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Politics of the periphery : religion and place at a city's edge in Taiwan Chou, Hansen 2009

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  POLITICS OF THE PERIPHERY: RELIGION AND PLACE AT A CITY’S EDGE IN TAIWAN   by  HANSEN CHOU  B.A., The University of British Columbia, 2004    A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF   MASTER OF ARTS  in  THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES  (Anthropology)    THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA  (Vancouver)     August 2009   © Hansen Chou, 2009 ABSTRACT   This thesis explores the recent revival of popular religion in Taiwan through broader anthropological concerns regarding place and space. Swift industrialization and rapid urbanization of past decades have not dissuaded religious practice; instead they have flourished on the island. This study pays specific attention to their proliferation at the urban margins. Drawing on historical and ethnographic data based on field research conducted in 2007, the present work examines the spatial politics of place at a community on the urban periphery, just outside of Taipei in northern Taiwan. More specifically, it analyzes two key sites within the community that locals often evoke as crucial locations in their cultural and social imaginings of place: a cultural heritage district and the local communal temple. It documents various “spatial practices” (de Certeau 1984) of place, and focuses particularly on the divination ritual at the temple. This work draws upon some of the ideas advanced by Henri Lefebvre (1991) in his theorization of urbanization, particularly his notion of “abstract space”: the expanding spaces of homogeneity created in the wake of global capitalism’s spread. By addressing the everyday experiences of space, this thesis addresses the dynamics between histories, affect and place. In all, it argues that, amidst the uncertainties of change brought on by their modern(izing) surroundings, people resort to rituals like divination in hopes to mitigate their maladies and misfortunes. By turning to the past in their attempts to make sense of the present, they further engage in a form of local production.  ii TABLE OF CONTENTS  ABSTRACT ........................................................................................................................ ii TABLE OF CONTENTS ................................................................................................... iii LIST OF FIGURES ............................................................................................................ iv CHAPTER ONE: AT THE MARGIN ............................................................................... 1 Introduction.................................................................................................................... 1 Locating Culture ............................................................................................................ 5 “Emerging Village”........................................................................................................ 9 A Community “in Decline” ........................................................................................ 13 Religion’s Place ............................................................................................................ 15 Politics of the Periphery .............................................................................................. 17 CHAPTER TWO: A SACRED SITE ............................................................................... 20 A Temple of Histories.................................................................................................. 22 Ritual Economies, Ritual Territoriality ...................................................................... 25 The Politics of Possession ............................................................................................ 28 A Medium .................................................................................................................... 32 Divining........................................................................................................................ 34 Conclusions .................................................................................................................. 40 REFERENCES .................................................................................................................. 45 APPENDICES................................................................................................................... 51 Appendix A: UBC Research Ethics Board Certificates of Approval .......................... 51   iii  iv LIST OF FIGURES  Figure 1.1 The “Taipei 101” building and surrounding urban landscapes............... 8  Figure 1.2 Graffiti on the streets in Xinzhuang.…………...……...………..…….. 16  Figure 2.1 The Dazhong Temple in 2007.…………………………..……….……. 23  Figure 2.2 Tablets displaying names of temple donors……….......…....……….… 28  CHAPTER ONE: AT THE MARGIN  For it is still the case that no one lives in the world in general … The ethnography of place is, if anything, more critical for those who are apt to imagine that all places are alike than for those who … know better. CLIFFORD GEERTZ, ‘Afterword’, Senses of Place (1996:262) Introduction  The island of Taiwan has observed tremendous changes over the latter half of the past century. Politically, it emerged from World War II having been under Japanese colonial possession for five decades (1895–1945). As the island reverted back to Chinese rule, however, a civil war still waged back on mainland China between the Nationalist Party Guomindang (or Kuomintang), led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong. 1 Communist victories in 1949 resulted in the retreat of Chiang and his Nationalist Party to Taiwan, where he claimed Taipei to be the new temporary capital of the Republic of China. The Guomindang under Chiang ruled Taiwan with an authoritarian regime, as the island was under Martial law for nearly forty years, from 1947 to 1987. During this era known as “White Terror” (baise kongbu), the voices of political dissidents were silenced. No oppositional political parties existed on the island until 1986. As that century moved to a close, however, Taiwan has undergone a relatively smooth transition from an authoritarian state to a multi-party constitutional democracy. Yet, its claims to be a state are barely recognized around the world, as only 23 nation-states have formal diplomatic ties to its government.  1  Indigenous terms in the present work are drawn from the two languages spoken in Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese and southern Min—also known as Hokkien or Hoklo. Terms in Mandarin Chinese are transcribed in pinyin, except for place and personal names already popularized by alternate romanization systems (e.g., Taipei; Chiang Kai-shek). Terms in Hokkien are distinguished within the text and follow the system transcribed by Bodman (1955–58), except that tone-marks have been omitted.  1 Economically, on the other hand, Taiwan has flourished. The island is perhaps most famous for its socioeconomic transition, known as the “Taiwan miracle” (cf. Gold 1986), realized in the past half-century. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the “Made in Taiwan” or “Made in the R.O.C.” labels could be found on countless small household items throughout the rest of the world. This remarkable story of Taiwan’s drastic restructuring, from a primarily agricultural economy to an export-oriented industrialization, marked the modernization process (xiandaihua) of postwar Taiwan. This momentous change became most evident through the sensational transformations of the built environment over the past decades. Under government- led land reforms, much of the island’s inhabited terrain, which was once predominately agrarian—particularly during the Japanese colonial period when Taiwan served as a major export colony of agricultural goods—was converted into high-rises, factories, skyscrapers, boulevards and highways. Many mountainsides, which dominate much of the island’s natural landscape, were logged for real estate developments, as population flocked to major cities and their surrounding areas. No terrain was left unscathed under this sweeping force.  