週日, 01 十二月 2013 21:03

Journey to the Karaoke Temples

In Taipei the mountains are never far away. How easy it is to escape from the city and discover a different pace of life.  Human voices rise above the roar of the traffic, and in the safety of the mountains people form communities and express themselves in ways that could not happen in an urban setting, for all its apparent conveniences and freedoms. Filmed around Tiger Mountain, 2013.


週二, 03 十二月 2013 14:15

Will my Friends come out Today?

 The old men at Huanmin Village have lived there all their life. Every day, they meet to chat about things, as old friends often do. Their peaceful existence, however, is being threatened by the plans to demolish the houses which hold so many memories for them.


週日, 01 十二月 2013 20:58

Tiger Mountain and the Miculture Foundation: Transforming Spaces

 


Overlooking the Xinyi district, home of Taipei 101 and Taipei's financial and commercial hub, are the Four Beasts Mountains (四獸山) : Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Tiger. The image of four wild animals-embodying raw nature- dominating the urban metropolis below is a powerful one. Elephant Mountain has largely been tamed-it is now a must-see on the Taipei tourist trail and also popular with photographers wanting to get the perfect night-time shot of Taipei 101- but Tiger mountain is more elusive.


週五, 11 一月 2013 15:29

M2 and the manga-anime link

 

M2 tells us of her role models and the artists that inspired her to star drawing manga. She also goes on to discuss a particular way of storyboarding a manga which is similar to that of movies.


週五, 11 一月 2013 15:30

Min-Xuan Lin and manga as relaxation

Min-Xuan Lin discusses what constitutes her ideal kind of manga. She talks about the need for making manga as a light form of entertainment for stressed people who need to unwind.


週一, 14 一月 2013 13:57

Ah Tui and the need for originality

 

Ah Tui compares the different approach towards manga of Asian and European manga artists in addition to exposing what he believes to be a big problem with Taiwanese artists: their lack of individual style.


週一, 14 一月 2013 13:59

Chiyou and eco-manga

 

Chiyou talks about his inspiration behind drawing, what manga means to him, and why other artists or the public don't always share his opinion on what constitutes "interesting" manga.


週二, 15 一月 2013 14:45

Chang Sheng and the science of creating sci-fi

 

Chang Sheng talks to us about his first-love relationship with Japanese sci-fi manga, the age of his audience, and exactly what goes into the creation of good sci-fi.


週二, 15 一月 2013 14:55

Nicky Lee and the rise of "girly" manga

Nicky Lee discusses the appeal of manga made for girls, explains how a youthful crush on Jon Bon Jovi served as inspiration for her earlier works, and how the emphasis should always be on the characters.


週五, 27 九月 2013 11:53

Learning Chinese the Traditional Way

In this video we talk to different students of Chinese about their experiences learning it, what the hardest aspect of it is, and the aides and help they have found along the way.


週日, 01 十二月 2013 19:15

In Search of Utopia

As observed in the mass media and our own personal experience, the Earth's habitat is facing an unprecedented crisis. We clearly realize that the problems and disasters caused by global warming cannot be avoided by any country: one infectious disease after another quickly spreads across national borders, acid rain floats over the seas, even China's sandstorms affect Taiwan. When humankind causes an imbalance in the natural order created by other species, the retribution always ends up coming back and affecting humankind. Never in human history has humankind realised, the way we do today, just how inextricably connected all life on this planet is, forming one big symbiotic entity.


週二, 29 十月 2013 14:47

In the eye of the Storm: Musings on the Danshui

 

The stream of the Danshui river was bringing me a peaceful melody, waves were biting the shore softly, but, stream inside the stream, slightly blurring the mirror of the water, I could hear a confusing tumult, news from the world struggling in the distance to spill a shot of truth at me:


"When the soldier was being interrogated, all 16 surveillance cameras stopped working. This is absolutely normal. It happens all the time in the army, the cameras are old. This is a banal accident"


週三, 02 十月 2013 09:24

5 different Chinese input methods


Here we have a short guide to five different Chinese input methods, including pinyin, zhuyin, cangjie, sucheng and boshiamy, all of which can help your Chinese in different ways, some can improve your tones and some are based on the shape of the different characters. We apologize for the bad video quality - hopefully we can improve it soon.


週一, 02 九月 2013 11:18

Taiwan as a Source of Inspiration

At the end of her six weeks spent in Taiwan animating a workshop about Samoan dance, choregrapher Tupe Lualua reflected back on her trip and her rich experience making connections between Austronesian cultures.


週五, 30 八月 2013 10:19

Uniting the Sea of Islands

Epeli Hao'Ofa, the most significant Pacific scholar of his age, wrote a momentous paper Rediscovering our sea of islands, in which he laid out an indigenous vision of the Pacific, one in which the people were united by their "sea of islands" rather than constrained by the seas, the passport system implemented by the colonial powers and acquired linguistic differences. I experienced these words in all their emotional and symbolic power during the six weeks that my newly discovered siblings, Fijian Ledua Setaraki (Seta) and ethnic Samoan New Zealander Tupe Lualua, spent in Taiwan, where they had been invited to engage in exchange with Taiwanese aborigines to explore with one another their common Austronesian heritage through the mediums of dance and navigation, both revived traditional forms of indigenous wisdom which they had employed to re-engage with the contemporary world. Indeed, Seta had been a part of a navigation team which had put into practice 'uniting the sea of islands' by sailing the breadth of the Pacific using the traditional navigational methods of their forefathers.

Pacific scholar Vilsoni Hereniko once told me in this 2010 interview that the important point was that indigenous communities were empowered with 'cultural autonomy' rather than them to be perceived as 'culturally authentic'. From then on I always maintained some doubts when participating in or researching cultural projects commissioned by the government that are inevitably imbued with a self-congratulatory character and language and often have a superficial focus on supposedly authentic regalia, song and dance that seem detached from the real everyday lives and struggles of the participants, who are nonetheless often obliging due to the pride that cultural recognition furnishes them with and the jobs provided by the indigenous cultural revival industry. I often find these projects like to blow their own trumpets in terms of the diversity that they supposedly foster and their focus on praising Taiwan as the source of migration to the Pacific, a claim that is underlain with domestic political and geopolitical functions. I had heard too often indigenous peoples adopting and internalising the Han Chinese trope of the "indigenous person with the great sense of humor", or what one could term a "stage aborigine", commonly found in different media representations of the indigenous community. The tendency to focus on rediscovery of lost cultural traditions I feel often clouds contemporary social justice issues between the ethnicities in Taiwan and within the individual tribal groups. For example no cultural exchange group has ever received government funding to come and see the urban indigenous communities such as the Sanying tribal village or the Sao'wac Amis who suffered the full violence of the state machinery with the demolition of their riverside communities.

Another doubt I have harboured relates to the ethnic and racial historical burden. Although I generally try not to think in racial terms, having experienced being marked as a clear and obvious racial group, in a relatively racially homogenous island, being viewed sometimes in both an unfairly positive and unfairly negative light, in the context of this trip, I couldn't help having a discomforting nagging feeling that led me to question my very role in this trip. What was I, an English national, the very same English who had once been colonial masters and profiteers over both the Fijian and Samoan peoples, doing assisting in this project, translating between one colonially-received (or acquired?) language to another colonially-received (or acquired?) language forced on the local indigenous populations during their centuries of Han Chinese domination and marginalisation, for a project which was commissioned by the same ROC government (albeit from the Council of Indigenous Peoples) and being implemented by the Ricci Institute in which the main organizers were Han Chinese? Was this empowerment? 

Primarily serving as a translator and guide for the visiting Pacific guests, our entourage spent much of our time dining, drinking, singing, dancing, swimming, capsizing, crashing and generally living together as a swiftly improvised family and support network. In the host of parties and welcomings we were jovial partners in celebration. On a personal level, Seta shared with me some of his local knowledge, helping to reignite a passion for re-immersing myself in nature and all the daily survival struggles in the age of pre-convenience, as he taught me how to make my first sling spear, to ferment coconut and pineapple based alcohol which bared an uncanny resemblance in taste to indigenous Taiwan's infamous millet wines and finally to prepare and serve Kava, a tree root based powder mix, in the traditional way they drink the mix in his native island of Fiji. "Ta-kii" Seta called, and he clapped twice before I handed him the coconut half-shell cup, which he drank and clapped once more before handing the cup back to be passed on to the next person. And in that moment I felt a tingle of belonging and my own status doubts were somewhat resolved, as I realised that to live together in a globalized world, we are filled with both a need for universal fraternity in the goals of peace, love, unity and respect, and also a sense of belonging in a community of familial love and understanding.

Indeed on the trip certain doubts were assuaged, especially after seeing the reaction of the children in the schools where Tupe's energetic and inclusive singing and dancing, such as the mosquito swatting dance, brought smiles to the faces of all the school children and the tales and video footage of Seta's two year boating trip left the children staring in awe, filling the kids with a sense of adventure and a sense of their own potential to achieve their dreams. THIS was empowerment. That some of Tupe's works bring up contemporary social issues was also enlightening, and people did question to what extent Tupe's dances were similar to the dances of old, to what extent had they overturned the thorough religious, linguistic, cultural and artistic colonization and to what extent their revival had a positive effect on society. Furthermore Seta's talks and demonstrations always contained a strong environmental message, "my grandpa used to say, every second breath that you take in comes from the ocean", he went on to build awareness of the state of the ocean, with his gripping tale of his experience saving a huge sea turtle that had been dying, stranded on the masses of plastic waste irresponsibly left there from humanity's excesses. These children of Formosa, and Orchid Island, I believe will never forget that the stewardship of the oceans is one of their great missions and perhaps a generation later they will be the ones leading the fight to clean the Pacific.

I still had some doubts, however. For example, while Tupe often mentioned how some of her dance works could also function as a critical art medium to express social problems in marginalised communities, in general it seemed to draw little attention from the audience, with still too much attention on selling an 'authentic look' to improve their economic benefits. Furthermore as expected the group did not visit the controversial settlements mentioned above, and barring the unavoidable exposure to Orchid Island's nuclear waste dump, these politically sensitive aspects still tended to be glossed over in the sea of dance and cultural display. I would hope that in addition to cultural renaissance, future projects could also put more emphasis on ocean wide Austronesian land rights and community inequalities. The Pacific, must be 'united as a sea of islands' facing a common set of environmental and social struggles.

nick seta zijie


週二, 27 八月 2013 16:13

Dance from Samoa to Taiwan

On June 8th, the Pacific workshop organized by the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies brought Saloan dancer Tupe Lualua and Seta Ledua to Hualien County on Taiwan East Coast where they met with the renowned Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者). This video records Tupe's interaction with three members of the Troupe, including a section in which they teach each other dance moves.


週一, 01 七月 2013 14:26

The shape of rituals, happiness, and camera lenses

 

“A photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real”

~Susan Sontag

I like to shoot boring things; and this makes the act of photographing a wedding quite difficult, because I need to capture touching moments. This is not entirely my problem, but is rather related to the fact that emotions in weddings are always expressed in similar ways, so after attending two or three you become tired.


週一, 01 七月 2013 13:06

Goodbye, my dear sister

 

I have been thinking for a long time how to start this article. What tone of voice can I use to remember you, my dearest sister?

I’ll start from the day when you resolutely decided to leave us.

It was the summer of 2009, I am a little bit fuzzy on the exact date. September 18th? September 20th? It seems like something that happened very long ago. A few days before, I had come back from the disaster area of the Morakot Typhoon. At that time, my only thoughts were of getting home, I wasn’t aware that it was all an omen of you leaving.


週五, 07 六月 2013 14:57

No Nukes = No Future?


