the general historical significance of this statement, do present day Taiwanese millenial tendencies fit into classical Chinese millenial categories? The answer to this question is complex. People being at the periphery of culture are indeed likely candidates for entering marginal religious movements that rely on divination techniques and provide strong emotional support. Such an affiliation is also a way to claim a contact with the written word, with scriptures, and then to enhance one’s status. However, these movements are not always the ones displaying the most striking millenial tendencies. Millenarianism is rather a feature potentially present in most of the major religions represented in Taiwan. The island as a whole sees itself as marginalized by its position vis-a-vis Mainland China. This marginalization nourishes underlying fears about the future. But the very pervasiveness of these fears makes it difficult for a religious movement to assert its religious originality. In Taiwan, millenarianism does not allow one to differentiate between "marginal" and "orthodox" movements - a distinction that, as such, is not a very meaningful one in the Taiwanese context. Furthermore, the stress on apocalyptic predictions would almost certainly induce a strong political response from the State, because it would be seen as a threat to public security. Religious movements do know that the issue is a sensitive one, and downplay the collective threat, transferring it to the realm of the individual. In other words, the plausibility of a political apocalypse makes it more difficult to promote the idea of a religious apocalypse.

It is also noteworthy that millenial tendencies in today’s Taiwan stress much more the apocalyptic character of the coming events than the utopian potential of these events. The focus is much more on the End than on the hope for a totally different New World. Anxiety has been nourished by Taiwan’s impressive economic growth of the last fifteen years. To some extent, the golden age is already behind. Nowadays, much is at stake, much can be lost, and after having enjoyed so many opportunities, the Taiwanese people unconsciously fear that a counter-process might be under way.

The meaning of Monasticism

In my introduction I said that Monasticism answers and transcends social needs revealed throughout the course of this analysis. In devoting a special section to the development and meaning of monastic life in Taiwan I first want to draw special attention to the growth of the various Buddhist movements, which is after all the most notable phenomenon in the Taiwanese religious landscape during the last fifteen years or so. I also want to go beyond a purely “external” or “objective” view of Taiwanese religion and, somehow, pay respect to the spiritual quest that is also at the root of Taiwan’s religious vitality.

Before speaking specifically about the significance of Buddhist monasticism today, a word has to be said about Buddhism in Taiwan as a whole. Originally, Buddhism in Taiwan was divided between institutional sects imported by the ruling class from the Mainland and various forms of lay Buddhism. The Japanese occupation promoted orthodox Buddhist sects and a “beyond this world” attitude. After 1947, the influx of monks who had left the Mainland was the cause of a vigorous power struggle. One has here to note the influence of the disciples of Tai Xu (1890-1947), a monk who, during the 1930s, had advocated an aggiornamento of Buddhist doctrines and institutions. In Taiwan, Yin-shun is the main promoter of this current and gives it solid intellectual and spiritual foundations. A reaction followed the creation of the official Buddhist association in 1952, and, in 1954, the writings of Yin-shun were severely criticized. The KMT-controlled associations were content with maintaining the status-quo, almost unchallenged until the beginning of the 1980s. However, around this time, several masters started attracting the public attention. Such is the case of Hsing-yun, founder of the monastic and cultural center of Fokuangshan, Cheng-yan, a leading intellectual and spiritual figure, or Ch’eng-yan who promotes the idea of a socially engaged Buddhism. The Tzu-chi Association that she created in 1966 has today four million members committed to the development of social, medical, educational and cultural projects. In less than ten years, four Buddhist universities have been founded in Taiwan and a fifth one will open its doors in the year 2000.

One striking feature is the success encountered by Chan sessions. Each year, thousands of persons follow one of the many three-day or seven-day spiritual retreats directed by Chan masters. Student Buddhist associations are especially active in promoting such activities. This is certainly the main channel for nurturing vocations. Indeed, in the secularized and consumerist climate of Taiwan, more than one thousand young people per year are ordained. In 1998, as in 1997, the figure is reportedly about 1,200. In size, the biggest organizations are Fokuangshan and Ch’ung-tai shan. Their two main monasteries host more than one thousand nuns and monks each, while all the other monasteries are home for 400 hundreds monks and nuns at most (often much less than this). In generals, monks and nuns receiving ordination do this within a few months of their entering the monastery. To some observers, especially if they are used to the slow process of entering religious life now followed in the Catholic Church, this seems to be rather hasty. However, until now, most ordained monks do stay in the monastic condition. Monks who are not yet twenty years old need a written approval from their parents. This is also the case for monks being married and thus entering a new way of life who need also a written approval from their legal spouse.