Swift industrialization and rapid urbanization of the past half-century have not, however, dissuaded religious practices, and they have not diminished the number of religious sites or the spaces of their practice on the island. Instead, religious life has flourished—most notably with the practice of the heterogeneous collection of beliefs, rites, habits, pilgrimages and processions termed “popular” or “folk religion” by Western scholars (cf. Bell 1989; Teiser 1995). As Katz (2003c:90) observes, government statistics on temples in Taiwan—albeit unreliable due to the state’s insistence on classifying the syncretic nature of temples as either Buddhist, Daoist, or  2 “other” types of sites—provide some sense of the growth of popular religious temple cults. Over the period from 1930 to 1981, the number of temples nearly doubled from 3,661 to 5,531; however, this growth accelerated over the next two decades, as their number increased by nearly twofold again—with 9,707 temples registered with the state by 2001 (Katz 2003c:90). According to the most recent statistics compiled by the Ministry of the Interior, the number of temples in Taiwan reached 11,651 in 2007 (Zhonghua Mingguo Neizhengbu 2008). None of these figures yet include the myriad of small household shrines, private altars, and other unregistered sites found in all corners of the island. With the number of sacred sites on the island steadily on the rise each year, it is certainly safe to say that religion has thrived in Taiwan.  But in what ways can we account for its proliferation? How are we to understand the intimate connections between people and religious places? Grounded ethnographically in religious sites and the practices that occur on them, this thesis examines the evolving spatial politics surrounding one community in northern Taiwan. More specifically, I analyze two key sites within the community that locals often evoke as crucial locations in their cultural and social imaginings of place. In all, the ultimate aim of this work, following Zhang’s recent examination of spatial modernity and urban restructuring in southwestern China, is to similarly advance a “culturally and historically specific way of rethinking modernity and development” (2006:464). As she argues, the emerging processes of spatial and architectural reconfigurations are not merely reflections of the recent socioeconomic changes, they can “also transform the very modes of social life, local politics, and cultural identities” (Zhang 2006:461) of those experiencing the transitions firsthand.  3 In 2006 and 2007, I conducted a total of ten weeks of fieldwork based on two separate research trips in northern Taiwan. Through the good fortune of having knowledgeable contacts there, I was led to Xinzhuang, an outlying city district near Taipei, and undertook most of my research at the most prominent local temple. As accommodation in Xinzhuang could not be arranged, I lived in Taipei instead. Each morning during my research I commuted by public transit for roughly forty-five minutes to an hour, through the congested streets of Taipei into Xinzhuang. As I arrived there each day, I spoke with numerous temple personnel, including officials, caretakers, and volunteers, as well as nearby shopkeepers and vendors. I watched numerous rituals performed at the temple; and through the gracious gesture of my hosts, I even participated as a silent observer in the divination ritual. I recorded life histories from ritual specialists, and conducted in-depth interviews with a dozen worshippers at these services. My research was not limited to the confines of Xinzhuang alone. I also traveled to various other sacred sites throughout northern Taiwan—some of them amongst the oldest and most famous temples on the island— as I listened to stories of worshippers describing the efficacy of their gods. The present work is divided into two overlapping parts. In the remainder of this chapter, I first consider a few recent developments within anthropological approaches toward theorizing place and space. I then examine the politics of spatial restructuring surrounding Xinzhuang—as a community at the rural-urban edge of a metropolis— before I describe some of the historical contexts leading to its development as a suburban city. My intent here is not solely to provide a partial reconstruction of the history of the community. Rather, I hope to illustrate a sense of the contemporary understandings of the past, as shared by locals today. Lastly in this chapter, I discuss  4 the link between folk religion and political changes in Taiwan, as I briefly reflect on the various levels of states’ intervention in religious practices in recent times. The following chapter amounts to a phenomenological account of place, as I situate my examination on the everyday practices of popular worship at a public temple. These various “spatial practices” (de Certeau 1984), as I argue, are crucial to the production of people’s sense of place. I first outline a brief sketch of the history of the temple. I then describe the organizational and funding structures of the temple, as I conclude that such configurations contribute further to forms of local production at the temple. The remaining sections engage in an examination of spirit mediumship in Taiwan, as I discuss some of the urban stereotypes and stigmas commonly associated with spirit mediums. Following that, I recount an abbreviated life history of a spirit medium, as I consider a few commonalities between his story and the accounts I heard from worshippers narrating their own fates. Finally, I describe in detail the divination ritual at the temple. In all, I argue that, despite being an unusual and rare form of practice at a public space, divination serves as a crucial ritual to the production of place. Locating Culture Since the mid-1980s, there has been a spate of publications that have steadily drawn scholarly attention to the once relatively unchallenged notions of place and space within social theories (see, e.g., Appadurai 1986, 1988; Gupta and Ferguson 1992, 1997; Harvey 1989; Massey 1994; Rodman 1992; Soja 1989). Amongst cultural anthropologists, Arjun Appadurai had been one of the first to call for a more critical reflection on “the significance of place in the construction of anthropological theory” (1986:356). As he observed, the concept of place had been so ubiquitous and “so much  5 in the foreground of the anthropological consciousness that its importance has been taken for granted and its implications have not been systematically explored” (Appadurai 1986:356). In a similar vein, Gupta and Ferguson (1992:7) criticized the neglect of spatial aspects of culture, and the commonly “assumed isomorphism of space, place, and culture” found frequently within ethnographic accounts. As they argue, much of the previous treatments diminished space into a sort of backdrop, as “a kind of neutral grid on which cultural difference, historical memory, and societal organizations are inscribed” (Gupta and Ferguson 1992:7). The increasing global circulations of people, ideas, and commodities, along with our growing vocabularies of spatial concepts and “metaphors of mobilities” (Escobar 2001:141), of border-crossing, deterritorializtion, diaspora, displacement, transmigration, transnationality—to name a few—present added implications for our theorizations and understandings of place and space. Further complicating the matter is the “deeply compromised” nature of terms like “place”, “global”, and “local” themselves (Raffles 1999:323). Yet, in spite of this, one of the ironies of these times, as Gupta and Ferguson (1992:10) pointed out, is that as boundaries become more blurred through these global flows, ideas about culturally and ethnically distinct places have become perhaps even more salient. Likewise, Clifford Geertz has observed, [f]or all the uprooting, the homelessness, the migrations, forced and voluntary, the dislocations of traditional relationships, the struggles over homelands, borders, and rights of recognition, for all the destructions of familiar landscapes and the manufacturings of new ones, and for all the loss of local stabilities and local originalities, the sense of place, and of the specificities of places, seems, however tense and darkened, barely diminished in the modern world. [1996:261]  But more must be said here than simply acknowledging the fact that it is no longer sufficient to treat “culture” as a bounded entity; to merely say that cultures are  6 growing more globally interconnected leaves us little traction to truly apprehend the ramifications and effects of this “globalization.” How must we write about a place in the world, when the world itself is seemingly becoming more and more deterritorialized? Consequently, how must we grasp the effects of this deterritorializing force? Moreover, how do people inhabit the specificities of space to call it a “place”? To what creative and imaginative means do they resort to, in order to produce these meaningful places—as “lived spaces” (Lefebvre 1991)—through practice? Places, as Anna Tsing reminds us, “are made through their connections with each other, not their isolation” (2000:330; also see Tsing 1993). The prevalent shortcomings of previous ethnographic inquires, as