Photo by 廖培恩

Two years ago, our colleagues Nick and Zijie led a focus on the social activist scenes that were starting to revive after decades of silence. Things had changed a lot since 2011. The number of anti-nuclear protest participants has quadrupled from 50,000 in the April 30, 2011 demonstration to 200,000 in March 9 this year. Many subculture-oriented groups are forming at this moment to protest, through music and visual art, Taiwan's decision to build the 4th nuclear power plant, such as the the rave-oriented collective P.L.U.R.S. Thus, this month eRenlai decided to do a recap focus on what has been happening in the anti-nuclear moment, specifically on the March 9th demonstration earlier this year and the P.L.U.R.S. kids that organized the DJ truck in the parade.


週五, 27 九月 2013 17:45

Thinking outside the box: Inventing words and Chinese variants in Taiwan


When reading in Chinese, particularly literature and academic essays on literature or on certain blogs, you'll notice that the author uses combinations of words that don't exist in any dictionary as compounds - this practice, known as 「造詞」(zaoci), is frustrating when one is first trying to get to grips with academic writing or blogs, but eventually you start to appreciate the wit and creative charm behind it. If you've ever read The Meaning of Liff you'll get an idea of what this achieves and the possible comic effects.

This can be done for several reasons.

The first is to translate a foreign concept (or what was once only a foreign concept) into Chinese, many of these are simple but amusingly to the point, examples include 無政府主義 (no-government-ism) as a rendering of 'anarchism', 天主教 (master-of-the-heavens-religion) for Catholicism, or 利己主義者 (interest-self-ism) as a fancy way to say 'egotist' or for someone who subscribes to a self-interested ideology. A lot of these subsequently end up in the dictionary. More recent and artistic examples of this kind of word include both 「多音交響」(duo1yin1jiao1xiang3) "many-tones-symphony" and 「眾聲喧嘩」 (zhong4sheng1xuan1hua2) "many-sounds-clamouring" which attempt to render Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "heteroglossia" into Chinese. These are usually found in academic articles and the source language equivalent is normally still placed in brackets behind the word to indicate that this is an experimental attempt. These words are also often translated differently in mainland China and Taiwan. 

Another form of zaoci, however, is simply to create a new word by blending aspects of existing words. This form is more interesting and harder to identify, but can sometimes catch on and enter common usage. The technique is generally taking two words (normally consisting of two characters each) and taking one character from the first and one from the second to make a new word. These examples are quite hard to find, as they are essentially invented by the individual on the spot. Here's a short list of some of the more artful ones that I've discovered so far, feel free to add more in the comments box.

1. 「索愛」(suo3ai4) which blends 「索討」(suo3tao3), "to ask for", with 「愛情」(ai4qing4), "love," to mean someone who acts in a cutesy manner to try and get what they want - a near synonym for the mainland Chinese term 「賣萌」(mai4meng2) and the term 「撒嬌」 (sa1jiao1).

2. 「魘醒」(yan3xing2) which is an abbreviation for 「從夢魘中醒來」, "waking up from a nightmare".

3. 「熹亮」(xi1liang4) which combines 「熹微」, "the faint sunlight just after dawn" with 「光亮」(guang1liang4), "bright", to get a synonym of 「微亮」(faint light).

4. 「憤罣」(fen4gua4) which combines 「憤怒」 (fen4nu4), rage, and 「罣礙」(gua4ai4), worry, to mean a rage born of worry.

5. 「離聚」(li2ju4) which combines 「離散」(li2san4), "disperse", and 「相聚」(xiang4ju4), assembly, to mean when an assembly disperses.  

 Using variants is another way to make your writing more aesthetically pleasing (and also dictionary/foreigner proof). A variant is essentially another way of writing a certain character in Chinese which makes no significant change to its meaning. Some have been lost to standardization, but many are still commonly used - both versions in different settings and registers of writing. A common example is 「角色」 vs 「 腳角」. Another is the 「台」 in 「台灣」and 「舞台」 vs 「臺灣」 and 「舞臺」. Sometimes the variants are interchangeable in every combination like 「台」; at other times the variant can only be used when the word forms a verb or a noun, for example, my colleague Jiahe talks about the difference between 「鋪」 and 「舖」 below: 

 

Another colleague, loathe to appear on camera, gave me this explanation of the difference between 「掛礙」 and 「罣礙」, which the Ministry of Education online dictionary states to be the same, meaning that here, 「掛」 and 「罣」 are variants of each other:

我最早學到這個詞的寫法是「罣礙」,它意思應該是阻塞不通,也就是心中被某個煩惱淤塞了。但但後來發現「掛礙」這個寫法比「罣礙」更常見,應該是「掛」有牽掛、懸念的意思,且掛比較好寫,所以人們比較容易寫成「掛礙」。在教育部辭典上可以查到兩者皆通用。是因為語言本來就是一種約定成俗吧。

(Translation: I originally learned to write this word as 「罣礙」, the 「罣」meaning "stuffed up or congested", I interpreted this as one's heart being congested or stuffed up with some worry. However, later I discovered that 「掛礙」was a more common way of writing this word, with the 「掛」 meaning "worry" or "concern". Moreover 「掛」is easier to write, so people are more likely to write the word as 「掛礙」。The two forms of the word can be used interchangably according to the online dictionary of the Ministry of Education. This is because language is essentially just down to convention.)  

 In this second interview, I had the mainlander of the office, Yingying, discuss the variant pairs 「分/份」 and 「姐/姊」:

 

My interest in this subject really started when I changed to using the Cangjie input system - which is an entry system based on visual components of each character (if you're using a computer in Taiwan, these can be found on the bottom left corner of your PC's keys, or bottom right of your Mac's keys) : 

日 (sun radical) + 月 (moon radical) = 明 (bright) for example

Although it's slightly more complicated to learn, it's helpful in getting characters to stick in your head - but as a side effect of this entry system - sometimes strange looking characters pop up when you get a stroke in the wrong sequence, like the long list that appears when you type a sound in pinyin as shown below:

yta

In writing my thesis the title of the play I was discussing includes the character 「間」written 日弓日, but if you put an extra 弓 on the end, then you get 「闁」, a rare archaic variant of the character 「褒」 - meaning to praise. A mistroke in writing 「且」 written 月一 (and) gets you a variant of 「冉」 which is as follows: 「冄」 written 月一一. This is essentially the same as when you're typing in Zhuyin or pinyin and you have to sort through a list of weird characters, but in Changjie you generally only get one character with each combination you type, except on the rare occasions that two characters share the same canjie code, as above. Regardless if you're interested or not in the different ways to input Chinese characters, this really got me interested in why different people chose to use different variants in different situations. Have you found any interesting characters, variants or new invented words, if so feel free to let loose on the comments section! 

 

 


週三, 29 五 2013 10:05

History of the Taiwanese Anti-nuclear Movement

Anti-nuclear demonstration on March 9, 2013 (Photo by 廖培恩)

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 11th, 2011 in Japan, the anti-nuclear protests in Taiwan have been more numerous than ever. The most recent street demonstration against the building of the 4th nuclear power plant in Taiwan has attracted 200,000 citizens to walk the streets (that's 4 times larger than the first anti-nuclear procession right after Fukushima and ten times larger than the first major anti-nuclear procession 2 decades ago). More important perhaps, is that for many young people in Taiwan, it was their first experience in participating in social activism.


週三, 29 五 2013 10:04

Recapturing Memories: Social Protests as a Way for Taiwanese Youth to Reconnect with the Past

In this video, Charlie speaks of electronic music as the language of a new generation in Taiwan and its effect in social protests. He also points out how the youth in Taiwan are engaging in social activism in part to recapture a memory that has been made blank for a few decades as a result of its turbulent political history.


週三, 29 五 2013 10:01

The Demonstrative Power of the Carnival: Fun as a Form of Protest

Photo by 廖培恩

In this video, Zijie recounts his first encounter of anti-nuclear awareness during the Ho-Haiyang rock music festival. Being the founding member of the anti-nuclear group NoNukes active around 2010-2011, he also goes over past experiences of incorporating rock music and electronic music into social protests. In the end of the interview he gives an interesting observation on the function of social protests.


週三, 29 五 2013 10:00

Art and Social Activism: Mutually Beneficial?

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


週二, 28 五 2013 18:34

Gender and Weddings in Taiwan

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

Translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart



週二, 28 五 2013 18:26

Keening: Taiwan's Professional Mourners

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

When did keening become so forced?

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

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

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

How old is traditional? How new is modern?

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

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

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

The shift from secular to religious funerals

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

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

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

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

哭喪04Restraining Grief, a Thousand Year Old Ritual

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

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

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

Can grief-stricken keening be carried out by proxy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 


週五, 26 四月 2013 18:56

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

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


週五, 19 四月 2013 14:47

The Soundfarmers: Electronic Music Composes Anti-Nuclear Statement


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

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


週四, 16 五 2013 00:00

Amateurs in Tokyo - Reasonable Riots

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

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


週二, 02 四月 2013 14:23

(Dis)belief in Taiwan

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

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 02 四月 2013 14:19

(I believe therefore) I'm moral

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

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 02 四月 2013 14:14

The form of (In)divinity

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

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 02 四月 2013 14:09

Divine In(ter)action

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

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 02 四月 2013 14:04

Living (Dis)belief

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

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 02 四月 2013 13:42

(Dis)ordered World

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we look at how different people structure their world in relation to or apart from their belief system, and the link between the two.

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 02 四月 2013 13:39

I Believe(d)

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the personal journey that people living and working in Taipei undergo to determine whether or not they have faith is examined and discussed.

發佈於
Focus: My God?

週二, 15 一月 2013 14:55

Nicky Lee and the rise of "girly" manga

Nicky Lee discusses the appeal of manga made for girls, explains how a youthful crush on Jon Bon Jovi served as inspiration for her earlier works, and how the emphasis should always be on the characters.


週二, 15 一月 2013 14:45

Chang Sheng and the science of creating sci-fi

 

Chang Sheng talks to us about his first-love relationship with Japanese sci-fi manga, the age of his audience, and exactly what goes into the creation of good sci-fi.


週一, 14 一月 2013 13:59

Chiyou and eco-manga

 

Chiyou talks about his inspiration behind drawing, what manga means to him, and why other artists or the public don't always share his opinion on what constitutes "interesting" manga.


週一, 14 一月 2013 13:57

Ah Tui and the need for originality

 

Ah Tui compares the different approach towards manga of Asian and European manga artists in addition to exposing what he believes to be a big problem with Taiwanese artists: their lack of individual style.


週五, 11 一月 2013 16:37

Sakinu Ahronglong: Poetry and Song

Ahronglong Sakinu is a full-time police man, working in forest conservation, and an amateur writer, recording the wisdom passed down for generations in his tribe. Here he presents us with a poem and a song which he performed at the 2012 International Austronesian Conference - Weaving Waves's Writings:


週五, 11 一月 2013 15:30

Min-Xuan Lin and manga as relaxation

Min-Xuan Lin discusses what constitutes her ideal kind of manga. She talks about the need for making manga as a light form of entertainment for stressed people who need to unwind.


週五, 11 一月 2013 15:29

M2 and the manga-anime link

 

M2 tells us of her role models and the artists that inspired her to star drawing manga. She also goes on to discuss a particular way of storyboarding a manga which is similar to that of movies.


週三, 09 一月 2013 13:26

Teaching a Common Pacific History: Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano

Professor Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano discusses how the teaching of history in Fiji has been decolonized, and how Taiwan and other Pacific nations can work together to create an alternative version of history which incorporates indigenous memory and stands apart from the colonial view of history.


週二, 08 一月 2013 17:36

Taiwan's Pacific: Educational Links and Sustainable Fisheries

Professor Paul D'Arcy talks about the role for Taiwan in the Pacific - particularly the leading role it has taken in listening to the Pacific in the last few years, (with respect to the ban on the practice of finning sharks amongst other initiatives). He goes  on to outline areas in which Taiwan could continue to show leadership in the region, especially in regard to education and sustainable fishing:


週三, 02 一月 2013 16:01

Review: Writings that Weave Waves

Living in today's ever-changing globalised world is threatening traditional cultural practices and identity. The history of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples is evidence of this with the island's history marked by previous Chinese and Japanese rule and today, more generally, the rule of modernity. Thus, for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, although they primarily live in smaller, rural areas, maintaining a strong sense of cultural belonging, identity is a challenge. Cerise Phiv's documentary Writings that Weave Waves: East Formosans and the Pacific World explores this challenge, glimpsing into the lives and perspectives of several indigenous Taiwanese individuals living in a changing world and their relationship with the indigenous way of life of their ancestors.


