Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Sacred Geography and the Everyday

In the preceding two pages, I have made numerous references to human activity in defining sacred geography and placing limits on the actions of deities, and I have noted the territorial or human bonds that anchor divinities to specific locations or communities. What these references mean is that sacred and physical geographies often intersect and overlap with each other. To put it another way, human activities call upon aspects of sacred geography and sometimes bring them into the world through ritual actions. Traffic moves in both directions, in fact: the hell scrolls referenced in the previous page are based upon journeys to hell taken by spirit mediums and others, including the Tang Emperor Taizong. (Such journeys are, of course, common across space and time; see, for example, Odysseus's visit to the netherworld, or Dante’s Grand Tour of European sacred geographies.) The most important interfaces between the sacred and the profane (cf., Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion) occur at the sites of temples, in everyday devotional acts, and in annual festivals. I explore these institutions through the separate Taiwanese and Japanese pathways, and examine the conflict around annual festivals in a third pathway.

Temples are the earthly homes of deities and the most socially significant nodes of intersection between the different types of geography. Although they are clearly physical structures, because they house manifestations of divine beings, they take on a sacred aura; that is, they become—or rather, societies define them to be—sacred places. The map below contains the locations of the most important temples in Jilong, and readers should zoom in and pan around in order to also see the locations of parent temples and other sites in Japan and China to which the Jilong institutions held important connections. The key institutions that readers will visit  in this module include the Qing'an, Dianji, and Chenghuang Temples, for the islander/Taiwanese in Jilong; the Jilong Shrine, Kubōji, and Kōzonji for the Japanese settlers; and the Lingquan Temple, a fusion of Buddhist traditions. In all cases, the deities were moved from location to location in conjunction with human migration. When Chinese settled in Taiwan, they carried their gods with them and built them new homes in new lands. When Japanese colonized Taiwan, they built Shinto shrines and enshrined particular deities within them; even though the kami were everywhere, they had to be invited to Taiwan, installed there by the colonial settlers. With very few exceptions, such as a shrine in Tainan to Zheng Chenggong or Koxinga, the seventeenth-century half-Japanese merchant/pirate/Ming loyalist who drove the Dutch East India Company from Taiwan and installed his own regime there, Japanese settlers did not enshrine local kami. Rather, they imported familiar kami from their homelands and enshrined them in the colony.

When people perform everyday devotional acts—burning incense or ghost money, or offering food, at a Taiwanese temple; invoking a kami with sake or a written prayer at a Japanese shrine—they open pathways to sacred realms and invite divine intervention. Annual rituals, such as the summer Ghost Festival referenced in the hungry ghosts scroll on the preceding page (Zhongyuan jie or Yulan Penhui in Chinese; Bon matsuri or O-bon in Japanese), or the temple festivals examined later in the module, also bring together sacred and profane space. During such events, rituals open gates in the boundaries between worlds and allow sacred geography to spill into the physical and act upon it.

These practices and institutions reinforce an earlier point: sacred space, as imaginative geography, is a manifestation of power. In the setting of colonial Jilong, building and renovating temples, and performing festivals, were not simply acts of faith. They were tools, or weapons, in a much larger struggle over the physical geography of Taiwan and the identities of its residents.

You have reached the end of this pathway and should follow the route below back to the landing page, from where you can move into the rest of the module.

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