asserted by Gupta and Ferguson, is that “Too often … the anthropological approaches to the relation between ‘the local’ and something that lies beyond it (regional, national, international, global) have taken the local as given, without asking how perceptions of locality and community are discursively and historically constructed” (1997:6). A refined line of inquiry, as Webb Keane suggests, To “imagine” a “community” … entail[s] a process of imagining its components as well. Thus, to the extent that a “center” defines itself and its authority by defining the “margins”, we should be attentive to the assumptions that underlie our own concepts of “the local”, and their possible complicity with the “center’s” claim to legitimacy. To the extent that people understand themselves to be “marginal,” or simply “local,” they may be accepting at least some of the authority that makes somewhere else—the capital city, the nation, the state, the global economy—a proper, even foundational, frame of reference. [1997:37–38]  For a critical examination of spatiality, this present work draws upon a few ideas advanced by Henri Lefebvre in his magisterial volume The Production of Space (1991). Lefebvre convincingly reminds us that bodies, matters, and institutions are not merely positioned “in space”, nor are spaces simply inert, isomorphic, and homogeneous  7 containers. Social space, he argues, is a social product, and hence our analytical objective must shift from viewing things in space to the actual production of space (Lefebvre 1991:36–37). The core concern of Lefebvre lies with the emergence of “abstract space”: the expanding spaces of homogeneity created in the wake of global capitalism’s spread. Formal, measurable, and quantitative more than qualitative, abstract space “overtook from historical space”, as it “erases distinctions” through its capacity to suppress differences of local culture, history and natural landscapes (Lefebvre 1991:49).    [Figure 1.1] The “Taipei 101” building and surrounding urban landscapes, exemplary of Lefebvre’s notion of abstract space. Photo by the author.   As space becomes more privatized, commoditized, rationalized, and perhaps even fetishized, the dislocation of everyday life occurs, where “lived experience is crushed”, affectivity vanquished, with them “in thrall to abstract space” (Lefebvre 1991:51, 59). Further, such space is conceived dialectically against what Lefebvre calls “absolute space”, the fragmented spaces of religion, history, and nature, as it “relates negatively  8 to that which perceives and underpins it—namely, the historical and religio-political spheres (1991:50). In the following sections, therefore, I consider the historical and spatial developments of a changing community in order to explore the effects of the encroachment of abstract space. In particular, I pay specific attention to urban development and its incursion on historical and religious space. “Emerging Village”  Within this [abstract] space … History is experienced as nostalgia, and nature as regret—as a horizon fast disappearing behind us. HENRI LEFEBVRE, The Production of Space (1991:51)   Xinzhuang lies roughly at the centre of the Taipei basin, some ten to fifteen kilometres southwest of Taipei. Despite the relatively short distance to the metropolis, Xinzhuang feels much further away, as it is physically separated from Taipei by the Dahan River and two other municipalities: Sanchong to the northeast, and Banqiao to the southeast. Residents of Xinzhuang today often reflect nostalgically on the past prominence of Xinzhuang, as it had once been among the largest Han Chinese settlements in all of Taiwan. Many locals base this claim upon an alternative interpretation of a popular proverbial expression in Taiwan, yifu, erlu, sanmengjia— each clause laconically describes, in succession, the three largest establishments in the early periods of Taiwan’s history. However, citizens of Xinzhuang frequently contest this version, arguing instead that the idiom had once originally been yifu, erlu, sanxinzhuang—with a different last clause signifying Xinzhuang as the third-largest settlement instead. To comprehend some of this sense of longing for the past, a few historical contexts of the region must first be considered. Geographically, Xinzhuang’s location  9 at the convergence of the Danshui River and one of Danshui’s tributaries, the Dahan, previously played a crucial role in its early history.2 This favourable position as a port station made Xinzhuang one of the earliest Han Chinese settlements in all of northern Taiwan, when populations from southern coasts of China—the majority of them speakers of the southern Min dialect from Fujian—began migrating to the island in the 17th and 18th centuries. Prior to this, most of the island’s inhabitants had been Malayo-Polynesian speakers—whose descendents make up today’s Taiwanese Aborigines (yuanzhumin).3 While the common “displacement” theory—held by most Western, Japanese, and Chinese scholars—suggests that the aboriginal communities were simply overwhelmed and forced by Han settlers into the mountainous regions of the island, Shepherd (1993) has argued via meticulous documentations that the plain Aborigines in Taiwan were not merely dislocated by Han settlers. Instead, they forged close ties and played significant economic and military roles alongside the Han Chinese during this era. As Han settlers began to arrive in the regions in the 1730s, Xinzhuang soon began to thrive as a Han Chinese port. It was this early importance which led to  2  Both rivers served vital roles in the migration of Han Chinese to the northern parts of Taiwan throughout the 18th and 19th century. Other communities upstream on the Dahan River some twenty to thirty kilometres south and southwest of Xinzhuang, namely Sanxia and Daxi, have become familiar to audience acquainted with the anthropological accounts of Taiwan. For seminal ethnographic accounts of Sanxia and its nearby settlements, see Ahern (1973), Wolf (1974), Harrell (1982), and Weller (1987). On Daxi, see Sangren (1987). 3  Earlier, both Spanish and Dutch traders had established presence on the island during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, respectively. The Dutch claimed formal colonial control of the island in 1624, but were defeated in 1662 by the Ming-loyalist Koxinga—an army general who fled to Taiwan after the rise of the Qing empire. The original inhabitants of the area which currently occupies Xinzhuang belonged to the plains aborigines tribe known as the Wulaowan to the Chinese, Pulauan to the Spanish, and Pinorouan to the Dutch (Katz 2003b:186). The only surviving record today on the indigenous populations in the area from this period, found in a Dutch survey conducted in 1655, indicates that the region had been home to some 30 households of 115 people belonging to the Ketagalan-speaking group of the Malayo-Polynesian population (Yin 1980:5). Today, Aborigines comprise approximately two percent of the island’s population.  10 Xinzhuang’s auspicious name, literally “emerging village”, originating from a Qing inscription depicting the vibrant and bustling scenes of the region in its early heyday. Its emergence as a vital port on the island did not go unnoticed by Qing administrators, as a sub-district magistrate (xunjian) was reassigned from the port of Balifen to Xinzhuang in 1767, and by 1790 the magistrate was promoted to the rank of assistant county magistracy (xiancheng) of the Taiwan prefecture (Shepherd 1993:206). This prosperity of Xinzhuang remained short-lived, however. As understood by historians today, two major factors are likely to have contributed to its gradual and eventual decline. First, silting of the Dahan River around the turn of the 18th century gradually made the water passage no longer traversable for larger ships. Cargo ships, vital to the town at this critical stage of its development, took detours and docked instead at settlements further northeast on the Danshui River (Yin 1980:43–44). Xinzhuang’s appeal as a strategic port location was lost. Its once favourable position, as well as its magistracy title, became replaced by Mengjia (now Wanhua district of Taipei), a port which then emerged as one of the most important and vibrant commercial centre in Taiwan throughout the nineteenth century (Feuchtwang 1974a). An additional, perhaps more influential factor leading to Xinzhuang’s decline was the persistence of ethnic violence that plagued the region for decades during the 19th century. By the beginning of the 1830s, feuds between settlers from Fujian and Guangdong—neighbouring provinces on mainland China—spread to Xinzhuang from settlements further south.4 Further, in 1853 a second series of unrests broke out in the region once again, this time involving the settlers from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou—  4  Sub-ethnic feuds between Han populations from different regions of China, chiefly the result of competition over land and water resources, were prevalent throughout this period of Taiwan’s history, lasting approximately from 1782 through 1862 (Lamley 1981:304).  