週一, 31 十二月 2012 15:49

No or Know: Orchid Island, Aboriginal Resistance and Subjectivity

In this video interview by Christophe Maziere, famous aborigine writer Topas Tamapima discusses a variety of topics related to the aborigines of Orchid Island and the identity issues they face.


週五, 28 十二月 2012 15:56

The Sunken and Forbidden Islands

There are many islands strewn across the Pacific, they withdrew from the world, and hoped never to be found. The footsteps of the Han quietly snuck up upon them however, their persuasive words laced with the rhetoric of modernity and development. From Orchid Island to Yap, what does the trajectory of these footprints tell us?


週二, 18 十二月 2012 17:31

Poetry: Learn New Words with Song

Wang Xiong was born in July, 1985 in Taipei, Taiwan, where he still lives with his two cats. He graduated from the Department of Chinese Literature and dropped out of the Master's Program of the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, he is currently working in journalism. He has previously been awarded National Taiwan University Prize for Modern Verse.This poem won the Modern Poetry Judge's Award of the 34th United Daily News Literature Prize.


週三, 12 十二月 2012 15:34

Long Live Crisis!

In January 2004, a new monthly appeared on the shelves of Taiwan's bookshops: Renlai proclaimed on its front cover: '危機萬歲!" (Long live crisis!) Let's face it: the layout was not very professional, and it was something more approaching an experiment, lacking an experienced team or serious distributing channels. Nobody around us would have placed a bet that 99 issues later, this maverick publication would still be around... The readers are to be credited first for their faithfulness and resilience. The efforts of the team that has produced and distributed Renlai every month too must receive some credit, a team that believes more than ever in the relevance and mission of our publication in contemporary Taiwan.

By entitling our first issue '危機萬歲!" (Long love crisis!), we were, I fear, predicting our own destiny: it is through crises and risks that we have navigated our way amidst stormy seas, always in the face of an uncertain financial future and a market in which it is most difficult to assert our values and outlook. We found joy and inspiration in these challenges, however. Our first issue extolled the virtues of crises: it is in a state of crisis that we access the core of our beliefs, we learn resilience, we are taught what it means to bet on hope against all hope, we make our life-style simpler, we are pushed to examine ourselves, we are trained in the virtues of solidarity and cohesion. This is exactly what happened to us, and what we are still experiencing from day to day. However, it has to be said that the title of our first issue still seems very relevant for the Taiwan of today? The challenges that Taiwan experienced in 2003-2004 are not exactly akin to those we are facing at the moment, but we are still called to examine our values and life-style, there is still the call to participate in national debate about what kind of society we want to build – and Renlai is still a tool and a voice for fostering just such a debate.


A crisis is often a gateway to innovation and Renlai will indeed need to be inventive if it wants to survive. We have changed a lot in the course of these 100 issues, but we will have to change even more on the road ahead. Therefore this issue is also aimed at soliciting your advice, your input, so as to know better what kind of publication you would enjoy, what kind of debates you would like us to foster, what format or new technology would you like us to embrace. We hope that the future can be forged together with you the readers– as we experience together the reflection and innovation that crises inspire. In a way Renlai's changing format can be seen as a litmus test for Taiwan's cultural climate and the strength of civil society here.

An anniversary is always an opportunity for thanksgiving. This issue will be marked with our gratitude. We give thanks to all our readers for their support and their continued feedback. Thanks for telling us what you expect from us, thanks for being demanding of us, and pushing us to give our best. Thanks to all the members of the Renlai team for the mutual support, the sharing, the dreams and the common effort. We keep in our heart those who had to leave us in the course of these last nine years, and we are very much thankful for the wonderful contribution that each of them has made. The crises may still loom on the horizon but we feel still ready to say: "危機萬萬歲! (Long live crisis!)


週三, 07 十一月 2012 15:04

"There's nothing wrong with my child"

Working with mentally disabled children in Taiwan then and now.

Father Giuseppe Didone was born in a small town near Venice in Italy in 1940, he joined the Camillians at the age of 10, and was ordained in 1964. In 1965 he came to Taiwan, and later, in 1983 he founded a centre for intellectually challenged children, in 1987 he set up a similar centre in Yilan.

In this video he talks about his experience in Taiwan struggling to convince parents to overcome the stigma attached to mentally disabled children and get help for children in dire need of it, he also reflects on a shift in attitude from when he founded the school in the 1980s to the present day:


(Press the subtitle icon for English subtitles).

Readers in Mainland China can watch here)

Video translated and subtitled by Conor Stuart


週五, 02 十一月 2012 18:25

Lu Xiaoyun: International Exchange and Aboriginal Representations

I belong to the Paiwan tribe, we live in a tribal village in Pingtung county. My indigenous name is Limuasan, which I inherited from my vuvu (female ancestor). Since I wasn’t raised in the village, I didn’t always have a strong sense of ethnic identity. I also suffered racism from my schoolmates during my elementary school years, so I’ve always felt rather negative about my ethnic identity. It wasn’t until I met several indigenous friends in high school that I regained a more positive view of my ethnicity. This changed even more when I entered college and participated in the Taluan university society. The Taluan Society is a society for indigenous people. We organize trips to aboriginal villages to engage in community service there, which in turn enables us to learn more about aboriginal culture. These experiences made a deep impression on me and I can say now that I am proud to be a Taiwanese aboriginal person.


週三, 26 九月 2012 13:47

Ordering Poetry at KTV


How do we measure the distance between poetry and ourselves?

It’s not thousands of miles away at the bottom of the Ocean, it’s also not in a star a few light years away. By simply strolling into a KTV we can find vestiges of poetry. By simply humming along to a song, we can fill our heart with poetic feeling, and slowly wash away the dust of time.


週五, 29 六月 2012 11:53

Got Beef with President Horse?


Is Ma Yingjiu truly the son of Satan?

Upon being reelected in the 2012 presidential election this January, Ma Yingjiu (or Horse England Nine1, as one of my former students called him), must have felt the calm satisfaction of a job well done. He had just defeated a fairly strong opposition by a very tight margin, and would have four more years of control to shape Taiwan the way he saw fit. Little did he know that just five months down the line, he would be the target of (almost) everyone’s criticism.

週二, 19 六月 2012 14:07

Rediscovering Taiwan through wall art

The new wall art team Bihuadui is encouraging artists from Taiwan to reconnect with their roots and include elements of Taiwanese culture in their art. It addresses some of the problems such as isolation of the artists and estrangement from one's own culture by promoting collaboration between artists and painting in unusual locations.We talk to some of those artists about their opinions on the team.

 


週五, 16 三月 2012 14:47

Memories of the Local

The experience of local culture and how it is absorbed is often a big source of inspiration for manga artists. The two artists in this section give us an insight into what growing up in Taiwan was like, and the perspective on the world that this granted them.

“For me, comic books are a means towards understanding others, they are also a way to allow others to know what I think.”

Ruan graduated in advertising design and interior architecture. He was an assistant designer for many years. In 1997, he published the comic book A Civilian-turned-President: Abian. 2009 was a big year for Ruan, since he won the first prize from GIO for his book Donghuachun Barbershop and he also published the comic book serial Spring at the Emergency Room online. Ruan depicts the lives of the lower classes of Taiwanese society in a touching manner, which flourish against a backdrop of flowers and plants, of bricks and tiles, strongly influenced by local traditions. The Taiwanese television has already acquired the rights to adapt and show Donghuachun Barbershop as a television program.

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Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

“Comic books give me a space for freedom of expression, drawing gives me a feeling of serenity.”

Sean Chuang has made more than 400 commercials since 1996. More than ten years ago, he wrote A Filmmaker’s notes, which was well received by the public thanks to its fresh and hip style. It launched Sean Chuang’s drawing career and it inspired him to write the bilingual graphic novel The Window. Passionate and dynamic, he spent ten years perfecting this masterpiece. In 2009 he won the GIO first prize with The Window. During the 10 years it took, Sean Chuang went through a rough spell and almost abandoned the project, but the prize gave him confidence. The story tells of the fate of a small town in the North struck by war. Afflicted by poverty, the numerous inhabitants of the village desert it, leaving behind children and the elderly. Totally without dialogue, there is no lack of passion in this colourful comic. As he always does, Sean Chuang continues to make films on the one hand, whilst on the other he focuses on writing comic books.

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Readers in Mainland China can watch it here

 


週三, 22 二月 2012 17:22

Love, Marriage, Happiness?

Yang Shufan, a single Chinese teacher from Taipei on the threshold of her thirties, discusses her attitude towards marriage, children and her career at this key juncture of her life.



週一, 30 一月 2012 14:43

The Year of the Voiceless

One of the great advantages of looking at 2011 from Taiwan is that writing an article reviewing the year of the rabbit is still a legitimate endeavour in the month of February. Although, it has to be said, even in the less fortunate parts of the world, where New Year is celebrated only once, 2011 will resist being shelved away as ‘soo last year’ well into March or even April.

The fortunate coincidence that the yearly celebration cycle, gives a second chance for commentators who were too busy to write in December, is not the only interesting aspect of looking at the world from Taiwan.

Those of us who have a certain familiarity with this island, understand quite well that we are living in a geographic region that is ill understood and whose voice often goes unheard. In fact, Taiwan is exceptional in its conduciveness to misunderstanding. Its unique relationship with China lies at the core of this bewilderment. The extent to which Taiwan is part of China and the extent to which it is an independent nation are both endless sources of confusion.

China itself induces a state of intellectual disarray on most Western observers. In the words of sinologist Francois Billeter: “China is more and more present in the world. But at the same time it is absent. We don’t hear its voice.” Taiwan, thanks to its complicated relationship with this already mystifying civilization, starts off on the race for global attention on the wrong foot. The fact that the island nation is largely unrecognized in international diplomacy does not help it to make its voice heard.

It is for this reason that those of us dwelling in Taiwan have an even more significant understanding of the developments around the world in the past year. Because 2011 has been the year in which those who seemed forever doomed to silence finally gained a voice. So many actors whom most never even knew existed appeared on the world stage, that we can make an exception in renaming the year of the rabbit the year of the voiceless.

Let us first look at what has arguably been the most significant social movement, namely the Arab Spring. Since time immemorial, occidental observers have scornfully assumed that non-autocratic forms of governance are fundamentally incompatible with the Muslim population of the region. Dismissing the rather obvious fact, that the majority of the ruthless dictators in the region, were granted power by the benevolent might of the neo-colonial powers.

Today the same commentators are screaming bloody murder at the election of the Muslim Brotherhood as the main party in Egypt. With the confidence of medieval clergymen who claimed that the Earth is flat, they declare that Muslims are incapable of establishing political regimes based on fair representation. Again, ignoring the fact that the Brotherhood have expressed their intention to operate within the democratic framework.

The ‘Manifesto Against Islamist Totalitarianism’ signed by leading intellectuals, among whom Salman Rushdie (Europe's favourite drama queen) is one, states the alleged impossibility of reconciling Islam and Democracy in a language that Shaggy himself (from the 90’s) would have described as ‘bombastic, very fantastic’. This is the first line: “After having overcome Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.” It continues, two very short paragraphs later with the following words: “Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations.” If the fine art of writing a manifesto, was subject to strict rules, like that of a game of chess, invoking the ghost of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism on the opening move, then accusing your opponent of nurturing ‘fears and frustrations’, would be the equivalent of running your Knight diagonally across the board while simultaneously declaring your opponent’s pieces as your own and calling checkmate!

