Erenlai - Paul Farrelly (范寶文)

Paul Farrelly (范寶文)

Paul Farrelly (范寶文)

Paul is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University in Canberra. His primary research interests are new religious movements and religious innovation in China and Taiwan.

週一, 03 十二月 2012 14:48

Disability and deification: the myth making of 'Reunion'

The story

Reunion (1985)[1] plots the lives of a group of school chums at four points over 30 years. Starring Terry Hu (胡因夢) and Ding Nai-zhu (丁乃竺) - two Taiwanese actors who later transitioned into careers in the spiritual world - Reunion’s plot details the travails of the classmates over the years, reaching a climax when Ding's school for mentally handicapped children faces a crisis.

The first stanza begins in the mountains of rural Taiwan at an elementary school. Scenes of ragamuffins running amok in small town Taiwan are juxtaposed against the pastoral care of Ding, an attractive and kind young teacher who struggles to engender respect and responsibility in her students. The students, oblivious as the young so often are, only realize the extent of Ding's care for them when a dead-snake-in-the-drawer joke backfires. Ding has the bejusus scared out of her and the shame-faced students are resoundingly scolded.

Reconvening nearly ten years later, the second stanza unfolds during high school when the students reunite for a picnic. Ding has married a charming and creative young man and they are very much in love. The students reminisce, skylark and flirt at a riverside BBQ picnic. Then, just as this idyllic scene could get no more so, two rowboats on the lake capsize. Ding's husband gallantly dives in and rescues some students before he tragically drowns, bringing this segment to a grim close.

By the third stanza the students are now navigating the vicissitudes of life in martial law-era Taipei. Stock broker, lawyer, aspiring politician, doctor, chef and lorry driver, their lives have all taken different paths, something they discover upon reuniting for classmate and TV current affairs host Hu's wedding. Drunken melodrama and stifled emotions aside, this section is most notable for the group's reconnection with Ding. Now a widower and retired from teaching, Ding has taken to caring for mentally handicapped children in her house, something that shocks her former students.

Another ten years later and the gang are together yet again – this time banding together to help Ding. She has expanded her operation to help handicapped children, but with more children to care for come even greater problems. Landlords are unsympathetic and local groups protest the location of a “白癡中心 (idiot centre)” in the neighbourhood as it will ruin the ambience and negatively influence their own children. Against these exaggerated fears, the handicapped children are shown at work in the garden where they cooperate and learn at their own pace. Ultimately through the cooperation of the friends with Ding and the television special produced by Hu, the locals are shown to be accepting of the handicapped children.

The message

Reunion is notable for two features: the depiction of attitudes towards handicapped people and the beatification of Ding and Hu, something all the more remarkable given the direction that their careers took afterwards.

While the plight of the handicapped children cared for Ding is never far from the surface, the melodrama of Hu and her classmates tends to dominate the story. That said, the process of acceptance of the handicapped children, first by Ding’s former students and then by society, is interesting. The children are shown to be capable and loving, and while the story telling is at times overwrought, the humanity of these children is obvious. For that, the filmmakers deserve praise. Ding and Hu are able to engender emotional transformation of the humans around them, continuing the maturation process first evident in elementary school.

While Hu retired from the entertainment industry shortly after Reunion was filmed, Ding, husband of the noted Taiwanese-American playwright Stan Lai (賴聲川) remained more closely linked. In 1989 Ding hosted a TV show called 心靈之旅 (Journey of the Soul) and has become a proponent of Tibetan Buddhism, translating and promoting books by various lamas and hosting Tibetan Buddhist dignitaries when they passed through Taiwan.