11 two regions within Fujian. This violence plagued Xinzhuang for several decades, until at least 1866 (Katz 2003b:189–190). The population in the region historically remained low due to the circumstances cited above. For nearly two centuries, the population of Xinzhuang never surpassed a few thousand, until successive commercial booms in the 1920s and the post-World War II period attracted new migrants and settlers to the area (Katz 2001:66–67). In the late stages of World War II, when Taiwan was still under Japanese colonial control, cities like Taipei sustained bombardment by the Allied forces. As a result, during this time much of the administrative infrastructures in Taipei were relocated to villages and towns nearby—including some to Xinzhuang. A few elderly and knowledgeable residents I spoke with referred to this era as the beginning of a new phase in Xinzhuang’s history. Situated at the edge of the urban periphery, Xinzhuang today is among more than a dozen cities and township districts in the outlying areas of metropolitan Taipei. As a result of urban sprawl in recent decades, all of these communities have been absorbed into various “satellite” communities serving Taipei. Within them, Xinzhuang is one of the most heavily-populated—but it is also one of the smallest geographically, covering only some nineteen square kilometres, and divided into 84 administrative wards, or li. Earlier successive commercial booms at the turn of the 20th century and the postwar period had made Xinzhuang into one of the leading industrial zones in northern Taiwan. However, overexpansion due to the anticipated— but ultimately unfulfilled—commercial growth left much of Xinzhuang’s landscape dominated by the sights of neglected and vacated storefronts, warehouses, and factories throughout the city.  12 While the postwar industrialization and economic expansion of Taiwan began as early as the 1960s, the population growth in the regions surrounding Taipei did not follow until years later, until at least the early 1980s. In the case of Xinzhuang, for instance, by 1980 the population in the region had grown large enough that its administrative status was elevated from an urban township (zheng) to a full-fledged city (shi), when its population first surpassed 100,000. Yet, this only marked the beginning of the transformation of Xinzhuang. In the past quarter-century alone, the population has multiplied nearly fourfold, to 399,270, according to the most recent statistics compiled in 2008.5 This marks a stark contrast to a century ago, when in 1906 the population of the region barely exceeded 6,000 (Katz 2001:66).  A Community “in Decline”  The huge influx of population to the region in recent decades as a result of urban sprawl has created a number of challenges for both locals and officials in Xinzhuang. For one, it has presented the state with the increasingly difficult task of imposing discursive measures to formulate a shared sense of history and a common source of origin for the population. Additionally, the seemingly uncountable number of residential projects, built to meet the demands of incoming migrants, drastically altered the built environment of Xinzhuang. As the number of residents grew and the surrounding built environment transformed, people’s sense of place—their feelings of belonging and the affective bonds to their surroundings—a “structure of feeling” (Williams 1973) also deteriorated. Here, we are reminded of the invasive forces of  5  Population statistics were obtained from the website of the Xinzhuang City Household Registration Office, Taipei County, http://www.sinjhuang.ris.tpc.gov.tw/_file/1172/SG/25260/39149.html, accessed February 18, 2009.  13 abstract space as described by Lefebvre (1991), discussed earlier in this chapter. The loss of a sense of a distinctive localness has weighed heavily on the minds of people in Xinzhuang; it is a theme that I will revisit throughout the rest of this work. To counter this decline, in 1998 the municipal government commissioned a community renewal project, centred on the oldest neighbourhood of Xinzhuang, known historically as the “fifty-six shops” (wushiliu kan). In all, these efforts were part of the Taipei County government’s sweeping campaigns aimed at restoring a sense of community to the outlying cities surrounding Taipei. In Xinzhuang itself, the revitalization plan was dubbed the “Temple Boulevard” (miaojie) project, as six of the nine temples in the district were designated with a “heritage monument” (guji) status by the County government. This ambitious four-phase project sought to resurrect the sense of communal life through the promotion of a “local culture” in terms of “expanding local tourism resources”, “re-establishing its former distinction” and “restoring the sense of pride and self-worth amongst local residents of Xinzhuang”.6 The numerous temples within the district—some of them dating back to the mid- eighteenth century, when the first Han Chinese settlers arrived in the region—became the obvious location to rally the plan. My field research in Xinzhuang began just a few years after the project reached its final stage of completion in 2004. When I spoke with locals in Xinzhuang, however, most of them evaluated this project as ultimately a failure, and declared that the project had not achieved its goals. Many remarked that, despite its name, the  6  Translations are mine, based on the agendas outlined on the project’s website. More details, including summaries of each phase of the project, can be found on the website of the Department of Urban Development, Taipei City Government (in Chinese), http://www.planning.taipei.gov.tw/3/303/30338/page06_7.htm.  14 revitalization plan had failed to bring people back to the temples in the district. Chen Zhongxin, a man in his forties, informed me that throughout his lifetime none of these temples in the precinct have ever been successful in drawing devout followers.7 In fact, some of the temples were empty even as I visited them on weekends. When asked, locals often spoke about the lack of efficacious response (bu lingyan) from the gods at these temples, and instead referred to the miraculous interventions performed by another deity—through its spirit medium—at a temple sitting just outside the Temple Boulevard district. This sacred site forms the centre of discussion for the following chapter. Religion’s Place   Where does popular religion stand today in relation to the changing politics of culture and place in Taiwan? This question preoccupied much of my thoughts as I conducted my research in Xinzhuang. While growing up in Taiwan in the mid- to late- 1980s, I rarely found such practices described as “tradition” (chuantong) or “folk customs” (minsu), but I found these terms increasingly becoming a part of the daily vernacular as I carried out conversations with people about religion. Despite their deep and obvious connections to the mainland, many Taiwanese today routinely describe folk religion as an entity that is bentu—meaning “indigenous” or “native”. This expression takes on further meaning and significance, however, when we examine the roots of the term, which combine the characters “own” (ben) and “soil” (tu). How must “culture” be understood as an entity grounded to specific places?  7  All names of Xinzhuang residents are pseudonyms.  15  Since the mid-1990s, a cultural phenomenon known as “indigenization” (bentuhua) has swept the island. This movement has sparked a frenzy of reclamation projects, as people turn to search for new forms of traditions through a reawakened sense of cultural and national imaginings (see figure 1.2). In part through this transition, people in Taiwan have sought to distance themselves from an identity previously devised by the Guomindang Party as it inculcated a national identity that stressed continuity with dazhonghua, “a great Chinese Mainland Civilization” (Yang 2004a:221).   [Figure 1.2] Graffiti on the streets in Xinzhuang in 2007, reading: “[If you] love Taiwan, don’t worship Chinese gods”. Photo by the author.  