I’ve had this a link to this blog since the middle of summer, but I revisited it today, and realized that the blog came to its natural conclusion over a month ago. It was written by a Ph.D. student, Katherine Alexander, who just spent a year studying at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy in Taipei, Taiwan.
My specific interest in the blog, unsurprisingly, was in the posts tagged “Chinese religion.” There’s a good mix of first-hand observation of Taiwanese rituals and academic research. Some highlights include:
- A post about an online database of haunted construction sites (so that prospective home-buyers can avoid those locations)
- A two-part series about Mazu: Part 1 has some videos and photos of an April 20th, 2013 procession through the streets with firecrackers galore, Part 2 has information about the history of Mazu’s worship. My favorite new story:
[I]n the 1600s, the pirate lord Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功) (aka Koxinga) was said to have established a famous (but no longer extant) Matsu temple on the spot where his forces landed in Tainan before they successfully defeated the Dutch settlers and took Taiwan for Zheng’s own pirate base (and stronghold of resistance to the Qing).
Katherine also cites Stephen Sangren’s statement from the 1980s that “Taipei is particularly unsuitable as a center for ritual expression of Taiwanese identity,” leading her to observe that “In the 1980s, pilgrimage to visit Peikang’s Matsu was a statement of Taiwanese identity (defined as the Taiwanese speakers whose ancestors had arrived from China long ago, rather than in the 20th century).” There’s some context required for both quotes, so you should read the entire paragraph, as well as the one following it.
- A series about the relocation of a local earth god (Tu Di Gong) into a newly constructed shrine. The story begins in February with the sudden demolition of the old shrine, progresses through the new shrine’s construction in the spring, and ends with a first-hand account (complete with more photos and videos) of the May 31st, 2013 ceremony to welcome Tu Di Gong to his new home.
- One of Katherine’s research topics at the Academia Sinica: namely, a baojuan (precious scroll) dating from 1855. It is, of course, easiest to just quote her explanation of her own object of study:
Pan Gong Baojuan 潘公寶卷, presents Pan Zengyi, a philanthropist from the Jiangnan region who lived from 1792-1853, as a powerful deity. He appears in dreams after his death and warns residents of Nanjing of the disaster that awaits them in the imminent attack by Taiping armies.
The scroll was first published in 1855. Pan Zengyi died two years before that, in 1853. The Taiping Rebellion took over Nanjing in March of the same year. The significance?
When people told each other stories about Pan Gong appearing in their dreams, when they donated money for the printing and reprinting of this baojuan, the conclusion had not yet been written to the war – there was no guarantee that the Qing would regain control. There was no lens of official interpretation, but there was religion.
Pretty interesting how quickly a mortal could be deified in 1800s China, and how rapidly religion can respond to current events.