Since leaving the entertainment industry in 1988, Hu has remained in the limelight through her roles as an anti-nuclear campaigner, author and translator of spiritual texts, and, recently, as a teacher of evolutionary astrology. Her books continue to be published in both China and Taiwan, where she is considered to be one of the key figures in the 'new age' spiritual scene[2]. While Hu acknowledges the utility of this term, it is not one that she is willing to label herself with. Rather, Hu considers her recent work to be psychological in nature. Regardless of how she classifies herself, Hu, along with Ding, is a notable and influential spiritual figure in contemporary Taiwan and her depiction in Reunion is just one phase of her spiritual development.

During the later parts of Reunion, Hu and Ding marshal their former classmates/pupils to help Ding’s centre for handicapped children. Through their combined efforts, the handicapped children find a better home and the students understand the strength of the friendship. Hu and Ding are integral in this process, and their stoical approach to the situation contrasts with the neuroses and agitation of those around them. Hu and Ding remain equanimous throughout, providing the example of how to transcend the mundanity of careerism and material success to benefit those less fortunate. Ding (a widow) and Hu (a divorcee) step beyond their marital status to provide a moral beacon for their classmates and students. They are inspiring to others, just as they are seemingly inspired by a deeper calling.

The idealized versions of Ding and Hu portrayed in Reunion are fascinating examples of if not life imitating art, then of art providing a template for future life choices. In the context of their current careers in Taiwan’s spiritual world, Hu and Ding might look back at the film with a smile. The everyday spirituality embodied in Reunion proved to be not dissimilar to the images projected throughout their later career choices.

 


[2] For more on the ‘new age’ in China and Taiwan see these articles by Paul Farrelly:

- China new age store

- Taiwan new age store

週五, 31 八月 2012 12:39

Taipei’s Civility Engineering Project

Riding Taipei’s subway home from the recent Radiohead gig, I was struck by what should be a peculiar sight.

It was close to 11pm and the carriage had many more passengers than there were seats, yet no one was availing themselves of the dark blue Priority Seats reserved for elderly, frail and pregnant passengers, or those travelling with children. By the time I alighted the MRT eight stops later, not one passenger had taken a Priority Seat even though many remained standing.

The seats appeared to be saved for people who were not likely to board the train. Not many obasans ride in to Taipei Main Station at that late hour. Those passengers who were not elderly, frail or pregnant appeared unwilling to offend those that might sit in those seats, even though no such person was there. Perhaps though, the intended or possible presence of an obasan was enough to shape such cautionary behaviour. Such is the civil code of the MRT.

Officially labelled the Mass Rapid Transit, the MRT is an essential feature of daily life for those Taipei citizens without private transport. Only 15 years old and with new lines appearing every couple of years, the network is slowly diffusing throughout the bowels of the city. On an average June 2012 day, 1,588,700 people took advantage of the MRT’s punctual, clean and orderly service to travel around the system’s 101 stations .

More than just an ongoing civil engineering project, Taipei’s MRT is a civility engineering project.

It could be chaotic but it is not. Somehow the authorities have managed to instil a sense of cooperation into the riding public. Platform queues are orderly. Seats are yielded to those in need. Food and beverages are not consumed. Phone conversations are generally kept to a minimum.

For foreign visitors to Taipei, especially those unfamiliar with the Chinese language, the MRT is the easiest way to traverse the city. Were one to stay underground in the MRT system, one would think Taipei to be clean and cool; regimented and reliable. Such conceptions would be obliterated upon stepping up from the MRT station and into the frazzling pedestrian traffic and frying heat of the street. In that sense the train system underground serves as a panacea to the often frantic life above ground.

One part of the government’s project to train MRT passengers is an extensive set of posters hung in both trains and stations. These posters encourage proper behaviour both IN and OUT of the MRT.

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Passengers are exposed to a range of advertisements that seek to influence their behaviour. Having control over the walls of the stations and trains gives the government the opportunity to monopolise the advertising medium. Of course much space is given over to commercial advertising, whose valuable remittances help keep the MRT system afloat. But the endless entreaties to behave better are what really created an impression on me. The captive audience of the MRT is ideal for the government to impress upon its ideals of how to create a better city.