The advent of this cultural movement has also made popular religion prominent in the discussions of Taiwanese identities in the post-Martial law era (see, e.g., Bosco 1992; Weller 1999; Katz 2003a; Sangren 2003; Clart and Jones 2003). Previously, the Guomindang regime, with its foundations in elite Confucian ideals, aimed to promote a “national” culture deeply rooted in “traditional Chinese values and ethics” (Chun 1994). Although the authoritarian KMT state saw popular religious  16 practices as a hindrance to the socioeconomic reforms of the postwar decades, it never fully suppressed these practices. Instead, it enforced various measures at regulating religious activities, with campaigns carried out to discourage “wasteful” ritual expenditure (see Chapter 2). Much like the Japanese colonialists before it, however, the KMT regime was ultimately unsuccessful in its attempt at manipulating religious activities for its own interpretations for enhancing state control (Weller 1987). As Taiwan transitioned politically into a full democracy over the past two decades, the state control on religion is now attenuated so that people in Taiwan may pursue all sorts of religious practices without fear of state suppression. As Katz has observed in his overview of the relationship between religion and the state in Taiwan, much of the recent writings on popular religion by local scholars has been insistent “in their attempts to define Taiwanese religion as a cultural phenomenon unique to Taiwan” (2003c:105, italics added).8 Yet, as Katz further concludes, whether this trend of “a sense of identity that largely excludes China as a source of cultural tradition … has gained widespread acceptance among the people of Taiwan, or has only been embraced by some of the island’s intellectuals and politicians, remains to be determined” (2003c:105). Politics of the Periphery  Writing on the predicament of postcolonies around the world, Jean and John Comaroff recently remarked that it is the places that we call margins “that often experience tectonic shifts in the order of things first, most visibly… most energetically, creatively, [and] ambiguously” (2007:149). The island of Taiwan, while technically a  8 See, for instance, accounts by Lin (1997) and Nadeau and Chang (2003).  17 postcolony—albeit one in a much different sense—has nonetheless observed phenomenal changes in the past half-century. Xinzhuang, through the effects of urban sprawl and modernization process, has experienced dramatic transformations in the recent decades as I have outlined in this chapter. Situated at the edge of a metropolis, Xinzhuang and its citizens rest uneasily at this boundary of the rural-urban fringe. But the marginal fringes that I write of here are more than simply physical descriptions. Instead, following Tsing (1994), I suggest such spatial metaphors are better utilized as analytical categories, as “an analytic placement that makes evident both the constraining, oppressive quality of cultural exclusion and the creative potential of rearticulating, enlivening, and rearranging the very social categories that peripheralize a group's existence” (1994:279). The dominant discourse of a rural-urban dichotomy—construing municipalities as either “urban cities” or “rural villages”—is insufficient in our analysis of a place like Xinzhuang. Perhaps we are better served by approaching it instead as a zone where the urban and the rural intersect and converge. In one of the most influential works on Chinese religion, anthropologist Arthur Wolf has elegantly argued for what has since become known as the “Imperial” or bureaucratic metaphor (Feuchtwang 1974b, 2001; also see Wolf 1974). Writing on Sanxia—a village some twenty kilometres southwest of Xinzhuang—in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wolf made a powerful argument regarding the manner in which lay folks relate to supernatural spirits of the religious pantheon. In sum, he argued that the villagers’ relationship to the three celestial categories—of gods, ghosts, and ancestors—closely paralleled their ties to the three social categories of peasant life in late imperial times, of bureaucrats, strangers, and kin:  18 The conception of the supernatural … is thus a detailed reflection of the social landscape of traditional China as viewed from a small village. Prominent in this landscape were first the mandarins, representing the emperor and the empire; second, the family and the lineage; and third, the more heterogeneous category of the stranger and the outsider, the bandit and the beggar. The mandarins became the gods; the senior members of the line and lineage, the ancestors; while the stranger was preserved in the form of the dangerous and despised ghosts. [Wolf 1974:175]  Though cogent and incisive, it is difficult to imagine how the bureaucratic metaphor can intimately inform us of the ways in which people still find the worship of celestial spirits to be crucial parts of their daily lives in Taiwan today. Gone are the days of seeing villages as self-contained units, and the anthropological searches for cultural “essences” now seem passé. Earlier ethnographers of China and Taiwan often described local religion as “neighbourhood cults”, with different “territorial” and “patron deities” worshipped within various “communal temples”. However, rapid urbanization like the one Xinzhuang has undergone has huge implications for the ritual territoriality which such cults encompass.  Throughout much of his work, Appadurai has continually observed how contingent and fragile the imaginations and experiences of the “local” can be, especially in the current context of increasingly transnational and globalizing forces; as he writes, “locality is ephemeral unless hard and regular work is undertaken to produce and maintain its materiality” (Appadurai 1996:180–181). As Geertz has similarly reminded us, “Place makes a poor abstraction. Separated from its materializations, it has little meaning” (1996:359). In the next chapter, then, I examine some of the practices in which worshippers engage in order to materialize sacred spaces into a culturally and historically meaningful place.  19 CHAPTER TWO: A SACRED SITE  Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body. MICHEL DE CERTEAU, The Practice of Everyday Life (1984:108)   During its prosperous and promising beginnings in the mid- to late-eighteenth century, Xinzhuang became host to a number of temples, built by early Han Chinese settlers new to the region. Several of these sacred sites still remain standing today, with most of them preserved as historical monuments through the “Temple Boulevard” (miaojie) neighbourhood revitalization project that I discussed in the previous chapter. Only one of these public temples, however, continues to draw countless worshippers today. Its immense popularity stands unrivalled by all other temples in Xinzhuang combined. Each day hundreds of worshippers, if not more during certain local ritual events, gather to offer incense, burn paper spirit money, and appeal to a host of deities housed at the temple to grant well-being and divine protection. A recent translation of the written accounts by Japanese legal scholar Fukutaro Masuda (2001 [original 1934]) suggests that the temple was already a prominent site of worship in Xinzhuang during the Japanese colonial era. Yet, in recent years this sacred landmark has gained unprecedented significance in Xinzhuang, as locals often refer to this preeminent place of worship as literally the “centre of faith” (xinyang zhongxin) of the entire community. This chapter explores the popularity of this temple by examining the culturally situated practices of place. More specifically, I investigate the ritual of divining through a spirit medium—a practice that I argue is crucial to the temple’s reputation  20 in the everyday life and politics of this place. How must we understand such “spatial practice” (de Certeau 1984) as attempts to counter the encroachment of what Lefebvre calls “abstract space”? In a place like Xinzhuang, a locality which has experienced extraordinary urban growth in past decades, I argue that we should view such practices as productive efforts by locals turning to what they have “inherited from the past to counter the present rupture” (Siu 2006:479).  In The Production of Space Lefebvre outlines a conceptual triad of space (1991:33, 38–39; also see Harvey 1989:218–219), through what Soja (1996) has called a “trialectics of spatiality” in his refined reading of Lefebvre.9 “Spatial practices”, which embrace production and reproduction, are the physical and material constructions of space. As the daily routines of space, their occurrence ensures continuity and certain degrees of cohesion. “Representations of space”, the space of scientists, urban planners, and social engineers, are the dominant and authoritative discourse on space in any society. Conceptualized in knowledge, cultural sign systems, and codes of social order, they shape, mobilize, and delimit spatial practices. Lastly, “representational spaces”, more symbolic and imagined, are the mental inventions of space, and are linked to the clandestine or underground aspects of social life. As lived experiences may be ignored or even repressed by representations of space, representational spaces present new possibilities for imaginations to change and appropriate other meanings of space. In what follows, I explore some of the ways in which a sacred site is perceived in spatial practices, conceived in representations of space, and lived in representational  9  In all, this conceptual triad can be understood as an attempt by Lefebvre at advancing a unitary theory intended to better grasp the physical, social, and mental dimensions of space. Building upon the work of Lefebvre, Soja (1996) has further described this framework as a “trialectic of spatiality, historicality, and sociality”.  