2011 saw the passing of one such man. A man who has achieved immortality thanks to his superhuman ability to talk out of his ass and yet refuse the possibility of miracles. Christopher Hitchens and the rest of his costumed tag team who cheerfully made appearances as ‘The Four Horsemen of Atheism’ are chiefly responsible for re-interpreting racism to apply exclusively to Muslims. His chum Richard Dawkins (who’s fighting name is ‘the Dalek’ due to the irritating quality of his voice) has recently croaked in praise of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. For the latter’s speech condemning multiculturalism that ‘coincided’ with a racist rally organised by the English Defence League.

Speaking of Islamophobia, 2011 has also seen an explosion of white supremacist violence. Norway was struck by Anders Breivik’s assault. Whilst in Germany an extreme right wing terrorist organisation was finally exposed after going on a rampage of 10 murders including a policewoman, 14 bank robberies and two nail bomb attacks between 2000 and 2007. What is stunning is that both catastrophes were coloured by the tendency of the European public and commentators to suspect Muslims. Recall, if you will, how the first day of reporting on the Oslo massacre was largely guided by fact free conjecture. It was not until the very last minute when Breivik was finally captured, that self declared terrorist experts have dropped all talk of al Qaida and picked up the question of right wing terrorism. Similarly in Germany racist terrorists were not picked up on, because for ten long years German intelligence had simply assumed that the murders were committed by the Turkish mafia.

Muslim and Chinese civilisations seem to be causing a tremendous degree of worry for the ex-colonial powers. Those who consider themselves to be the custodians of all that is good and just are making some very loud noises about the decline of the West. They claim, the cherished values of equality, liberty, fraternity are being eroded by the demographic rise of Islam and the economic rise of China. They claim, the members of these civilizational models are intrinsically incapable of understanding Western values and are likely to impose authoritarian systems on the free world.

There is a dangerous isolationist tendency in these apocalyptic visions. The suggestion is that Western civilisation should start digging its trenches and building its fortresses to resist the coming tide. The tragi-comic aspect of this line of thinking manifests itself more fully when it comes to sexual politics. A little known aspect of Breivik’s manifesto is it’s accusation of feminism for the demographic decline of his master race. “The female manipulation of males has been institutionalised during the last decades and is a partial cause of the feminisation of men in Europe,” he writes, possibly while scraping semen stains off his trousers with a commando knife. The argument is that, women empowered by feminism refuse to be bossed around by their men into producing enough babies to rescue the ubermensch from demographic extermination.

Of course we can discard the ramblings of a deranged man who has insisted that he should be treated by Japanese psychiatrists for reasons known to him alone. However similar versions of this concern manifest themselves in different guises, even in the writings of respectable thinkers. Umberto Eco for instance has recently hopped into the cacophony of voices that attempt to suggest ways out of the ‘European crisis’. In a very recent interview for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Eco throws modesty to the wind and presents his credentials, by declaring that he is “speaking as someone who doesn’t understand anything about the economy”. According to Eco’s uniquely qualified opinion it is the Erasmus programme, which will prove the salvation of Europe’s cultural heritage. And here is why:

I call it a sexual revolution: a young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children. The Erasmus idea should be compulsory – not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers. By this, I mean they need to spend time in other countries within the European Union; they should integrate.

I would like to urge the very few readers who have resiliently read my ramblings thus far to chase the image of a handful of Welsh plumbers prowling the gloomy housing estates of Warsaw in cold winter nights, preying on the nubile to ‘become European’ with, out of their minds. Although the image may well be hilarious, it is not as pressing as the question of to what extent young Arabs, Chinese or Caribbean people are allowed to participate in this so called sexual revolution. I may be a somewhat old fashioned sort of chap, who is not entirely familiar with the latest developments in the sexual revolution scene. But the last time I checked a sexual revolution does not imply an ethnic limitation, however broad it may be. More importantly it does not insist that the act of ‘becoming European’ is to be engaged in within wedlock or that it should have a reproductive purpose. My outdated idea of sexual revolution, is a state of affairs in which anyone can choose to ‘become European’ with anyone, regardless not only of their race, but also of their gender and orientation.

Yes, 2011 was a year in which people stood up to be heard. But it was also a year in which certain members of a civilisation which considers itself to be in perpetual decline have stooped to ridiculous lows to avoid hearing these new voices and engage with them. We must remember time and time again that what makes the human condition special is not just the universal attributes that runs through us like a long thread, it is also about the things that make us different.

In his book The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz explains how the evolution of the human mind has happened alongside the development of culture. Contrary to common belief, our ancestors have not developed language and other means of socialisation once their brain had fully evolved. Instead, he explains: “human cortical expansion has followed, not preceded, ‘the beginning’ of culture.”

Eco perhaps had it right in one aspect. That the fate of Europe or any other culture in fact, lies not so much in the grand decisions made by its cream and crust but more in the daily practices of its plumbers and taxi drivers. It is up to them to open their eyes and ears to new cultures and engage with them in the spirit of mutual exchange. Without expecting them to abandon what makes them and their cultures unique. Because expecting them to do so would imply forcing them into becoming, in the words of Geertz: “unworkable monstrosities”.

Faithful to the Middle Eastern tradition (though I don’t presume to be a religious observer) of giving the last word to one’s elders I wish to conclude this piece with a quote from Philosopher Gilbert Ryle, which is also quoted in full in the above mentioned work by Geertz.

“The statement “the mind is its own place”, as theorists might construe it, is not true, for the mind is not even a metaphorical “place.” On the contrary, the chessboard, the platform, the scholar’s desk, the judge’s bench, the lorry-driver’s seat, the studio and the football field are among its places. These are where people work and play stupidly, or intelligently. “Mind” is not the name of another person, working or frolicking behind an impenetrable screen; it is not the name of another place where work is done or games are played; and it is not the name of another tool with which work is done, or another appliance with which games are played.”

Illustration by Bendu

 


A reader responds to Efe

 


週五, 20 一月 2012 16:32

Taiwan arts in Toulouse

The Made In Asia Toulouse Festival will be held from January 25 to February 10, 2012

Created in 2008, by Didier Kimmoun, and brought to the stage by the Tchin-tchine association, the Made in Asia festival attempts to present Asian cultures in France. This year it proposes to highlight Taiwan contemporary creative works through its most talented artists, Hsu Yen Ling (徐堰鈴) and Wang XinXin (王心心). Events include dance performances, contemporary theatre, puppets shows, concerts, exhibitions and movie screenings!

The origin of the project, a passion for Asia Today

The founder of the festival spent part of his childhood in China: his father was a teacher in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. He has always been attracted to Asian cultures. After several trips to China, he realized early on that Asian people know Western culture better than Westerners know Asian cultures. 'There is a gap between the knowledge in West Asia and Europe. This gap is greater in the cultural field: in Asia, Western culture is part of school curricula, which is not the case in France.' This observation led him to develop the project of a festival dedicated to Asia. 'I did not want an exotic festival for hippies from Yunnan. I wanted people to discover contemporary cultural life in Asia'.

The festival strives to make French people better understand the reality of contemporary Asia, its developments, its contradictions, and to build bridges between East and West.

In 2000, he met the Tchin-Tchine association which organized cultural events to promote Asia. ‘I proposed to develop an annual cultural week about China and opened it to other countries as well such as Vietnam and Korea. I wanted to propose different kinds of shows, including contemporary living arts, which are not so well known here. I had to convince the French programmers who were afraid of the audience reaction and had difficulty to conceive the existence of contemporary creative works in Asia '. Indeed, at this time, only Korea was known for its contemporary dance performances. 'It took time to find financial partners; I had to convince the city hall and government. I finally got a grant from the city hall'. To make up the deficit in the budget, he approached private companies, offering them projects such as the installation of Korean sculptures in a Hyundai shop in Labège from January 25 to February 18.

A festival of sharing and artistic exchange

Didier Kimmoun does not want the festival to be the only egg in his basket and so he develops artistic residencies and exchanges between Asian and French artists, in order to create bridges. That is why this year he welcomed the wonderful Wang XinXin, specialist in Nanguan, for a period of residency in collaboration with a baroque orchestra. Throughout the year he has also invited artists for residencies like in last November, when he invited an experinmental Japanese group led by Oriza Hirata, who presented 'Sayonara' played by Geminoid F. The next countries that will be featured at the festival will be Japan - due in part to the events that occurred in Fukushima - and also Singapore. In 2014/2015, there will be contemporary Chinese Opera. This year, the guest is Taiwan. Why Taiwan? Because 'this year was the centennial of the Republic of China and the Taiwanese artists, guardians of hungry Western ways of life and ancient Chinese culture, are very good at crossing between East and West, tradition and modernity ', he says.

Theatre, music, dance

The french audience will be able to admire the extraordinary performance of Hsu Yen Ling, one of the best Taiwanese actresses, in 'Remix - Hsu Yen-Ling x Sylvia Plath, the Monodrama of HSU Yen - Ling', written by Chou Man-Nung and staged by Baboo. Produced by the Shakespeare's Wild Sisters Group, it will be performed on January 25 and 26, at Théâtre Garonne. Another great performance will follow, dedicated to a younger audience: 'The Birth'*, produced by the East and the West and the Flying group, performed on February 4, in Mediatheque José Cabanis. This show mixes puppetry, shadow theatre and theatre: the first part of a trilogy, he takes the children and their parents into the dream of a little girl who, still in the womb of her mother, discovers the world. This dreamy and poetic trip is interpreted by the talented Chou Jung Shih, accompanied live by Wang Yu Jun, a gifted young musician. Besides this, the festival also welcomes Shang Chi Sun, a young choreographer and talented dancer with 'Traverse' on January 27 in Espace Bonnefoy, and the fabulous Wen Chi Su with 'Loop me', a multimedia dance performance signed by Yilab. The Ten Drums Art Percussion Group, from the South of Taiwan, based in Tainan, composed of 10 amazing percussionists, will perform 'the charm of Taiwan', a tribute to spiritual Taiwanese traditions, on February 3 at the salle Nougaro. The XinXin Nanguan Ensemble, led by the majestic Wang XinXin, will present ' the Passions', a musical dialogue between Nanguan, a Chinese traditional instrument, and Baroque music, in collaboration with Passions Orchestra - Orchestra Baroque of Montauban, under the direction of Jean-Marc Andrieu. This concert where Chinese and Baroque music are revisited will allow the audience to discover all the vocal and instrumental virtuosity of Jiang Nan and Wang XinXin on February 8 at the Capitol Theatre.

TEN-DRUMS2

Focus on REMIX: Hsu Yen-Ling + Sylvia Plath, A red-hot mono-drama

Remix, Hsu Yen Ling's mono-drama, is inspired by fever 103, a poem written by Sylvia Plath and deals with the last moments of Sylvia Plath’s life. This last was an American poetess haunted by the idea of death, who killed herself, despaired by love, when she was 30. Hsu Yen ling, fascinating and disturbing, plays magnificently and brilliantly Plath's character: she becomes completely this hurt woman, wild animal tortured by abused love and sickness. She's belching, yelling, sighing, murmuring with fervor, violence, and despair the poetess' words, rewritten by Chou Man-Nung – young Taiwanese author. This poetical rewriting shows the extent of the talent of the young actress, here, in one of her best performances. Baboo's art direction is very rhythmic and spread intelligently and soberly the poetic whisper of this tortured writing. It swings between foolish and indolent scenes, showing the ambiguous relationships between Plath and her father, Plath and her husband, both beloved and hated men of her life. The spectator becomes the witness of the actress' inner truth revelation: Ms. Hsu defends body and soul this American author unknown in France. Ms Plath used to live in her husband's shadow, a famous poet, and suffered from the cruelty of a patriarchal society. We warmly recommend it to the audience.