Do people live together in the MRT? Yes, they do. An unspoken code of behaviour exists. This is not without contradictions. Someone could bring on a box of freshly fried stinky tofu, and while the odor might be a bit much for some, as long as the offending passenger does not eat any then this is OK. However, if someone is feeling in need of a drink, which is common in the summertime heat island of downtown Taipei, then he would be advised not to sip from his water bottle, lest he incur a sharp look of disapproval from the nearest righteous passenger.

Such a stringent code of behaviour is not without failing though. The Priority Seats can be contentious, especially if you are sitting in one and do not look old or injured, or are not wearing the appropriate sticker. Of course, many injuries or illnesses are not perceptible from the outside. If you are sick or sore but do not look it, then your fellow passengers might take umbrage at your bold occupation of a Priority Seat. I once saw a lady vehemently defend her right to sit in the Priority Seat, even though there was an older (and at least visibly, more frail passenger) standing nearby. Confrontations of this sort are uncomfortable for those nearby but, at least to my knowledge, rare.

In a city where almost every available inch of space is utilised and contested, the MRT exists as a zone of relative harmony and compromise. It is not only citizens who take the MRT, but the city of Taipei also rides it on the way to a more civilised society.

 

 

週日, 01 七月 2012 19:00

“Finding the most suitable spiritual path”: Taipei’s new age store

 

Books, crystals, tarot cards, books, statues, therapeutic oils, more books, Tibetan Thangkas and pyramids. And then some more books. And plenty of CDs too.

Taipei’s Making Life Buddhist New Age (佛化人生新時代) store is snuggled six stories above the reverberating roar of Roosevelt Road, a short walk from National Taiwan University. Trading since 1984, the shop’s goal has been to help people “attain a state of equilibrium in body, mind and spirit”. As you will see in these photos, the store stocks a smorgasbord of books and accouterments that the public can purchase as part of their religious, spiritual or psychological development and practice. Judging from my recent regular visits, the store is never short of eager patrons.

週五, 22 六月 2012 18:37

Mount Zion – Eden in Taiwan

Mount Zion (錫安山, xi’an shan) is home to the New Testament Church (新約教會, xinyue jiaohui, NTC) who believe it to be God’s chosen Mountain and as the “spiritual Israelites”, their rightful home. According to the NTC, God has forsaken the long-recognized Mount Zion in Israel and now its spiritual qualities are imbued on this isolated mountain in south-central Taiwan. Mount Zion is both the Eden of the present and venue for the Tribulation in the future, when the members of the NTC will be raptured into Heaven.

I have written extensively about Mount Zion before and you can find a history of the mountain here and a piece on how the NTC responded to the devastation of Typhoon Morakot in 2008 here.

Mount Zion is covered in sites of protest, prayer and adoration. This photographic essay points out some of the most intriguing images and draws from my visits there in 2007, 2008 and 2010. For those of us with weak Chinese language skills, the NTC has diligently translated much of its material into English.

 

