Imagine a greener Taipei- starting with a fine on joss paper-burning

by Alice on 週三, 18 三月 2009 評論
Burning of joss-papers, make it symbolic but snappy

Atop a hill of a Taiwanese cemetery, graves were laid neatly down the slope resembling miniature houses that overspread in clusters over the hills. The tallest temple that could be seen partially from afar, though admirably built, was sadly immersed in a haze of black smoke that drifted from the nearby cemetery trash cans where numerous families have burnt joss papers for their dead.

Chinese people all over Asia have traditionally burnt fake money in honour of gods, spirits, and their dead relatives for centuries. The burning of funeral takes place during the annual Tomb-sweeping (China, Taiwan) / Hungry Ghost festival (Singapore), and those not in mourning burn paper all throughout the year at temples and outside their houses for gods and spirits. A funerary/worship ritual that leaves a hazy black trail, no matter on how small a scale, is neither conducive for the environment nor fruitful for our generation. In an act of honouring the dead or the gods, we are adding onto the pollution of an already severely polluted Earth that would be home to our descendants to come. The ritual behind this act is at the times to reassure ourselves that our beloved dead would receive the money in their afterlife, and others to appease the different gods and spirits in Buddhism/Taoism/folklore beliefs, which is all very well until our actions no longer evolve with the times – and in times like these, we are talking about the deleterious effects on the health of people living in an environment with a widespread and long lasting air pollution. As Taiwan moves towards a consumer-oriented society, people have been offering more luxury items such as paper televisions, cars and mobile phones. Outside enterprises in alleyways, trash bins designed particularly for joss-paper burning will be found in full activity on at least two days of the month, resulting in smoke, soot and litter. The smoke never fails to get to me. There’s an acrid chemical odour to the fumes that surely cannot be good when ones breathes that into their body.

It is understandable that, in taking a more moderated stand, one should be free to practice whatever customs within acceptable social norms. To appease the dead and the living, I would not attempt to call for a complete ban on burning hell-notes which could be a recipe for disaster, and rather opt for reduction of the numbers (piles rather) of paper burnt. One could increase the value of a single “money-note” burnt and in doing so limit the numbers of notes required, design better bins to capture the smoke and debris, impose fines on joss-paper burning in residential and public areas, and most importantly, engage the public on the issue – which one has yet to see in the bustling city of Taipei.

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