In 2010, NPR covered the festival of Mazu’s birthday on Méizhōu Island, her birthplace. Reportedly, 10,000 people attended the festival. There is some interesting political context as well:
- “Scholars say she has an estimated 160 million followers and 4,000 temples devoted solely to her in China.”
- In 2006, the Chinese Communist Party government “reclassif[ied] Mazu worship not as superstition — not even as religion — but as cultural heritage.”
- The worship of Ma Zu has brought people living in Taiwan and people living on Meizhou/the mainland into contact with one another despite the issues between the governments they live under: “Shared belief in Mazu was one of the forces bringing Taiwanese to the area, even when politics made that difficult. In 1987, when direct links were still forbidden, about 275 Taiwanese Mazu believers sailed across the Taiwan Strait to Meizhou on a pilgrimage, setting a trend in which religious believers have spearheaded contacts.”
There are some tricky aspects to the Chinese Communist Party’s new attitude towards the worship of Mazu, of course, namely co-optation towards their own political ends. Since I don’t live there, I can’t say a whole lot more about those issues, but there is something about hearing that 10,000 people were at her festival that is moving.
Mazu has a temple in San Francisco, the Tien Hou Temple.
Image Credit: Ariana Lindquist for NPR.