{slimbox images/stories/Mountzion/14.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_14.jpg, The rock at the base of the mountain was washed away by the raging Qishan river (旗山溪) during Typhoon Morakot; images/stories/Mountzion/26.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_26.jpg, Fortunately a new boulder was washed in to take the old one’s place; images/stories/Mountzion/15.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_15.jpg, The Cherubim gate greets visitors who are about to ascend the mountain from Highway; images/stories/Mountzion/17.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_17.jpg, The dining room in the main centre can cope with dozens of visitors. Note the large omega (Ω) to the left – this symbol is prominent in the NTC theology promulgated by the NTC’s current leader, Elijah Hong; images/stories/Mountzion/18.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_18.jpg, You can buy products from Mount Zion and other NTC farms around the world (known as the “Offshoots of Zion”) at the visitor centre; images/stories/Mountzion/19.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_19.jpg, NTC members are often seen doing chores around the mountain; images/stories/Mountzion/10.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_10.jpg, NTC members are often seen doing chores around the mountain; images/stories/Mountzion/11.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_11.jpg, Poster flanking the altar in the Holy Temple; images/stories/Mountzion/12.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_12.jpg,Poster flanking the altar in the Holy Temple; images/stories/Mountzion/13.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_13.jpg, The Zion Tree House is adjacent to the Holy Temple; images/stories/Mountzion/21.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_21.jpg,Guides are on hand to explain aspects of Mount Zion and the NTC to tourists. Here visitors are inside the Holy Temple listening to an NTC tour guide; images/stories/Mountzion/22.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_22.jpg, This multi-story car park was built for tourist cars and buses; images/stories/Mountzion/23.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_23.jpg, You can see the reinforcements on the side of the mountain. These stretch down to the river and may have helped save Mount Zion from erosion during Typhoon Morakot; images/stories/Mountzion/24.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_24.jpg, You can see the reinforcements on the side of the mountain. These stretch down to the river and may have helped save Mount Zion from erosion during Typhoon Morakot; images/stories/Mountzion/01.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_01.jpg, Contrasting sharply with the serenity of the mountain, graphic posters such as this warn of impending natural disasters as part of the Tribulation;images/stories/Mountzion/02.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_02.jpg, There are many posters extolling the virtues of the NTC and its leader, and some offer incendiary denunciations of the KMT, with whom the NTC suffered a protracted dispute (leading to a temporary eviction from Mount Zion) in the early 1980s;images/stories/Mountzion/04.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_04.jpg, This monument is called “Truth triumphs over despotism” and is the mangled remains of a symbolic boat chimney that the NTC erected—and KMT destroyed—during the church’s exile at the base of the mountain; images/stories/Mountzion/05.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_05.jpg,The mountain is covered in signs quoting Bible verses and this one is in front of the David Citadel. If you are interested, more signs can be found here; images/stories/Mountzion/07.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_07.jpg, The New Testament Church strongly advocates organic agriculture and Mount Zion is home to an active farm; images/stories/Mountzion/08.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_08.jpg, The original Holy Temple—claimed by the NTC to have been razed by the KMT—now houses a museum memorialising the pioneers of Mount Zion; images/stories/Mountzion/09.jpg, images/stories/Mountzion/tn_09.jpg, The original Holy Temple—claimed by the NTC to have been razed by the KMT—now houses a museum memorialising the pioneers of Mount Zion}

 

Photos and text by Paul Farrelly

Edited by Daniel Pagan Murphy

 

 

週四, 29 十二月 2011 16:12

一種全新風味?澳大利亞的亞洲世紀

長久以來,澳大利亞對北方偌大的亞洲,總是若即若離。如今亞洲已然崛起,成為舉世焦點,澳洲也想要與之建立更深刻的關係。然而,政治經濟的互動合作,或許不難;社會文化的理解交融,卻還有很長的路要走……

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.

 

 

週五, 25 二月 2011 11:38

老外看花博:驚喜連連花博之旅

2010年12月底我去參觀台北花博,度過了一段美好的時光——之所以說「美好」有好幾個原因,請容我仔細說明。當時我未婚妻的爸媽從澳洲來台灣玩,她爸爸是專業園藝師,非常喜歡花草樹木,對新的農業技術如「樸門」(permaculture)(註)等也很感興趣。很幸運的,他們來台時剛好遇上花博這場盛事(雖然要錯過也很難,因為展期長達近六個月之久)。

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

週四, 23 十二月 2010 17:12

國際風:和THC一起燃燒小宇宙

THC - Taipei Hip Hop Crew,成軍於2006年,由一群熱愛HIP HOP,來自不同國家, 不同文化的人所組成 --- THC的團員來自台灣、美國、加拿大和尼泊爾。他們說著不同的語言:中文、英文與法文,使這個團體變的非常特別 --- 讓我們聽聽他們對音樂的想法!

