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

The Deity-Welcoming Festivals: Critiques

Not everyone was enthusiastic about these festivals, especially when it came to the scale and expense of the events, and some of the practices associated with them. Newspaper reports on the festivals from the 1920s and early 1930s attest to their massive scale: the Chenghuang Ye raojing brought an estimated 20,000 people to the city's streets in 1930; a few years earlier, the more significant Mazu festival drew 40-50,000 people from Jilong, its environs, and further south. The Mazu festival of 1933, which also marked the 20th anniversary of the Qing'an's renovation, enlisted twenty-four different musical and dramatic brigades, and both it and the Chenghuang festival spilled into nearby Takasago Park, where night-time activities were illuminated by a “wall of electric fire” (dianhuocheng; “Jilong shi chenghuang raojing jian zhu sishinian jinian,” Taiwan nichinichi shinpō, October 3, 1933). Organizers and officials expressed particular concern with transportation and crowd control at these massive celebrations, and the former made special arrangements with the colonial Transportation Bureau, the Jilong Light Rail Corporation, and a number of local youth groups to manage the masses.

The ritual and social practices associated with these events drew even greater concern. Accounts of these events frequently contained criticisms of the animal sacrifices, of burning “ghost money” (jinyinzhi), of people wandering the streets with disheveled hair and wearing the cangue (pifa daijia), as well as the large numbers of beggars that congregated at these events. Indeed, colonial authorities and local organizations repeatedly tried to prohibit some of what they described as the more wasteful or backwards practices. Japanese settlers observed these proceedings with a mixture of disdain and interest, whereas some of the most strident critiques came from reform-minded Taiwanese. A public criticism that a Taiwanese organization leveled at a different event, the important summer Ghost Festival (Zhongyuan jie; also known as the pudu or yulanhui), best expresses the challenges that the organizers and supporters of these festivals raised to certain aspects of Taiwanese religious praxis. On August 25, 1926, a local group named the Jilong Customs Assimilation Association published the following words in the Taiwan nichinichi shinpō:

As for our Jilong, during the Ghost Festival ceremonies, each year the organizers compete with each other and it is extravagant in the extreme, no expense is spared. Moreover, each household displays sacrificial animals and fruit offerings, and each is as abundant as they can manage, as a means of presenting gifts [to the ghosts]. Indeed, they do not understand the universal salvation ceremony of the netherworld, it lies not in lavishness, but it is only in a sincere and respectful heart. The people have already forgotten the festival’s roots and pursue the ends.

This critique, couched in Confucian morality with its references to a respectful heart and the dichotomy of roots and ends, highlighted the ways in which Taiwanese elites preserved their key festivals while modifying certain elements that conflicted with their own modernizing sensibilities and protected the core—i.e., the festivals themselves—from greater intrusions by the colonial state.

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