Young Taiwanese creation in the fields of cinema and fine arts

Many exhibitions complete the program: elaborated in collaboration with the Cultural Centre of Taiwan in Paris, under the advice of its Director, Mr. Chen, specialist in Fine Arts, former Professor and artist himself, the audience is invited to various places in Toulouse to have a look at contemporary Taiwanese art. This is the opportunity to meet Yong - Ning Tzeng, with two exhibitions from 25 January to 11 February, in Espace Bonnefoy - opening January 27 - and from 31 January to 5 February, at Place Commune, opening on February 2. Gallery Lemniscate will host from 26 January to 26 February - opening January 26- Mia Liu Wen Hsuan with her paper sculptures. Char Wei Tsai, for his part, will explore the process of transformation. Chi-Tsung Wu who experiments with simple processes in the manufacture of images in reference to traditional painting work will be in residency from January 15 to February 1 and will present his work from 2 to 25 February in Maison Salvan in Labège - opening February 2 at 19: 00. Young Video maker Cheng Ta Yu interested in the human body will be from the 2 to February 25 in Pavillon Blanc- Colomiers - opening February 2 at 7 pm. This palette of artists unveils the creative diversity of the Taiwanese artists in resonance with current issues.

The surprise of the Chief: Mister Candle

In the heart of the Asian village, one could try martial arts, kitchen workshops, and Asian food and attend the parade of the New Year with the dance of the dragon, accompanied by drums and a release of lanterns on 28 and 29 January. This will be the opportunity to see a young Taiwanese artist, the enigmatic Mister Candle, Huang Ming-Cheng, in residence in the village. Mister Candle is the last discovery Didier Kimmoun made during his recent trip to Taiwan. This young Acrobat has a delirious project and will work with circus artists from Toulouse and Barcelona. His artistic project is to take a photo of himself in the position of the candle in various places of the island, in a market or on a moped, bringing a particular look at the fragility of the world he looks backwards and wants to make a 15 year world tour. A gallery of his suspended photos will be shown during the festival. Didier Kimmoun is interested in his artistic posture, his authentic approach in acquaintance with his very lifestyle. Enjoy it!

 


 

*More on the Birth, follow the link: http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?option=com_content&id=4307%3Athe-birth-a-franco-taiwanese-show-for-the-young-&Itemid=164&lang=en

More detail on http://www.festivalmadeinasia.com/

 

 


週一, 31 十月 2011 14:41

Microblogs with Macro Reach: Spirituality Online In China

Sina Weibo is big in China right now. Essentially a microblogging service, it has elements of Facebook and Twitter, both of which (along with YouTube) are banned on the Mainland. With over 400 million users1, Sina Weibo is definitely a hit, and is likely to remain so as long as it does not become a vehicle for dissent and upset or threaten the government. Like all social media, Sina Weibo is overflowing with minutiae. Triumphs and tragedies, love and loathing, it is there for all to see. I enjoyed reading one of my Chinese namesakes wax lyrical about his newly rounded eyes (via eyelid cosmetic surgery). Body modification aside, the communication possibilities that Sina Weibo has generated are proving attractive to many in China, including those in the religious and spiritual spheres.

As I have written before, religion is a constantly evolving and fascinating phenomenon2, even in China where regulations continue to be more restrictive than in other countries in the region3. Here I will profile some of the various characters taking advantage of the enormous opportunity to promote their personalities, organisations and messages through Sina Weibo.

Taiwan’s Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) is a large Buddhist organisation that uses its Sina Weibo account4 to share quotations of spiritual inspiration and considered reflection - “What is self?” and “Success is a beautiful result, failure is a beautiful experience” are two recent thought provoking and decidedly non-menacing examples.

Xing Yun (星云) is a monk who fled China decades ago and has built a massive international Buddhist organisation based at Foguangshan (佛光山) in southern Taiwan. On Sina Weibo he has garnered an impressive 327,593 followers5. Like Dharma Drum Mountain, Xing Yun reaches out to his followers with a stream of short and poignant pieces of Buddhist wisdom. For many years Xing Yun and the late founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, Sheng-yen (聖嚴), would have dreamed about having such direct access to Buddhists in the land of their birth. Sina Weibo now gives them unprecedented reach. However, it is in the less orthodox bloggers that we can find even more innovative examples.

Terry Hu (胡茵夢) is a Taiwanese movie star turned author6. Her works are spiritual in nature, and include a translation of the biography of the 20th century Indian philosopher Krishnamurti. Currently promoting her autobiography, Hu is tapping into her network of Sina Weibo followers to drum up publicity by holding competitions. Those who forward details of her book onto three friends have the opportunity to win more books and the writers of the five most outstanding comments will also win a book. Several hundred bloggers have participated in this marketing ploy.

Another Taiwanese author writing and translating in the ‘body, mind, spirit’ genre (身心靈) is Tiffany Chang (張德芬)7 . Prior to her career as a spiritual figure, Chang was a news anchor on Taiwan’s TTV channel. Aside from writing her own books (Meeting the Unknown Self) and translating popular foreign authors, such as Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth), Chang has produced a short series of videos where she reviews books8 and has assisted Taipei’s Huan-ting zen in Taiwan and China. Demonstrating considerable web savvy, Chang operates a China-based body, mind, spirit website called ‘Inner Space’9. She uses her Sina Weibo account to distribute news of updates on Inner Space to her followers, who number just under 100,000.

Perhaps the most interesting religious figure using Sina Weibo is the young Buddhist monk, Shi Daoxin (釋道心)10. Having accumulated over 189,000 followers, he uses Sina Weibo in a way that some might more associate with a self-absorbed and self-promoting youth. I have never seen a monk demonstrate such fashion sense; Shi Daoxin has a knack for matching his robes with his (often gaudily coloured) glasses. Even if you don’t understand Chinese, scroll down his blog and you will see a fantastic variety of photos.

Shi Daoxin pouting. Shi Daoxin posing wistfully outside a temple. Shi Daoxin rendered as a cartoon. Shi Daoxin meditating. Shi Daoxin meditating next to a naked babe.

The photo of Shi Daoxin meditating behind a penitent-looking female nude is particularly interesting. Apparently the winner of the Virginia Photo Exhibition in the USA, this photo is titled “Mind without obscuration” (心無罣礙) and is re-blogged with a quote from the Heart Sutra: “form is emptiness” (色即是空).

Besides his own manifold images, Shi Daoxin also uses Sina Weibo to disseminate Buddhist teachings, including videos from more established teachers, such as Xing Yun. He has also circulated several of his music videos, including one karaoke-friendly ditty where he sings a Buddhist song while wandering around a temple garden and market. The suitably devout chorus is “Amitabha Buddha, please protect me” (阿彌陀佛,呵護著我). Shi Daoxin has achieved some degree of celebrity, having participated in the TV dating show “The Whole City is Madly in Love” (全城熱戀) and was interviewed on China’s top daytime TV talk show “A Date with Luyu” (魯豫有約).

If there is one thing that this brief survey shows, it is that each of these bloggers is attempting to make religious ideas relevant to life in contemporary China. Methods vary greatly—orthodox or radical, commercial or benevolent—but the bloggers are linked by the common goal of seeking to share a spiritual message with the widest possible audience. Doing so via Sina Weibo does not necessarily dilute the potency of their messages. Writing on religious innovation in contemporary China, the Cambridge anthropologist Adam Yuet Chau recently wrote that

Modern technologies and other non-traditional elements can often be effortlessly incorporated into the framework of traditional idioms and practices, which in turn reveals the dynamic innovability of the traditions themselves11.

Sina Weibo is an ideal example of this innovability. Even the more ‘traditional’ bloggers discussed here, such as Dharma Drum Mountain and Xing Yun, have made a concerted effort over many decades to revitalise Buddhism so it is more relevant to life in the contemporary world. Microblogs are just another stage in the evolution of this process. Not surprisingly, Shi Daoxin also claims to be a disseminator of modern Buddhist culture and art, albeit in his own unique way. For the time being, Shi Daoxin et al will continue to be able to encourage, inspire, question and interact with their followers through Sina Weibo. And when Sina Weibo loses its lustre or is blocked, then I’m sure they will be among the early adopters of the next web platform, whatever it may be.

(Photo courtesy of www.weibo.com/shidaoxin)

 


 

1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8851585/China-fights-to-silence-the-social-network.html

2.http://bit.ly/rC0vpY

3. http://bit.ly/uVZTtH

4. http://weibo.com/ddmbascc

5. http://weibo.com/1861268640

6. http://weibo.com/1243683297

7. http://weibo.com/1759168351

8. http://www.youtube.com/user/BOOKLIFE1313

9. http://www.innerspace.com.cn/f/index

10. http://weibo.com/shidaoxin

11. Adam Yuet Chau. Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation, Taylor and Francis, 2011, page 20.

 

 


週三, 19 十月 2011 16:39

A Virtual Game that I Play for Real!

By Ni Ming, edited by Chen Yujun(Raining), translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart, artwork by Arvid Torres

I don't think I would survive without online games. I've enjoyed playing all kinds of computer games since I was little. In first year of university, all the guys in my class were playing ‘World of Warcraft’, so I decided to start playing it too. At one point I was playing for 8-10 hours a day, which would normally give me a headache and make me feel a little queasy because of the 3D gameplay. I had to sprint to the toilet all of a sudden.

The world of online games is like a microcosm of society. One needs to invest a lot of time and money in it. There are even people who arrange to go online every day at a certain time like punching a time-clock. As each team is made up of different characters with different classes, someone will be in charge of inflicting as much DPS (Damage per second) as possible, others heal, and others still tank, so if you are missing a team member it is impossible to continue with a quest. For the most part I undertake quests, play PvP (player vs player), or purely wandering around inside this other dimension made up of a fusion of technology and beauty. At times, when playing instances with randomly selected strangers as team members, I would be on the verge of tears from the pressure, although I also had good experiences. As the more challenging parts of the game need cooperation and communication between team members, if you make a mistake it can lead to the death of the whole team, so when you make a mistake it is hard to avoid feeling frustrated, that you have let everyone else down.

However, not everyone's attitude to the online game is the same, not everyone takes it as seriously as others. As well as this, due to controls set in place by the CCP on the mainland, if mainlanders want to play the latest version of World of Warcraft they have to find a way to use the servers for Taiwan and Hong-Kong, which means the servers are overburdened. Differences in culture, habits, and ways of talking inevitably cause friction between players. For example, one time when our team were in the middle of a game, one member of the team suddenly stopped responding, I was stunned, after a quite a long while someone said, "He runs a store, he's with a customer...". Everyone commits a lot of time and money to play, but this guy just abandoned the game without even a word to his team members! It leaves you speechless. As well as this kind of thing, there are quite a lot of strongly worded political arguments conducted between Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese players, which destroy the experience of the game for many people, leading some of the game's older devotees to stop playing altogether. Although the simulated world of the game is not so far from the real world in terms of how people interact, in the game gender is not important except in appearance, it all depends on the skill and style of the player, this makes the game's reality different from real life. Although it is not easy to tell a player's real gender, in the world of the game, girls often play male characters and male players often play as pretty girls, which is pretty interesting (although because male players are the majority, when people come across a female character they will often assume that the player is male).

On the whole, the current World of Warcraft is very diverse, although this diversity comes hand and hand with the problems mentioned above. People still organize player get-togethers, arrange to meet in the real world and make friends but the game lacks the sense of community that it once had. This is also true of the internet in general, due to changes in society, it has become less and less safe, and it is impossible to go back to simpler times. My experience of online gaming has influenced my value system, because it is real experience, even if it occurs in a simulated world, it is still an extension of the real world.

 


週一, 26 九月 2011 19:27

CEFC Files: The identity kaleidoscope of the first 'Taiwanese' generation

Dr. Tanguy Lepesant is an assistant professor at the National Central University, Chongli and a visiting researcher at CEFC Taipei. As part of our series of interviews with the team of researchers at CEFC Taipei,  Tanguy talked to us about his research on national and ethnic identity and nationalism of young Taiwanese born in the 1980's.Tanguy first came to Taiwan in 1997 when he was posted to the French Institute for 9 months, where as a political science doctoral candidate he quickly became interested in the political situation in Taiwan and changed his directions of study towards questions of Taiwanese identity and nation building. Tanguy chose to do his fieldwork on young Taiwanese born in the 80's as he felt they could form a "political and social generation" because they had been "socialised in a very different context to their parents". Here he introduces his research:


週一, 01 八月 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.