週一, 13 十二月 2010 22:33

New Religions in China

An Italian translation of this article appeared in the December 2010 edition of popoli and is a continuation of some ideas raised in eRenlai's October 2010 Focus on religious innovation in East Asia.

To recap, the term 'new religious movement' was originally coined as a less loaded alternative to 'cult'.  It represents an attempt to classify new religious groups that are either a brand new conception of reality, a reinterpretation of an existing belief system or transplanted beliefs in a foreign land. Such groups are continuously evolving all over the world, and China is no exception.

週二, 30 十一月 2010 00:00

Transport innovation on Australia's Gold Coast... and not a surfboard in sight

Famed for its golden beaches and decent surf, the Gold Coast is one of Australia's most popular tourist destinations.  Located just north of Australia's most eastern point, it is now one of Australia's fastest growing and most dynamic cities.  While the Gold Coast's rapidly swelling population represents a challenge for the government to provide suitable infrastructure and services, it is also a fantastic opportunity for the Gold Coast authorities to lead Australia in sustainable development.
 

Anyone who has tried to drive through the middle of the Gold Coast, particularly during summer, will attest to how unsatisfying the traffic congestion can be. Successfully seizing this opportunity to reconceptualise transport on the Gold Coast will provide an example for the rest of the world as to how a city can ween itself from the toxic teet of the automobile.

Please watch Councillor Peter Young identify how the Gold Coast City Council is seeking to sensibly solve the area's transport conundrum.

週日, 31 十月 2010 00:00

Next stop on the Denim Express … Struggletown

On a recent long distance train trip in China, a budding entrepreneur and proud patriot asked me if my country had any factories.

“Sure”, I said, “we’ve got a few, but not as many as China does”.

 

“That’s right!” he quickly retorted.

 

“Because of OUR factories YOU have a good lifestyle and WE have a lot of hardship!”

 

He expressed these views very forthrightly and had no doubt about whose favour the Chinese balance of trade was in.  Perhaps my new friend’s family had felt some strain from China’s rapid industrialisation.  After all, he was making a 15 hour train journey to return home to his young family after working in Beijing.

 

Last Train Home screened at the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung and gave me a new perspective on my earlier encounter on the train.  The cinema was almost full and arriving late, I had to find a seat in the front row.  Seated behind me were a bunch of 10 year olds, probably attending as part of a school excursion.  To begin with they were merrily chatting away, no doubt wishing they were watching a cartoon, and oblivious to the projections of the grim cityscapes of China’s south-eastern megacities.  But it didn’t take too long for them to be drawn into the story, wide-eyed and silently absorbed by the unfolding tragedy.

 

Presenting the tale of the Zhang family – parents toiling in a jeans factory in Guangdong, kids raised by their grandparents in rural Sichuan – Last Train Home is a bleak look at life in modern China.  As the story develops over 6 years, we see the characters evolve against the dual backdrops of the urban and the rural: sewing machines and tiny bedrooms alternating with cornfields and crumbling and damp farmhouses.

 

The story is very engaging, despite some of the dialogue appearing a bit too staged.  Flashes of brutality alternate with misguided optimism, all the while dreams are torn apart and the scraps reshaped, like denim off-cuts salvaged from the factory floor and haphazardly stitched together into something new.

 

The cinematography is artful throughout, generating a strong sense of place. The scenes at Guangzhou train station during the Chinse New Year are particularly powerful. We see hordes of travellers stranded as the rail grid is thrown into turmoil by inclement weather, progressively getting anxious as the narrow window of time they have to return to their hometowns grows ever smaller.  The claustrophobia of the crammed station and tension of the travellers as they jostle for space is palpable.

 

Last Train Home is a gruelling look at the flipside of China’s year on year 10% economic growth.  The Zhang family are just some of the many millions manning the machines that drive China’s economic juggernaut.  At times harrowing, this is a film that will appeal to anyone seeking an alternative perspective on China’s economic miracle.

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