21 spaces. Further, this chapter focuses on the role of social agents and their practices in the production of place and space. Gupta and Ferguson remind us of the following questions regarding the roles which social agents actively play in place-making: “With meaning making understood as a practice, how are spatial meanings established'? Who has the power to make places of spaces''? Who contests this? '” (1992:11). As de Certeau similarly argues, any “space is a practiced place” (1984:117). Consequently then, we must examine how such sacred place is practiced—the types of labours that are used—in order to understand both the productive processes and the type of space that is produced. A Temple of Histories  The Dizan Abbey (an), also known colloquially by locals as the Dazhong Temple (miao), is by far the most prominent temple in Xinzhuang today. The former name of the temple—also its official name, as found in most maps, street signs, official records and documents—denotes its affiliation with the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (Dizangwang Pusa), the temple’s host divinity. The reputation of this host divinity, however, has been surpassed by a local god housed at the temple, a controller of “vengeful ghosts” (ligui) known as Dazhongye—or “Lord of the Hordes” (Katz 2001).10 In fact, most of the prominent rituals at the temple sought after by worshippers centre on the efficacy (ling) of this local god. When Taiwanese describe  10  Finding a precise translation for this deity has proved to be particularly challenging. While the term dazhong literally refers to ‘crowds’, or ‘masses’, it is a common practice amongst Taiwanese to employ euphemistic expressions when referring to malevolent spirits. For instance, most Taiwanese often avoid using the term “ghosts” (kui), and instead refer to them with the southern Min expression hou-hia-ti—in essence “good brethren” (Jordan 1972) or “reverent brothers”. Elsewhere, Feuchtwang has glossed this deity as the “God of the Masses of the dead” (2001:50). For the purposes of this work, I follow the nuanced translation provided by Katz (2001).  22 the prominence of a temple, they sometimes elude reference to the number of worshippers in attendance, and instead allude to the efficacy of the god through the idiom of the intensity of the smoke emitting from the temple’s incense burners. One of the first times that I visited the temple, Li Yaling, a gregarious woman in her late- forties stuck up a conversation with me. “Look at how lively (renao, literally ‘fiery and noisy’) it is here,” she remarked. “I have been coming here for the last thirty years now. Each time the incense flames burn more prosperously! (xianghuo dingsheng)”.   [Figure 2.1] The Dazhong Temple in 2007. Photo by the author.   Unlike other temples in the Temple Boulevard neighbourhood which have been preserved and remain structurally unchanged since their consecration, the Dazhong Temple has been continually refurbished on numerous occasions throughout its history. It is by far larger than its counterparts, with its décor more elaborate and ornate than its rivals’. Temple records indicate that it was rebuilt various times since the 19th century—in 1813, 1837, 1875, 1889, and 1911; the present-day structure dates back to a complete reconstruction of the temple in 1970. No written records have  23 been recovered, however, to clarify the early history of the temple. Popular local lore suggests that the site dates back to 1757, when it originated as a small shrine inside a local charitable cemetery.11 According to local legends, one morning during Xinzhuang’s pioneering days, a severe thunderstorm unearthed a large mass of human remains. Lamenting this grim sight, nearby residents erected a small shrine to house these mass grave spirits. Another rendition of the temple’s inception attributes its origins to the tumultuous periods of violence and unrest toward the middle of the nineteenth century. This version has been described elsewhere by Feuchtwang in a passing reference: [A] shrine to the unknown dead after battles between descendants of immigrants from Quanzhou and descendants of immigrants from Zhangzhou, two prefectures in southern Fujian province, was built in Xinzhuang … Its responsiveness became famous and the guardian temple next to it enshrined not a lowly Locality God, but the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. [Feuchtwang 2001:50]  This version of events regarding the site’s beginnings, however, seems less likely as these feuds did not occur until the beginning of the 1830s—nearly a hundred years after the site became a site of worship. Confounding matters further is the fact that many worshippers I spoke with offered different—and seemingly contradictory— accounts as to the origins of the deity, Dazhongye. For instance, the “official” version of history—found in the print copies of lunar calendars distributed by the temple— traces the deity through a local legend to two army generals in the Tang dynasty (608–907 C.E.). Nonetheless, knowledgeable informants offered me another version of history explaining the dual nature of the deity. As they remarked, the full name of the divinity is Wenwu Dazhongye—with wen literally insinuating “scholar”, and wu  11  In fact, when I arrived to conduct the bulk of my field research in 2007, plans had been underway for a number of events to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the site’s consecration  24 denoting “martial”. The wen side of the deity, as locals informed me, are the spirits of those who have fallen from illnesses or plagues, while the wu side originate from the spirits of victims who have died in past battles or ethnic feuds. Spirits of those who suffered from untimely or violent deaths become malevolent ghosts. As the community protector, the Wenwu Dazhongye guards locals from the spectres of those who have suffered improper deaths in the past. As Harrell (1974) has shown, through the productive efforts of worshipers even small ghost shrines can evolve to become large, proper god temples, as the reputation for efficacious responses (lingyan) grows over time.12 In sum, this argument describes the likely trajectory which the site followed in its emergence as a proper temple. Ritual Economies, Ritual Territoriality Like most large, prominent sites of popular worship in Taiwan, the Dazhong Temple is administered by a caituan faren, a committee equivalent to a non-profit organization. Membership in this type of group is typically comprised of the local elites—this includes eminent local leaders, businesspersons, neighbourhood representatives, as well as other distinguished locals, usually men from households with long-established roots in the community, and heads from various ritual and deity associations (shenmin hui). Each year, the temple funds accumulated through donations from the community are spent not only on refurbishing the temple, but on a variety of projects within Xinzhuang as well. Aside from road construction, several community projects have also been built with the money raised. A four-story library was constructed  12 For a symbolic and structural analysis of this phenomenon, see Sangren (1987:148–153).  