週一, 23 五 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.

 


週三, 30 三月 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.


週一, 31 一月 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


週五, 28 一月 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.



週五, 21 一月 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

週二, 18 一月 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.


週二, 18 一月 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.


週五, 14 一月 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.


週五, 24 九月 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)

週五, 24 九月 2010 19:24

A New Age for China

The Lama Temple (雍和宮) on Yonghegong Street in Beijing’s inner north is one of the most impressive temples in Beijing.  Built over 300 years ago during the Qing Dynasty, it now serves the dual purposes of being both an active Buddhist temple and a popular tourist destination.  Camera-toting tourists mingle with incense-offering devotees, marvelling at the impressive and sprawling compound, before heading over to the nearby Confucius Temple (孔廟) for some more happy snaps in a slightly more serene atmosphere.

Anyone approaching the Lama Temple from the nearby subway station will be struck by the number of stores selling impressively large packets of incense, not to mention the hawkers prowling around the subway exit, ever ready to pounce on potential worshippers and try to offload a packet of incense or two.

Indeed, Yonghegong Street and the surrounding hutongs (alleys) are not only filled with incense vendors, but a whole range of stores selling statues, prayer beads, Tibetan religious curios and items of worship (My favourite was a solar powered prayer wheel).  There are also a few vegetarian restaurants in the area.  Add to this a large number of Daoist fortune tellers and geomancers and the neighbourhood has a strongly Chinese religious appearance.

I was then quite surprised to come across 智慧之光 or ‘Wisdom Light – the New Age Shop’, a mere 100 or so metres south of the Lama Temple and nestled next to a vendor of Taiwanese tea.  To anyone who has perused the advertisements in a Western New Age magazine or attended some sort of New Age ‘gathering’, this location might make perfect sense – “Fengshui and astrology – *tick*.  Tibetan artefacts – *tick*.  New Age trinkets and tchotchkes – *tick*”.  But I was not walking down the main street of a hippie town on the East Coast of Australia or one of Canada’s Gulf Islands.  I was in Beijing.  A place that in recent decades has seen little of the type of religious experimentation and social conditions that spawned the West’s now nebulous and pervasive New Age movement.

While it is tricky trying to define the New Age movement (NAM) as a religion, it is certainly influenced by religious thought.  The NAM is a loose collection of ideas and philosophies – often contradictory – with the general intention being to engender personal or societal change.  Lorne L. Dawson wrote that the NAM often utilises “processes of self-discovery that have either been invented or recovered from numerous traditional and usually pre-modern or marginalized groups of the world”[1].  How such a group would fit into the rigidly defined Chinese religious landscape (with  state-sanctioned religious groups limited to Buddhist, Daoist, Islamic, Protestant and Catholic) is not clear.  It would not be inconceivable for a New Age group elsewhere to include aspects of two or more of these five groups, not to mention influences from Chinese and Tibetan religiosity.  This ‘recycling’ of spirituality – the NAM in the West takes a Chinese idea and reconfigures it to be suitable for Western audiences and now attempts to market this back in China – is fascinating.  In discussing the potential of the NAM in Asia, Lee writes that individuals seeking to give meaning to their sense of being may “turn to enchanted traditions as a form of resistance to state attempts in enforcing the processes of disenchantment”[2].  Such a state of affairs could be possible in China, where the Communist party continues to reign supreme and oversee a rapid modernisation of society.  Of course, with China being the vast place that it is, not all areas are modernising at the same rate and not everyone has the same opportunity to engage in some form of spiritual practice.

The nascent NAM in China most likely began through contacts with Hong Kong and Taiwan, often through businessman assigned to Chinese posts.  The NAM really began to develop in Taiwan after Martial Law was lifted in 1987[3].  Significantly, all the printed material in ‘Wisdom Light’ was published in traditional Chinese (the script used in Hong Kong and Taiwan) rather than simplified Chinese (as used in mainland China).  Photocopies of books were also available for sale.  I was told that the books were primarily printed in Taiwan.  Returning to the store one day, I spied some new flyers advertising Reiki courses in Hong Kong, left earlier in the day by a Reiki representative.

Singing-bowls-for-saleBesides literature, the store offered an eclectic range of products and services - bell chimes, angels, pyramids, crystal singing bowls, herbs, Native American dreamcatchers, DVDs, CDs and aura photography. The shop’s staff were not too sure about their boss’ New Age background or credentials, but did know that he owned another business.  Compared to the other shops on Yonghegong St, ‘Wisdom Light’ was not too busy.  However, perhaps the boss has recognized a niche market.  As long as China’s middle classes continue to grow and relative religious freedom remains, the New Age has the potential to be quite profitable.  China’s moneyed class just needs to be convinced to buy the crystal singing bowl from ‘Wisdom Light’ instead of a copper one from the Tibetan merchant across the road, even though it might be several times more expensive. At this stage, ‘Wisdom Light’ only sells products, not having yet expanded to offer courses.

One could ask, is the NAM suitable for China?  The experience in Taiwan and Hong Kong, similar cultures to that of China, suggests so.  In Taiwan one can purchase a wide range of New Age books at the most mainstream of outlets.  But if we shift the focus back to Yonghegong Street, then perhaps we might reconsider the NAM’s short term prospects in China.

China’s thawing religious landscape offers hints. Ten years ago Yonghegong Street might well have looked considerably different.  It was only in 2002 that the Beijing Religious Regulations were amended to allow fortune tellers and palm readers to be considered as ‘cultural heritage’, rather than feudal superstition[4].  While these businesses are now ubiquitous, it was not that long ago, certainly during the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, that they would have been more difficult to find.  Now packaged as ‘cultural heritage’, palmistry and the like might not seem so alien to the average Chinese citizen.  And it is making this cultural connection that foreign religious groups in China must do.  As long as something is seen as alien, its relevance will be questioned and acceptance will be slow, if at all.  Christian and Catholic missionaries in China have long recognized this.  The NAM is no different.  To take hold in China, the new ideas that the NAM encompasses and how entrepreneurs promulagate them will have to be adapted to Chinese society.  Translating some of the available texts into simplified Chinese might be a good start.

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[1] Lorne L. Dawson.  Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements.  Oxford University Press. Toronto. 1998. Page 191.

[2] Lee, Raymond L. M., The reenchantment of the self, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 18:3, 351-367, 2003.

[3] Chen, Shu-Chuan and Beckford, James A., Parallel glocalization: the New Age in Taiwan, page 3 (available online)

[4] Chan, Kim-Kwok and Carlson, Eric R., Religious Freedom in China, Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, 2005, 15.

 


週五, 24 九月 2010 19:23

A Tour of Taiwan's Temples

When driving through Taiwan's country side or catching the train, one is struck by the incredible number of large and ornate temples that dot the landscape.  Get on board with Paul Farrelly as he introduces some of the more notable New Religious Movement temples that the island has to offer.


週五, 24 九月 2010 19:22

Sunday afternoon at Hai Tze Tao

Hai Tze Tao is a new religious movement formed in Taiwan in 1984.  Paul Farrelly had the opportunity to visit their temple in suburban Taipei and film the Sunday afternoon service.  This video includes footage of the service, as well as a brief introduction to Hai Tze Tao and its beliefs.


週五, 24 九月 2010 19:13

Lord of Universe Church - from China to Taiwan and back again

Stacey Hsieh is a member of the Lord of Universe Church (天帝教, Tiandijiao), which as one of its key tenets, aims to reunite China and Taiwan.  Here Stacey discusses the church's relationship with China and some of its experiences there.
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Stacey also introduces the church here and discusses the time she has spent on long-term retreat.

週五, 24 九月 2010 19:09

An introduction to the Lord of Universe Church

Stacey Hsieh is a member of the Lord of Universe Church (天帝教, Tiandijiao).  Here she introduces the origins and beliefs of the church.

Stacey also discusses her long-term retreats and the church's experience in China.


週五, 24 九月 2010 00:00

Traditional Chinese religiosity repackaged and exported... to China: How Huang Ting Chan does it

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Based in the mountains south of Taipei, Huang Ting Chan is now regularly conducting workshops in cities on the Chinese mainland.  Here Huang Ting Chan's founder, Mr Zhang, provides some insight into how his Taiwan-based philosophy/psychology group is able to operate in China.

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For an introduction to Huang Ting Chan and the concept of huang ting, please watch this video.


週五, 24 九月 2010 19:01

What is Huang Ting?

Based in the mountains south of Taipei, Huang Ting Chan is a retreat centre where traditional Chinese religiosity and modern psychology come together. In this interview, Huang Ting Chan's founder, Mr Zhang, introduces the concept of huang ting and explains how despite the advances of modern science, traditional Chinese concepts of the mind remain important.


週三, 04 八月 2010 17:27

A glimpse into Matsu’s island

Have you ever heard of Matsu?

Most of the people I have met in Taiwan or abroad who never been to Matsu refer to it as a military island or think of the famous Chinese Goddess of the Sea: “Mazu” (馬祖). Unfortunately not many people know about this beautiful and quiet island (actually, Matsu is an archipelago of 19 small islands, divided into four townships*), which belongs to Lienchiang County (連江縣) of the Republic of China (ROC). Matsu is situated in the Taiwan Strait, only 10 miles (16 km) away from China, close to Fujian province, but 120 miles (193 km) away from Taiwan. I was astonished to see at Nangan harbor how very close China is to Matsu, just 40 minutes by boat.

My first trip to Matsu was during the Chinese New Year and I will never forget it. Indeed, as you might say, I did not choose the right time to go to this island. The weather was bad and all the residents of Matsu were going back home to Matsu to spend New Year with their families. My flight was delayed and I had to wait until the next day before to take another plane.... However, there were no normal passenger planes and I had to take a military transport airplane. Everyone was in the baggage hold, sitting all together in two long rows, not so comfortable but quite worth it simply for the experience. Fortunately, the plane trip was short, only 45 minutes, and I did not have to jump by parachute for the landing. This reinforced my strong impression that Matsu is well served by its nickname of Military Island! However, I discovered during my stay on this island that Matsu is much more than just a military island.

Matsu was the furthest military outpost of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalists when the Communists established their power in the mainland in 1949. Since 1992, when martial law on the island was lifted, the number of soldiers stationed on Matsu has significantly decreased, as has as the fishing industry, which has had an adverse effect on Matsu’s economy. Consequently, with the support of the Taiwanese government, Matsu decided to develop a cultural economy. For example, many military facilities and historic monuments can now be visited, such as the secret military tunnels. They were built during the 1950s to hold ships that could launch surprise attacks on the mainland. It is quite amazing that the existence of these tunnels was unknown even by the residents of Matsu until 1992. Capitalizing on the fame of its Goddess namesake, the tallest statue of Mazu in the world is in Nangan Township.

lise_darbas_matsu2In addition, I was quite impressed by Matsu’s unique stone houses, built in the style of Eastern Min architecture. Indeed, the native people of Matsu were originally immigrants from Eastern Fujian or Eastern Min, so they do not speak Taiwanese but the Fuzhou dialect (福州話, or閩北話). One of the most well-known traditional sites, the village of Qinbi in Beigan (dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties), bears a strong resemblance to Mediterranean architecture. Most of these houses are nowadays not inhabited during winter vacations. They have been restored and converted into art galleries, coffee shops and bed and breakfast guesthouses to cater for tourists. Walking between these houses made me felt like if I was in a small ghost town. There was strong wind coming from the sea, and I noticed the peculiarity of the roof tiles of the stone houses, which were all weighed down with rocks to defend against the wind. Winter vacation is not the ideal time to fully enjoy Matsu, rather the best time to go to this island is from June to November. During this period the weather is much more favorable for hiking and enjoying a coffee on the terrace of stone houses next to the seaside.

