The Construction of Taiwanese Sacred Geography
“In regards to the leadership of the people’s hearts,” said an article in the Taiwan nichinichi shinpō from November, 1896, “this is something that must have originated with the long-established system of temples. Now that Taiwan has become a part of Japan, we must of course maintain this system.” For the small town of Jilong, with a population of at most around 9,000 in 1895, that system contained a number of small institutions representing cults to local and imperial deities and quasi-Buddhist sects, many of which bordered on the heterodox. Three temples filled the core of this “long-established system,” the Qing'an gong, Dianji gong, and Chenghuang miao, all of which sat within a few blocks of each other in the heart of the area settled by Chinese from Zhangzhou and Quanzhou counties in Fujian Province. Although these temples themselves were not all that “long-established,” they nonetheless constituted the most significant pieces of sacred terrain when the Treaty of Shimonseki transferred Taiwan from Qing to Japanese imperial sovereignty. Once the Taiwan Government-General reached the conclusion expressed in the news article above and allowed temples to reopen, these three institutions, plus a few others, played increasingly important roles as leaders of the people's hearts.
As readers move through this pathway, they should be attentive to the roles of the islander/Taiwanese elites who established the temples, the deities that they enshrined within them, and also the overlapping scales of temple, city, island, and region that characterized both physical and imaginative geography. Also consider which perspectives operate, and dominate, on each page: The state or the everyday? The god's-eye or the person's eye?