25 beside the temple in 1980, and subsequently, a senior’s activity centre was completed in 1989. The temple committee has also established scholarships to support over 150 students annually in their studies at academic institutions ranging from elementary schools to universities, and also purchased ambulances and fire-fighting equipment for the local fire department (Katz 2001:82–83). Most importantly, the temple sponsors a ritual known as anfang (“night visitation”), a prominent annual communal exorcism festival which first began in 1911, held in the evening hours of the last day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar—two days before the celebrated birthday of the host divinity. Tens of thousands from the community participate in this important annual event that undoubtedly plays a key role in establishing the ritual territoriality of the temple (see Katz 2001). In her article on ritual economies in rural Wenzhou, on the southeastern coast of China, Mayfair Yang (2000) has proposed the possibility of examining such economies as hybridization of various economic forms, consisting of both capitalist and an array of non-capitalist ones. She argues that through the extravagant expenditure on ritual life in Wenzhou, an alternative, “ancient”, “archaic economic logic [persists] which is subversive of capitalist, state socialist, and developmental-state principles” (Yang 2000:477). While a full treatment of her complex argument goes beyond the scope of this work,  her assertion of different, non-capitalist logics inherent in ritual spending is certainly helpful in aiding our understanding of ritual expenditures in Xinzhuang.13 Elsewhere, in his writing on popular religion in Taiwan,  13 Yang’s argument— although novel in its synthesis of ideas from (amongst others) Bataille (1989), Sahlins (1994) and Gibson-Graham (1996) in critiquing the notion of a monolithic and totalizing penetration of Western capitalism—is problematic at several fronts. As a commentator to her Currently Anthropology article notes, “if the ‘principles of ritual consumption and those of  26 Weller has provided a succinct summary of the complex relationship between temple patrons’ donations and their gods: Giving money to a temple claims a relationship of reciprocity simultaneously with both the gods and the local community, declaring community membership and asserting the right to future social and supernatural support ... Rebuilding a local temple or contributing money to its ritual life are in parts ways of solidifying the social networks … Gods and patrons are intertwined in these obligations, which are concretized in the increasingly ornate forms of the temples themselves. [2000:487]  In all, the donation of funds to a temple can also serve as an affirmation of the patron’s status within the local community. Having a record of these donations on public display seems to be a key and fundamental feature for the Dazhong Temple. Eight sets of stone tablets, listing the names of thousands of individuals who have donated funds to the temples over the years, flank the entrance to the temple. Also recorded on the tablets, along with the names of the donors, are the neighbourhoods (li) which these individuals represent, along with the range of the amount of their contribution to the temple funds. Having a public display of ritual expenditure not only serves the function of gaining social status or bringing “face” (mianzi) for the donors (Yang 2000), it also serves a spatial role as well. As tutelary deities are perceived as having “jurisdiction over a certain spatial territory” (Sangren 1987:55), listing the different neighbourhoods reaffirms the territoriality that the deities presides over as it unites the neighbourhoods into a single spatial entity, thus demarcating boundaries to the overall ritual community.   consumer capitalism are basically incompatible’… then how are they hybridized? Maybe thinking about them as coexisting discrete modes of production makes more sense” (Cooper 2000:496, emphasis added). Likewise, Rofel (2000:501) points out that, although the spatial metaphors of the various economic activities as “ritual economy” allows us to line up the different activities side-by- side, we are still left without a clear understanding of how exactly they subvert one another.  27   [Figure 2.2] Tablets displaying names of temple donors. Photo by the author.   Aside from patron donation, temple funds are also accumulated through various rituals offered to worshippers at the temple. Several ritual specialists there perform a variety of services, including a fortune-teller who calculates fates based on biographical data from the worshippers. Such individuals are found in most major Taiwanese temples. Additionally, two Daoist priests (daoshi), a brother and sister sibling pair, perform huajie, a cleansing ritual in which worshippers who feel that they have committed wrongdoings are in essence “pardoned” by the local deity, the Dazhong Ye. But by far, the most popular ritual at the temple is divination through the temple’s spirit medium. All ritual specialists who operate at the temple are paid a salary for their work. This is done, as temple officials informed me, to ensure a sense of legitimacy to the acts, and to deter the impression of a free-for-all profit-oriented service. Much of the reasoning behind this will become clearer in the following section. The Politics of Possession  Spirit mediums occupy a significant part of the public consciousness in Taiwan. While nearly always referred to with the southern Min term tang-ki, literally “divining youth”, spirit mediums in the context of Taiwan are rarely, if almost never,  28 children.14 By far, most spirit mediums in Taiwan are men. Women rarely serve as mediums for gods, as “tang-ki are expected to be and do things inappropriate for women” (Wolf 1990:427).15 Moreover, it is generally asserted that only the lowly- ranked deities on the celestial hierarchy claim human mediums to speak for them. For this same reason, spirit mediums are rarely women, as most female deities occupy prominent positions in the religious pantheon (Sangren 1983). Regarding the roles of spirit mediums within rural villages of Taiwan in the 1960s, anthropologist David Jordan wrote that tang-ki are the prime rural religious arbiters. It is they who diagnose a given case of familial or village disharmony as caused by ghosts; it is they who explore the family tree or the village forts for possible ghosts and their motivations; it is they who prescribe the cure. Spirit mediums drive harmful ghosts from the village; [they] perform exorcisms; and [it is they who] represent the august presence of the divine at rites performed in their name. [1972:85]  For Jordan, spirit mediums are both an “oracle” and a “spectacle” (1972:67–84), the former because of their roles as mouthpieces for divinity, the latter since tang-ki often utilize a variety of weapon-like instruments to engage in mortification rituals during festival processions (see Sutton 1989; 1990). It is also these latter actions that the public generally associate with spirit mediums. These graphic-nature of the sights and  14  The Mandarin equivalent is the term jitong, comprised of the same written characters as tang-ki, but with their orders reversed. As instances of child spirit mediums are exceptionally rare, if not unheard of, in the context of Taiwan, the connotation for ‘youth’, as implied by the term, is generally unacknowledged (Lin 1995). Elsewhere, other scholarship, both earlier and more recent, has noted the phenomenon of tang-ki amongst southern Min speakers in other ethnographic contexts. See, for instance, accounts by Elliott (1955) in Singapore, and DeBernardi (2006) in Malaysia. 15  Moreover, most female mediums, commonly called ang-i according to my interlocutors, are mediums of a different nature as they perform séances in communication with the spirits of the deceased. Thus, they would be regarded as shamans, as defined in the classical sense by Eliade (1964:4–7), who distinguished between “shamans”—whose ritual practice involves the claim that the shaman’s spirit has made an ascent to heaven or descended to the underworld, and “spirit mediums”—who invite the spirits to enter their bodies (DeBernardi 2006:10). A similar account of female shamans in the context of Hong Kong can be found in Potter (1974).  29 images of mediums doused in blood as they self-mortify undoubtedly play a role in the misgivings many have on them. In more recent times, particularly in urban settings, the social view on spirit medium practices is primarily one of “superstitious” acts that hinder progress and development. When the Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan after its defeat on the mainland, it took measures to regulate religious practices, suppressing “superstitious” aspects deemed as possible sources for “dissident interpretation” (Weller 1987:158). As a result, spirit mediums prevailed as “a cultural metaphor that Taiwan’s elite class does not consider consonant with the image of social development” (Kleinman 1980:214). The state’s disapproval of tang-ki and its subsequent attempts to curb their activities in urban centres peaked in the mid-1970s. As Kleinman has observed, during his research in Taipei in the summer of 1975 the state began cracking down on spirit mediums and other such “unlicensed healers”: Police and legal action was accompanied by almost daily newspaper articles attacking “witch doctors,” “superstition,” etc. This press campaign excoriated persons in temples for acting like unqualified doctors when they ministered to patients. They were charged with dangerous practices aimed at cheating clients. This campaign played upon the