Matsu is now trying its best to lure tourist and attract more interests. Before going to Matsu, I heard of Josh Wenger, an American doctoral student at National Taiwan University who won a competition to be mayor of Matsu for a day. In October 2009, inspired by the famous publicity of “The best job in the world” on Hamilton Island (part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef), Matsu had the brilliant idea to create an online quiz of 10 questions on Matsu’s geographical and historical facts to promote itself. The winner had the amazing opportunity to become the mayor of Matsu for one day, with an award of NT$10,000, and a stay of 3 days and 2 nights in free accommodation.

lise_darbas_Josh_Matsu_5I interviewed Josh who was deeply impressed by Matsu, which he describes as an interesting island with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural sites, friendly people and exceptionally tasty food, which was some of the best he has ever tasted in Taiwan. The food he enjoyed the most was fresh seafood, such as seafood noodles, the Buddha hands (炒佛手), and fried clams (炒花蛤). I also found Matsu’s food very delicious, for example, I enjoyed eating Matsu’s “Red rice yeast chicken” (紅糟雞) in the small cozy coffee shop “Lady Coffee” (夫人咖啡) next to the coast in Nangan Township.

Josh’s favorite places were in Beigan island, such as “Biyuan Park” (碧園, which means “green garden”) a small beautiful park with plaques containing the names of soldiers who lost their lives serving in the military; the mountain “Bishan” (北竿大沃山) is the highest peak of the Matsu island with an incredible view of Beigan island, and the “88 tunnel” (八八坑道), which originally took its name to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek’s 88th birthday. Since 1992, this tunnel is no longer a military facility, but is instead used by the people of Matsu to keep their best old rice liquor (老酒) in ceramic pots.

Following on from my short stay in Matsu, and after having interviewed Josh, I became even more interested by this small island. Although Matsu is not as well known as the main island of Taiwan, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting historical and natural sites I have visited here. I believe that Matsu is an indispensable destination for understanding cross-Strait relations. Moreover, Matsu’s cultural assets such as the stone houses are some of the most important attractions of the island, and have given Matsu a charm and special atmosphere that seems to be from another time. What was once a frontier of the Cold War is now ideal tourist spot for a relaxing couple of days.

(Photos courtesy of J. Wenger and L. Darbas)

Links:

“Matsu National Scenic Area,” http://www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw/User/Main.aspx?Lang=2.

“Matsu’s best-kept cultural heritage: Eastern Min architecture at Qinbi village,” http://www.culture.tw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1430&Itemid=157

Watch Josh Wenger’s report about his experience being the mayor of Matsu:「 一日縣長」溫賈舒:馬祖的美麗景點,絕對要去看

 

*Nangan (南竿鄉), Beigan (北竿鄉), Juguang (莒光鄉), Dongyin (東引鄉)


週三, 28 七月 2010 22:04

The new frontier in abolishing the death penalty

In the second half of the 20th century, there were many changes in death penalty policy worldwide. After the end of World War II and its atrocities, an abolitionist movement started in Western Europe. The first countries to abolish were Italy, Austria and Germany. They were later followed by Great Britain, Spain and France. After the last major power in Western Europe had abolished the death penalty, in 1981, the issue shifted from a question of criminal justice to a question of human rights and limits on government.

Since then, the number, scope and implementation strategies of international human rights treaties and conventions has increased. Among those treaties and conventions lies the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which prohibits the use of capital punishment, and the UN moratorium on death penalty, a nonbinding resolution reached in 2007 which calls for a general suspension of the death penalty. In addition to these resolutions, INGOs such as Amnesty International have been launching worldwide campaigns to abolish capital punishment.

In 2009, 95 countries had abolished the death penalty, while only 18 of the 58 retentionist countries are known to have carried out executions in the same year. However, despite a decline in Asia’s overall number of executions, the continent still accounted for 90 percent of the world’s execution in 2009, the majority having been carried out in China, although Bangladesh, Japan, North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam also carried out executions.

Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that Asia is the new frontier in the movement to abolish the death penalty. First, many countries are already abolitionist or de facto abolitionist. In 1989, Cambodia abolished death penalty, and then Macao, Hong Kong and more recently the Philippines followed suit, while South Korea has not carried out an execution since December 1997. Second, there is ambivalence in other Asian countries that still practice death penalty, as is the case in Taiwan.

In 1987 the Republic of China (Taiwan) emerged from 40 years of an oppressive regime under martial law, where people could be punished by death, secretly and on a whim. As Chiang Ching-Kuo opened up the country economically and began the democratisation process, Taiwan's institutions were still partly in the hands of the system which had allowed for the White Terror and other miscarriages of social justice. A key component of the democratisation process is transitional justice. The term refers to a complete set of policies in order to transform a society and overcome its past of human rights abuses, authoritarianism and societal traumas to a peaceful and more certain future. For some, this 'transition' is still in progress today.

After some controversial cases during the 1990s such as the Hsichih trio case, the number of executions carried out in Taiwan decreased and a change of attitude towards the death penalty began to emerge. Between 2006 and 2009, no executions were carried out, and Taiwan seemed to be moving gradually toward abolition…

In March 2010, a controversy emerged over the death penalty issue when former Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) announced her position in favour of abolishing the death penalty adding that she would not step down over the row about enforcing death penalty. Her announcement led to public protests led by victims’ relatives, such as Pai Ping-Ping, a media personality whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered in 1997. On March 11th, Wang Ching-feng resigned after the Presidential Office stated that the death penalties handed down must be carried out and that any suspension of executions must follow the law.

On April 30th 2010, executions in Taiwan were resumed after a 4-year moratorium on the death penalty, as four men were executed by shooting. Human rights organizations as well as representatives of the international community deplored the executions and asked for the immediate reestablishment of a moratorium.

(Image by Ash Ka)

 

 


週一, 26 七月 2010 22:41

Leading the long road to abolition (TAEDP)

Lin Hsinyi is the Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP). In a gradual reaction to the cases of Zhou Xun-shan, Lu Cheng and Xu Zi-chiang, TEADP was established in 2003, and has been working towards abolition ever since, as well as helping appeal death row cases and offering support to relatives of those who have received a death sentence or who have already been executed. They are currently the most active group in Taiwan regarding the cessation of the death penalty and are also members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN)

As a recognisable outspoken critic of the death penalty, Hsinyi often receives personal threats on her life and body, a product of the prevailing atmosphere of hate. This atmosphere of hate is something she feels is an obstacle to objective debate on the subject. Hsinyi also feels that the resumption of executions after a four year moratorium in May was a huge setback, yet, she believes progressive steps are still being made. Here she talks about why she does not favour the death penalty as a form of punishment, the obstacles to abolishing the death penalty and what can be done in the future.

Or for readers in Mainland China, watch it here

For more information on the TAEDP, watch their own introductory video, or see the English section of their website.


週五, 23 七月 2010 18:39

A democratic society should not permit state violence!

French Romantic writer Victor Hugo once proclaimed "The death penalty is the essential and lasting symbol of of barbaric behaviour".

From a human evolution standpoint, the way we distinguish between modern civilisation and the barbaric past, is our respect for other humans and life. To kill is an extremely brutal act, regardless of the circumstances, the procedures gone through and by whom it is implemented. There is no way of masking the innate barbarism of killing.

Thus, the more civilised a culture becomes, the more we start to reflect on the death penalty. In the modern world with the International Human Rights Act, the trend is truly moving towards the abolishment of the death penalty. 139 of the world's 197 countries have abolished the death penalty (no executions for 10 or more years), of the remaining 58, less than half of them carried out an execution in 2009. This serves as testament that many countries, after a period of logical analysis have realised that there is a conflict between the values of civilised societies and those under the death penalty system.

For example, many people think that the death penalty is a useful tool for alleviating the pain and anger of the victim's family as well as realising justice. However, if approaching the subject from a victim protection standpoint, then one must realise that punishing the offender with death, may for a short time satisfy the desire for revenge but is ineffective in helping the victim's family live with the loss of their relatives nor does it help look after them in the future. Furthermore the state's responsibility to care for the victims and their families not simply come to an end once the offender has been executed. In other words, the protection of victims and the death penalty system are two completely unrelated issues. Death penalty is also certainly not a key prerequisite to victim protection since in various countries around the world there are organisations of victims families who are explicitly against it and even in Taiwan there is no shortage of cases where the victims families are willing to forgive the murders of their relatives.

A questionable concept of justice

Therefore, what seems like public opinion championing the cause of justice for victims, hence strong support for the death penalty, in fact has complex social and psychological background factors. This was also perceived by Durkheim in his penal theory. To the common people, the message given by the punishment of death isn't one of caring for the victims and their families, nor is it of punishment and teaching a lesson. Neither. It is more a form of excorsising ceremony as a way of recovering what the society's psychology perceives as the broken normal order of things (especially with over exaggerations and demonisation in the media). What shines through this transparent concept is in fact human selfishness and indifference. The majority of the public who praise the death penalty system are only concerned about the disruption to the normal order of their lives. They are not truly concerned for the victims and even less so for the underlying causes of the crime, how to truly deal with the problem or how to avoid similar misfortunes in the future. In other words, this type of justice is actually full of injustice.

The values espoused by modern democracies emphasize that the people should in fact be active participants in the construction of society, rather than indifferent observers. In particular, the state's power is supposed to derive from the whole population. If the people do not fearfully guard against and recall the power of the state to deprive an individual of life; then if the day when state power shakes off the people's reins and becomes the exclusive domain of the dictator, Taiwan's White Terror history could most feasibly return.

Amnesty International has always maintained that the death penalty in itself is full of prejudice, erroneous judgements and abuse, and the instances are uncountable. Furthermore, the public's misconceptions of the death penalty, have rationalised irreparable acts of state violence and this inevitably involves some innocent victims. In conclusion, a democratic society should not permit the death penalty - a cruel and inhumane state violence.

Translated from the Chinese by Nicholas Coulson

Image: Cécile Thimoreau

GaoYongCheng_DeathPenalty_logo

 


週三, 21 七月 2010 16:58

All aboard the Coromandel Express

Coromandel Express formed in early 2010.  The group takes its name from the Indian train - 'The Coromandel Express' - that links Kolkata in the north with Chennai in the south.  With Page Byassee (蘇珮卿) on flute, harp and vocals and Cody Byassee (白克迪) on kanjira and percussion representing south Indian music and Yo (金光亮平) on sitar and Waka (若池敏弘) on tabla representing that of the north, the sounds of Coromandel Express reflects the cross-country journey of its namesake train.

週二, 06 七月 2010 12:02

To harm is human, to forgive is divine

Ming C. Huang is the director of the Prison Fellowship in Taiwan. The prison fellowship gives counselling to various prisoners. They also look after victims and their families and try to fully reintegrate them into society . Of particular interest is that they give counselling to those on death row. This gives Ming a rare insight into prisoners that others may have completely given up on and provides a more accurate understanding of the individual issues and mindsets of each prisoner.


週五, 26 三月 2010 00:00

My hopes for higher education in Taiwan

Taiwan's Deputy Minister for Education discusses his hopes for higher education in Taiwan.


週四, 24 十二月 2009 20:37

Mount Zion and Typhoon Morakot (Part I)

Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County is the home of the New Testament Church and, as the church believes, venue for the tribulation.
Mount Zion was damaged during Typhoon Morakot and seven church members lost their lives. While this was a great disaster for the family and friends of the deceased, the church sees them as saints who worked for the glory of God up until their death and have now ascended to heaven, thereby setting an example for their fellow church members.

週四, 30 七月 2009 03:24

Zhongliao Village after 921 Earthquake

Every Taiwanese can recall the earthquake that shook the whole Island of Taiwan, one night time nine years ago. On that night, more than 2000 people lost a family member or had their house destroyed.

