Wed. Dec 6th, 2023

When Chinese propaganda infiltrates the temples of Taiwan

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Large celebrations were held in September in Miaoli, a town about two hours from Taipei, in honor of the goddess Mazu.

  • Philippe Leblanc (View profile)Philippe Leblanc

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The Chinese goddess of the seas, worshiped in Taiwan, has become a tool to conquer the small island. China is spreading propaganda about taking control of the island in Taiwanese temples and is also trying to convince Taiwanese faithful who go on pilgrimage to China. Many Taiwanese denounce the use of the goddess Mazu as a political tool.

To understand the adoration in Taiwan for the goddess of the seas, you just have to go to the celebrations dedicated to her. Last September, the festival of one of the temples venerating Mazu lasted an entire weekend.

A long, colorful procession and thousands of participants in the streets of Miaoli, located a two-hour drive from Taipei, offered food to the goddess and lit numerous firecrackers in a carnival atmosphere.

The festivities dedicated to the goddess of sailors and the one who protects Taiwan are second to none. Devotees come from everywhere to venerate her.

A couple met in the streets near the temple explained that they had left their family home in Taipei at five in the morning to participate in the celebrations and have good seats.

The goddess is so popular that many Taiwanese also make pilgrimages every year to Meizhou, China, Mazu's place of origin. This move opens the door to Chinese attempts at political persuasion. On site, large banners and propaganda proclaiming the glory of the motherland and the great Chinese family welcome them.

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The goddess Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the seas, is worshiped in Taiwan.

It's cheaper to buy the will of the Taiwanese than to start a war, says Hung Chin-Fu, professor of political science at Cheng Kung University.

This is dangerous, because Taiwanese people can be subtly convinced that China will take Taiwan and they will not put up resistance.

A quote from Hung Chin-Fu, professor of political science at Cheng Kung University

The expert recalls that the Chinese Communist Party published a document in September calling for strengthening economic ties between Taiwan and Fujian Province, China, as a tool for conquest and integration of the island.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Taiwan's government, on the other hand, calls on the island's religious groups to combat disinformation coming from China, political disinformation and also about the takeover of the democratic island. This false information, according to the Taiwanese government, is being spread in temples in the run-up to the presidential elections next January.

The report by Philippe Leblanc.

One of the places targeted by China is the Kinmen archipelago, a Taiwanese territory located less than eight kilometers from Xiamen, China. The proximity is reflected in many residents’ flattering perceptions of China. The Kinmen Islands are also one of the nerve centers for religious exchanges and pilgrimages crossing the Taiwan Strait.

The largest statue in the archipelago was a gift from China in 2006. A gift appreciated by residents.

Politics has no connection with religion, retorts Hsieh Jung-Fang, leader of the temple located very close to the Chinese statue in Kinmen. I went to China in 2016 and 2020 for pilgrimages. There, I saw messages on TV saying that China wanted to unify Taiwan and the mainland, but I thought nothing of it. I wasn't there for the politics.

The question of hidden financing of temples by China, never officially proven, raises fears and questions in Taiwan.

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Rumors are circulating about China funding Taiwanese temples dedicated to the goddess Mazu.

We sometimes hear that temples that have a close relationship with China receive financial aid from Chinese associations that are obviously close to the Communist Party, says political scientist Hung Chin-Fu. For example, we hear that Taiwanese faithful can go on pilgrimage to China with almost all expenses paid. They only have to pay for the flight to get there.

One ​​of these temples dedicated to Mazu and the close links with China is that from Chiayi. Leader He Ta-Huang denies receiving financial aid. He maintains that these rumors come up before each election, but he believes that Taiwan is indeed a Chinese province.

We have the same ancestors and the same language, he explains.

We all want peace and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait. When we go on pilgrimage to China, the government there doesn't interfere at all. They know it's just a religious trip.

A quote from He Ta-Huang, leader of Chiayi Temple

In September, in the Miaoli festivities dedicated to the goddess Mazu, there was no question of politics. The temple that organized the celebrations has organized trips to China before, but not anymore.

Temple leaders, like Lin Hsing-Fu, explain that They instead focus on the local community, the one that Mazu is supposed to protect from any danger, according to them.

As the elections approach January presidential elections in Taiwan, vigilance and caution will be required.

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