In 1998, three ordination ceremonies occurred in Taiwan, all in December. Such ceremonies last about one month, with three ordaining monks officiating together. For a long period of time, there was only one ordaining ceremony in Taiwan each year, this under the influence of the respected Master Pai-sheng. The fact that there are again several ceremonies might be due to the growing number of monks, but it can also indicate a renewed fragmentation of Taiwanese Buddhism. Will the accession to notoriety of what Venerable Hui-kong calls “the third generation of Taiwanese Buddhist leaders” accentuate this fragmentation or lead to a more unified outlook of Buddhism in the island? This third generation, gathering young Masters all born after 1950, has known the democratization process, economic development, and has a very international perspective. It has strong educational links with Japan and the US, and dreams of making Taiwan the leading force for Buddhist reinforcement in America, Africa and Europe. Noteworthy is its involvement in Mainland China, even though this generation stresses its Taiwanese identity; Taiwan has a leading role to play when it comes to Buddhist education and reform in China. The more plausible scenario is that each school and its monasteries will retain its autonomy while developing exchanges with others. This might go with periodic frictions between traditions differing very much in focus, such as Pure Land and Tibetan Buddhism.21

Especially noteworthy is the growth of the Ch’ung-tai shan monastery, as it started only in 1987. In January 1995, the community was still comprising less than 300 monks and nuns… The success of its founder, Wei-chüeh, who aims at representing the quintessence of the Chan tradition, might be linked to the creation of meditation centers throughout the island (according to my knowledge, there are around forty of them today.) Actually, the very success of Wei-chüe has been a source of difficulty at time. On September 1 1996, the Ch’ung-tai shan monastery received as monks and nuns 132 university students who had just participated in a summer camp within the premises of the temple. Such a move aroused the fury of the relatives of the newly ordained monks; some of these relatives gathered in front of the temple and, in some cases, forcibly took back their loved ones. Most of the young converts have stuck to their decision and later returned to the temple. Ultimately, the outcry that happened at the time has not tarnished the Ch’ung-tai shan reputation neither its development. However, Wei-chüeh remains a somehow enigmatic figure. Some his disciples claim that he is able to do accept new monks very quickly because, knowing at first glance other people’s former lives, he recognizes who has been already his disciple in the past. Let us also note that (maybe for avoiding the 1996 controversy) Wei-chüeh has sent a few monks to the Mainland for ordination (other masters seem to have done the same, and it remains to be seen whether this practice will become more popular).

It is especially worth to note that seventy-five to eighty per cent of those choosing monastic life are women. It is actually quite plausible that nuns feel that they can develop their creativity and potential more than marriage (with the burden of extended family obligations) would allow them to do. And they are indeed at the root of most of the charitable or cultural initiatives undertaken by Buddhist monasteries. The development of Buddhist feminine monastic life in Taiwan is a fascinating topic that requires an in-depth study. In February 1998, Fokuangshan organized an ordination ceremony in India, for reestablishing the ordination lineage for nuns in such countries as India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. On this occasion, Ven. Yi-fa presented the Fokuangshan nuns order as an example for the promotion of Asian women as a whole: “Over half of the nuns at Fokuangshan have received university or higher education. About three-fifths of the nuns are between 20 and 40 years of age. Therefore this monastic Order is a young and energetic one – which makes it very attractive to young lay women. (…) Another aspect of our monastic life that appeals to young Asian women is its objective fairness. (…) In this system, all monastic, monks and nuns are given equal opportunities. This system is operated by a collective leadership assembly of monks and nuns known as the Religious Affairs Committee. The chairperson of this committee can be male or female, and is elected by secret ballot.” 22

Monasteries are not only centers of monastic activities, they remain the backbone institution of Buddhism. The prestige of a master and his/her social influence are expressed through the size, reputation and range of activities that his/her monastery will be able to convey. In this respect, the classical thesis of Ernst Zürcher (Buddhist development in China relying on the natural expansion of flexible, decentralized monasteries permeating their environment) still proves true in today’s Taiwan. Although lay associations play their role in Buddhist expansion, they heavily rely on a master and a community of disciples organized as a monastic community.

In this respect, monasteries can be studied as key elements in the framing of the Taiwanese social and cultural landscape. They answer “consumerist” needs listed below as they offer ritual practices, religious goods and affiliation networks, and they do so in a way that is much less linked to “localism” than is the case with popular religion. The monastery also works as a haven of quietness and certainty that may dispel social and individual anxiety, the more so because of the imposing figure of the Master at its center. At the same time, religious life always works as a protest (be it verbally expressed or not) against the dominant social model. The austerity of many monasteries in Taiwan as well as the time devoted to meditation and charitable pursuits indeed transcend and challenge Taiwan’s consumerism and social restlessness. Different schools express this challenge in different ways (Pure Land Buddhism and Chan tradition do not interfere in the same way with the secular word), but they all channel their answer through the monastic matrix. The fact that Taiwan claims the greatest number of Buddhist nuns in the world cannot but lead one to wonder what are the underlying trends working in contemporary Taiwan’s culture and society.


Each part of the present study would have required an in-depth analysis, and the trends here reported should be supported by more data. However, it seems to me that considering these fields and data as a whole provides one with a thought-provoking perspective. It suggests that Taiwanese religions can be studied as a consistent whole, and that a cross-denominational study provides the researcher with new insights on the present day Taiwanese psyche. Besides, some trends are typical of the historical working of Chinese religions as whole, while other elements point towards the peculiar situation of Taiwan and the way modernity alters the social fabric. The Taiwanese religious world deals with greed and mysticism, changing social roles and traditional networks, social conservatism and monastic creativity. As such, it might be the alchemist furnace in which the main tenants of the Taiwanese identity of the next century are taking shape.