Nantou County was the area the most severally hit by the natural disaster. Some parts of the mountains disappeared to make place for a new landscape.

Mr Liao who was living in Zhongliao Village, Nantou County thought he was very lucky to survive the earthquake with his wife. Unfortunately, this was not the case for many people living in the neighbourhood. In front of this distressing situation, Mr Liao decided to build ‘Longyan Community’.

The association started by giving free lunch boxes to the people in need. Since 1999, they distributed more than one million lunch boxes.

As most people living in Zhongliao Village are old people and children, the head of the Association Mr Liao, decided to open free class activities in the community and free access to a computer room…a doctor also comes to the village once a week.

Now, more and more people living in Zhongliao Village work for the community, combining their efforts at the service of others.

When I was staying at Longyan Community, I was amazed to see the point to which the combined efforts of the community, could create an atmosphere of healthy life and hope after the earthquake trauma.

To me, Longyan Community is a model example of mutual aid for Taiwanese Society.

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/zhongliao_aurelie_k_thumb.jpg|}media/articles/AurelieK_Zhongliao.swf{/rokbox}

週一, 25 八月 2008 23:00

A visit to Losheng sanitarium in Taiwan

Today I visited Taiwan’s famous Losheng Sanitarium (樂生療養院), a leper colony built by the Japanese colonial government in Xinzhuang City, Taipei County. As in leper colonies throughout the world, Taiwanese victims of Hansen’s Disease were forcibly imprisoned in Losheng by the government, as they were in Japan by the government there. Although the leper imprisonment order was lifted in Taiwan in the 1950s , they have for the most part remained. With modern medicine the patients are no longer inmates, and no longer contagious, but nothing can de-cripple them or regrow their missing fingers and stumpy limbs. And they have nowhere to go, and no way to survive except by public welfare of some sort.

I had first heard of Losheng perhaps a couple of years ago, due to the wave of protests to the government’s plan to demolish the entire complex to make way for a train depot, as part of Taipei metro’s never-ending expansion plan. Although there are naturally no opponents to MRT expansion itself, there have been severe doubts regarding the sense of building the depot in this particular location, which apparently requires the leveling of mountain to create flat ground which naturally occurs elsewhere and is widely suspected of having been chosen to satisfy local political interests before practical considerations of engineering.

Primary opposition to the plan however, is due to a desire to preserve Losheng. The adage goes something like, you never really appreciate something to it’s gone, and it is born out time and again in the history of urban preservation. New York City’s historical preservation regime was established in the wake of the foolhardy and abhorrent demolition of Penn Station in the 1960s, and throughout the world preservationist activity is often triggered by the threat of imminent loss. The government’s plan to demolish the place made people realize for the first time that it was worth preserving, and recent protests have spurred a surge of interest in the hospital site and its residents that has gone beyond simple preservationism to community organizing attempting to integrate Losheng, which for most of its existence was in principle as isolated as a prison, into the surrounding community. This has led to large numbers of non afiliated visitors spending time with the patients for probably the first time in many years, if not ever.

roy_berman_losheng_3It turns out that from the articles I had read in The Taipei Times, not to mention the briefer pieces I saw in Japanese media I had no idea what it was like. When I read about a hospital/leper sanitarium being destroyed to make way for MRT construction I had for some reason imagined a cluster of shabby old buildings on a city street corner. But of course a leper colony could not be in such a place, and is in fact built on slightly elevated and up-sloping terrain on mountain foothills of a part of Taipei county that, at the time, was mostly farmland. Less a modern style hospital or a prison, Losheng is actually a sprawling and rather pleasant, almost collegiate-looking, campus with abundant greenery and attractive brick buildings. The main hospital building looks properly medical, and the general sense of design reflects its Japanese period origins, with semi-exposed corridors reminiscent of the older buildings on the Japanese Imperial Universities of the early 20th century, such as today’s National Taiwan University or Kyoto National University (the two examples whose architecture I am familiar with). Most other buildings are also in the pre-war Japanese style common in Taiwan, with a few notable exceptions. The least Japanese buildings in Losheng are probably the Buddhist temple, which is in standard Taiwanese style, and the now shuttered Catholic Church, which is perhaps the most spartan Catholic church building I have ever seen, with only a spare cross on the roof and no writing of any kind on the outside, but with a green Chinese roof, oddly complete with dragon tiles on the corners, and outer walls painted in the Chinese temple fashion. It reminds me of nothing so much as the far more elaborate Tainan Catholic cathedral, which is constructed and painted completely in the manner of a Chinese temple, if you do not look too close at the paintings. Of particular interest are the residence buildings for patients (originally, remember, inmates) from particular parts of Taiwan, such as Penghu or Tainan, donated by the governments of that region.

I mentioned above activity integrating the Losheng campus into the greater community. This consists of various activities, such as holding lectures and community meetings inside Losheng, or educational programs for children. As chance had it, I happened to go on a day which was particularly active. Community activists are currently running a summer camp for children from various elementary schools in the area, using various Losheng buildings for different activities. I was taken to see the room being used for a week-long Japanese language class run by a Japanese woman studying a PhD in Urban Planning at National Taiwan University, in the room of the hospital building where the sickest patients were brought, connected by a locked iron door to the much smaller room where they were taken to die. This is either morbidly incongruous beyond belief, or an excellent symbol of the way in which the space is being reclaimed and repurposed from its grim past. But little of that darkness remains. The staff (mostly Taiwanese college students) had cleaned the room fastidiously, and it was festooned with child drawings illustrating various basic Japanese words and phrases.

Then I went to a much larger room, a sort of meeting hall I suppose, where the kids were being led in Japanese songs by some of the old patients who remember their Japanese well. One played the keyboard-no easy task with hands ravaged by Hansen’s Disease, while another sat in front of the stage in his motor chair, leading the children in Furosato.

After the class was over, I spent some time speaking to the old men, who seemed both movingly thrilled and slightly amazed to have so many young people, children, teenagers and 20-somethings, having fun inside Losheng and spending time with the patients as human beings, and not afraid of their no longer contagious disease. As is the case with many elderly Taiwanese, their first language is Taiwanese (aka Minnan, Hoklo, Fukkianese, etc.) Their Mandarin is generally weak and heavily accented, and most of them also speak Japanese to some degree, having undergone elementary education during the colonial period. I spent the most time speaking with one old man, Chang Wen-pin 张文贫, whose fluent Japanese was easily the best out of the group.

Mr. Chang, now 81 if my calculations are correct, went to a Japanese colonial elementary school in Taiwan and worked as, I think, a locksmith both under the Japanese and in the early years of the KMT, before he was interned. He was around 20 years old at the time of the 228 incident, and considers Chiang Kai-shek to be the worst thing to have happened to Taiwan.

To paraphrase, translated and from memory:

Taiwan’s history is full of tragedy. After WW2 Taiwan shouldn’t have been given to Chiang Kai-shek, but instead the allies should have occupied it. America, England and Russia should have managed Taiwan and then organized it for independence. If they had done that then we would have avoided the 228 massacre and noone in Taiwan would be speaking Mandarin (lit: guoyu) today!

Mr. Chang and the others made me promise to come back and visit next time I come to Taiwan, and before I left he made me wait while he went back to his room and brought a copy of the photo and essay book about Losheng assembled by the preservationist activists, which he signed and gave to me.

roy_berman_losheng_2Countless speakers have said that “A society is ultimately judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members.” The leper has always been a symbol for the lowest in society, and despite having no use for religion myself, I think I can understand why Mr. Chang finds his solace in Christianity, a religion in which the leper is a symbol not of disgust, but of redemption. It says a lot of a society in which lepers are no longer lepers, but patients, and the resurrection of Losheng from a medical prison into a park where children play may be taken as a symbol for Taiwan’s transformation from colony and then military dictatorship into the relatively free and effectively independent country that it is today. But the current metro expansion plan still requires the demolition of something like 30-40% of Losheng’s territory, with some buildings kept in place, a few relocated, and many destroyed entirely. Even the preservationists have abandoned their attempts to save the entire site, with construction of the nearby depot building already well under way, and their best case plan today is the “90% plan.” There is still room for improvement.

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/roy_losheng_thumb.jpg|}media/articles/RoyBerman_Losheng.swf{/rokbox}


週二, 19 一月 2010 20:16

Mount Zion and Typhoon Morakot (Part II)

 

Mount Zion in Kaohsiung County is the home of the New Testament Church and, as the church believes, venue for the tribulation.
Mount Zion was damaged during Typhoon Morakot and seven church members lost their lives. While this was a great disaster for the family and friends of the deceased, the church sees them as saints who worked for the glory of God up until their death and have now ascended to heaven, thereby setting an example for their fellow church members.

{rokbox size=|544 384|thumb=|images/stories/thumbnails_video/paul_farrelly_morakot2.jpg|}http://www.erenlai.com/2010/images/stories/videos/edito_Paul_MountZion_PArt21209.flv{/rokbox}

週五, 29 二月 2008 18:18

Air-conditioned Democracy

The debate between Ma Yin-jeou and Hsieh Chang-ting on the Taiwanese TV channels, held February 24, was a non-event. Not only because we did not learn anything new about the program of the two candidates or their personalities, but also because of the format of the debate itself: twenty citizens had videotaped their questions, aired during the debate, and the candidates were informed in advance of the content of these questions. Therefore, it was more like an exam in which cheating is allowed…

We meet here with a paradox: allowing (carefully selected) citizens to air their views and concerns might look like an exercise in direct participation, making the debate more grassroots. And this is partly true, as questions on the environment, the judicial system and other everyday issues were prominent. However, this kind of “YouTube democracy" is obviously very artificial, bordering on manipulation. No surprise is to be expected, there are no experienced journalists for testing the candidates’ reactions - and carefully scripted answers do not teach much to the audience.

A democratic debate is to be based on surprise, direct contact, inventiveness... it does not have to be an exercise in memory power, but rather on character strength and imagination. Indeed, we are not only testing programs, but inner character and capacity for reaction and judgment as well. In that respect, one has to recognize that the American primaries do fulfill such a role – at least they do so this year…

Gadgets such as videotaped questions are not vital to democracy. Actually, nothing would be more dangerous than to go towards a kind of “virtualization” of the democratic process. We need to directly relate to our candidates and to assess them as real men and women whom we can or can’t trust. So far, the presidential campaign in Taiwan has failed the test: media reporting was not helpful. Debates have proven to be even less so.



週五, 29 二月 2008 18:18

Air-conditioned Democracy

The debate between Ma Yin-jeou and Hsieh Chang-ting on the Taiwanese TV channels, held February 24, was a non-event. Not only because we did not learn anything new about the program of the two candidates or their personalities, but also because of the format of the debate itself: twenty citizens had videotaped their questions, aired during the debate, and the candidates were informed in advance of the content of these questions. Therefore, it was more like an exam in which cheating is allowed…

We meet here with a paradox: allowing (carefully selected) citizens to air their views and concerns might look like an exercise in direct participation, making the debate more grassroots. And this is partly true, as questions on the environment, the judicial system and other everyday issues were prominent. However, this kind of “YouTube democracy" is obviously very artificial, bordering on manipulation. No surprise is to be expected, there are no experienced journalists for testing the candidates’ reactions - and carefully scripted answers do not teach much to the audience.

A democratic debate is to be based on surprise, direct contact, inventiveness... it does not have to be an exercise in memory power, but rather on character strength and imagination. Indeed, we are not only testing programs, but inner character and capacity for reaction and judgment as well. In that respect, one has to recognize that the American primaries do fulfill such a role – at least they do so this year…

Gadgets such as videotaped questions are not vital to democracy. Actually, nothing would be more dangerous than to go towards a kind of “virtualization” of the democratic process. We need to directly relate to our candidates and to assess them as real men and women whom we can or can’t trust. So far, the presidential campaign in Taiwan has failed the test: media reporting was not helpful. Debates have proven to be even less so.



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