Author: Agata Kłoczewska
Year of publication: 2003
Source: Show
Pages: 68-93
DOI Address: https://doi.org/10.15804/ap200302
PDF: ap/6/ap0602.pdf

THE POPULAR CHINESE RELIGIOSITY IN TAIWAN A FIELD REPORT

The authoress stayed in Taiwan for almost one year, in 2002–2003. She visited numerous temples, participated in various religious functions, and carried out extensive discussions on religious matters with the local Chinese. Her study is divided into the three parts: a) the forms of popular religiosity; b) temples and their contemporary functions; c) the essential types of cults.
Her first conclusion concerns the diffusion of religious beliefs and practices. It is accepted as a paradigm of social sciences that modernisation and economic development result in secularisation of social life. The Taiwan example does not support this thesis: some forms of secularisation could be detected, but in general one can notice enormous growth of religious practices and celebrations. Much richer society can devote to religious life much greater economic resources, time and energy. However, the forms of religiosity and cults change substantially. Hence the Chinese popular religiosity in Taiwan undergo various transformations but remains truly vivid and highly significant for the society.
This development can be seen in extensive temple-building activity: the old ones are enlarged and the new ones are erected. Due to intense general construction activity, related to economic development of the island, individual temples had to be transferred from one place to another, in particular cases for several times. Therefore it happens that they change their original name (which may increase their “power”) and “the community of the worshippers”. Now local temples serve as the centres of strictly local, regional and all-Taiwanese activities. They serve as centres of the social life of the local community, of cultural activity, charitable initiatives, and even for political purposes. For instance, a local temple could serve as a kind of a club for local inhabitants, in particular for the elderly. Prayers and moral teachings or discourses are usually accompanied with service of meals, common TV-watching, reading newspapers, majong playing, etc. There one can land CD and tapes with interesting movies (not necessarily on religious topics), one can also find fitness- club equipment. Political meetings are organised there before and after elections, with participation of local or national politicians. A local temple can serve for “artistic creativity clubs” (such as caligraphy training, traditional painting, poetry evenings, hand-making ceramic courses, taiji training or/and modern, Western dancing courses, etc). Medical, social, educational activities could also be offered. “Festivals of Culture” that cultivate “Chinese heritage” could be organised there, as well as competitions in photography, opera-singing, painting, etc. Foundations or committees that distribute grants for talented students could operate there, as well as civic groups helping the elderly, etc. So, temples in contemporary Taiwan serve as “religious-and-civic centres” to communities of various size: a street-community, or village, town, county or even all-Taiwanese communities.
Numerous regional centres, taking advantage of modern means of information and easily accessible transportation, actually became “national” in the island scale. The cults, that originally were local, or were practised merely by particular ethnic groups (like Hakkas), often developed into “all-Taiwanese”. Numerous local temples, located in distant villages, or even among the fields, evolved into regional centres with numerous “pilgrims” and “religious teams” visiting them on a reciprocal basis. So, even a birthday of the same deity could be celebrated on different dates in the neighbouring localities to allow worshippers from the vicinity to attend the services and community-festivals at each temple.
Many traditional cults lost their previous popularity whereas new ones, or originally marginal, increased their significance. For instance, Sun Wukong – the rebelious King of Monkeys, Jigong - the “excentric monk”, Nuozha – known for his lack of respect to his parents and to the “elders” – became popular, and many persons believe that they are helpful in money-making, in particular in games, stockexchange, gambling, etc. A cult of a “heroic dog” evolved in Taipei, who serves as a “tutelary spirit” for criminal or other immoral activities (for thieves, prostitutes, etc.). These new cults seems to reflect a decline of traditional, Confucian morality and the evolution of “post-modern one”, strictly utilitarian and money-oriented. Other forms of Chinese religiosity, as the cult of “protective spirits” for families, shops, restaurants, hotels, department-stores are also common, as well as practices related to “impersonal forces” such as geomancy, astrology, fortune-telling, mysterious significance of names, etc.
One can conclude that Chinese religiosity maintains its significance even in a truly modernised society of an informatic-age.

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