CHEN, Hsinchih. 1995. The Development of Taiwanese Folk Religion, 1684-1939. Seattle: University of Washington, Ph.D. dissertation.
CH’U, Hai-yuan. 1997. A Socio-political Analysis of Religious Changes in Taiwan Taiwan Zongjiao bianqian de shehui zhengzhi fenxi. Taipei: Guiguan tushu Publishing House.
CONTEMPORARY MONTHLY. Dangdai . 1994. Special issue on Vegetarian Cults in Taiwan. July: no 99.
FOKUANGSHAN, 1998. Bodhgaya International Full Ordination, 1998, Commemorative Magazine.
HSING, Lawrence. 1983. Taiwanese Buddhism and Buddhist Temples. Taipei: Pacific Cultural Foundation.
Hui-Kong (Ven. -), 1997. Perspectives on change of generation in Taiwanese Buddhism Taiwan fojiao shedai jiaoti de zhanwang. Wenshuyuan tongxun, 1997, February 1, pp.1-3.
JORDAN, David K. and OVERMYER, Daniel L. 1986. The Flying Phoenix, Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan. Princeton: Princeton U.P.
MINISTRY OF INTERIOR. Neiizhengbu1993. Report on an Inquiry on Religious Communities Zongjiao tuanti diaocha baogao. Taipei.
SHEK, Richard. 1987. Chinese Millenarian Movements. Encyclopedia of Religion, vol.9. New-York: MacMillan Publishing Company.
SPONBERG, Alan and HARDACRE, Helen, eds. 1988. Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.
SUNG, Kuang-yu.1982. A Probe into Yiguandao tansuo Yiguandao. Newsletter of Chinese Ethnology, 18: 30-35.
TIANDIJIAO. 1987. A Brief Look at Tiandijiao Tiandijiao da kewen.Taipei: Tiandijiao Publishing House.
VERMANDER, Benoit. 1995a. Religions in Taiwan today. China News Analysis, no 1538-1539: 1-15.
VERMANDER, Benoit. 1995b. Le Paysage Religieux de Taiwan et ses Evolutions Récentes. L’Ethnographie XCI (2): 9-59.
VERMANDER Benoit, 1998. Religions in Taiwan: Between Mercantilism and Millenarianism. Japanese Religions XXIII (1-2): 111-123.
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In contrast with the classic works by Murray Rubinstein on Protestant history in Taiwan, or the studies by Bays, Ladany, Madsen, Tang, and Wiest on the Catholic Church in mainland China, there exist no academic studies (in Chinese or foreign languages) about the Catholic Church on Taiwan. This is a surprising, in light of the fact that the Catholic Church in Taiwan has nearly 400 years of history, beginning in 1626 with the Dominicans, and, of the twenty-eight foreign states today that maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, ROC, only one is European: the Vatican.
Although Catholics in Taiwan today number only 300,000 out of a total population of over 22 million, thus ranking a distant fourth behind Buddhists, Daoists, and Protestants, the Catholic Church has made a deep structural and attitudinal impact upon Taiwan, not only in the education sector (nursery school to university level, including trade and technical schools), media, and publishing, but particularly in the areas of traditional charity and relief, medical care, and modern social work.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006 23:03

Indigenous People in Asia

When the term of “Indigenous people” is used in the context of Taiwan, Canada, Australia, United States and several other countries, one refers to people who, in human’s history, were the first inhabitants of a place and have been deprived of their territory and often of their culture and language.

In other contexts, for instance in China, one will rather speak of “ethnic minorities” or ‘native people”: the stress is here on ethnic or cultural groups who are often a tiny minority in a settlement, the history of which remains unclear: who exactly arrived first, how did migrations occur, how did different people intermingle? Often, the difference does not matter so much: ethnic minorities all encounter life-threatening challenges.

Of course, the whole human history is one of migrations and ethnic alliances, so there is certainly not “pure” aboriginal population in the world. However, the survival of people whose language, culture and territory has been gravely threatened by colonization or, nowadays, globalization, is a common concern for humankind. First, the variety of our cultures is a treasure that we all share and which is to be preserved. Second, cultural alienation, deprivation of land ownership and linguistic assimilation often make people psychologically dispossessed and unhappy. We all know that aboriginal population often suffer of low self-esteem that translates into alcoholism, and other social ills. It is not only the mere survival of minority populations which is at stake, the question of helping them to find a sustainable development model is at least as important.

Renlai monthly periodically explores various human and social situations, respectively in Taiwan, China and the rest of Asia. We do not want to cover the whole field but we want to tell stories of struggle, hope, inventiveness and encounters. We want to give a human face to the global problem of aboriginal population. Men and women interact and understand each other through the sharing of stories. When aboriginal people share with us their memories and hopes, their destiny become ours - and our own destiny cannot be conceived without their fears and dreams receiving an answer.
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