ambivalent popular view of healers … [and] also must have reinforced some of the negative aspects of popular sentiments about tang-ki. [1980:230–231 n.3]  While such overt campaigns of discouragement no longer take place in Taiwan today, tang-ki are still ambivalent figures in Taiwanese society, as they still continue to perform “in a public atmosphere of official scepticism”, and are “subject to special criticism for exploiting the vulnerable and ill (Stafford 1995:127; also see Weller 1987:155–158). Increasingly, a considerable number of tang-ki now offer advice and perform cures at private altars within their own homes, enabling them the discretion and the opportunity to acquire lucrative contracts from clients. Unlike the context of  30 urban Korea, where shamans actively manifest signs of personal wealth and prosperity “as an advertisement of the efficacy of their spirit” (Kendall 1996:519), such actions by spirit mediums in Taiwan would likely evoke doubt and distrust amongst believers. Discursively, the skepticism shown toward spirit mediums is also a way to assert one’s own modernity (Pigg 1996). By associating certain aspects of culture as traditional or perhaps even “backwards” (luoho), one also affirms his or her own cosmopolitanism. I encountered such attitudes in urban Taipei, as my inquiry into spirit mediums often elicited responses of skepticism from my informants. “How can the possessions be genuine?” a man once asked me in disbelief, as he assumed that my research was an inquiry into the validity of spirit possessions. Several times I was asked, “Why study such superstition?” “Don’t you know that they [spirit mediums] cheat money (pianqian) from the uneducated?” denounced another. It is against this backdrop that the séances at the Dazhong temple, particularly given its location at a public site, are even more extraordinary. Lin Wenhuang, a married man in his fifties, has served as the spirit medium at the temple for the past 25 years. I first met Lin Wenhuang through a mutural contact while I was on a preliminary field research trip in 2006. Though at first he did not recognize me in our second encounter a year later, he quickly remembered after I reminded him of our initial meeting. He was glad to see me again, and quickly reintroduced me to those working with him at the temple. On most mornings, before the séances are to begin later in the afternoon, Lin Wenhuang spends most of his time at the temple, conversing with friends, acquaintances, and strangers over tea. Many times he was generous enough to invite me to sit with him to listen in and take part in these conversations. On numerous occasions Lin Wenhuang took me aside and  31 devoted his full attention to my questions. As we took tea one morning he began recounting to me the version of events which led him to become the host medium. A Medium  Lin Wenhuang was born in the postwar era of the 1950s, shortly before Taiwan was about to commence its economic “take-off”. He was raised not far from the temple, and had in fact spent his entire youth just blocks away from it. By the age of either fifteen or sixteen, as he could not precisely recall, he began experiencing episodes of dream revelation (tuomeng), where the gods from the temple visited him through his dreams and foretold events which then later occurred. Though these dreams initially troubled him, Lin Wenhuang disregarded these premonitions, as he had not been a “believer” (xintu), nor by his own account, had he led a distinctly religious life up to that point. Upon graduation from college, Lin Wenhuang began to work as an electrician. He had, in fact, decades earlier constructed much of the electrical foundations that are still found throughout the temple today. After achieving some minor success as an electrician, he had hoped to capitalize on the economic boom of Taiwan in the 1970s. He thus quit his electrician job, and decided to run his own business selling carpets. It was also around this time that the previous spirit medium at the temple, a frail man of advancing years and failing health, approached Lin Wenhuang and appealed to him to take over his role as the spirit medium. Lin Wenhuang initially refused this offer. However, after several months of struggles at his new profession, he could no longer resist this calling. “For half a year, I could not claim any single payment on anything  32 that I sold! I was cursed! (bei zuzhou)” Lin Wenhuang proclaimed. He thus reluctantly accepted the offer and became the new spirit medium.  Stories of such fate were common amongst worshippers I interviewed in Xinzhuang. Lin Wenhuang’s own turn toward religion had come after experiencing distress and—by his own account—“failure” (shibai) at achieving success during the economic boom of the earlier decades. Many worshippers reflected on their own episodes of struggles as they regarded themselves as poor, having missed out on the earlier decades of economic boom and success. Huang Huiming, a mother of three in her late-forties who moved to Xinzhuang nearly twenty years earlier, had considered me as “fortunate” (xinyun) to have left Taiwan, after learning that I had left there at the age of ten. “I too had hopes of moving my family … to Australia earlier,” she remarked. “But someone who owes us a lot of debt had bailed years ago and moved south … Now my children are not doing well. My husband and I have a hard time supporting them as they don’t make enough money.” Chen Meiying, another woman of similar age, complained of her fate being stuck in Xinzhuang, unable to move out into a more desirable location. “Life [in Xinzhuang] … is like living on the city’s fringe (dushi de bianyuan) … my apartment is not worth much, the traffic is bad [and] it takes me forever to go anywhere,” she bemoaned. She also complained of her “bad luck” and numerous health-related problems that have occurred since she moved into her apartment. She spoke of numbness in her limbs, and many things not going her way (shiqing bushun). In all, I found their experiences akin—though more attenuated—to ones described by Buyandelgeriyn in her discussion on the proliferation of shamans in post-socialist Mongolia, where with the fall of socialism and the advent of a market economy,  33 “people’s existing economic anxieties and uncertainties increased and became entangled with spiritual anxieties” (2007:141). In search of means to mitigate their maladies and misfortunes, people resort to rituals such as divination as they turn to the past in attempts to make sense of the present. Divining The ritual for consulting the gods through spirit possession, wenshen— literally “asking the god”, takes place not at the main altar of worship at the Dazhong temple, but at an adjacent, much smaller altar that has been designated specifically for séances known as jitan, or divining altar. The demand for the ritual has become so exceedingly popular that in recent years the sessions now occur daily; the only exceptions are on the first and fifteenth day of each lunar calendar month, when the temple is especially overwhelmed with crowds of worshippers gathering to offer incense and goods to the gods.16 Generally, between forty and fifty worshippers attended the séances each day during the time of my research. On several occasions, however, these numbers peaked over seventy, and often these divining sessions would begin in the afternoon and last well into dusk. Such a following is unusual, especially given the stigmatization typically associated with such practices, as I outlined in a previous section.17 Not all visitors were locals, but the majority of them were. Having worshippers come from afar also serves as a testament and further builds the  16  It is a common practice in Taiwan for locals to visit nearby temples and offer incense on each of those days of the lunar calendar month. As temple officials informed me, due to past instances of overcrowding, the temple committee decided against holding séances during those days. Traffic jams to the temple’s entrance have become a major concern over the last several years, and solutions are still being sought to curb this problem. 17  By contrast, previous scholarship has generally noted fewer worshippers attending spirit séances. The number of supplicants typically ranges from two or three to a dozen, but rarely exceeding that amount. See, for instance, accounts by Li (1976:181), Tseng (1976:166), Gould-Martin (1978:47), and Kleinman (1980:216).  34 reputation for efficacious responsiveness of both the deity and the temple (Sangren 2000). One sunny morning, after I had already made several visits to the temple, Lin Wenhuang approached me as I arrived. “If you want to study how people ask the gods, you must observe it firsthand! You should join us and watch so you know how it is done!” He said. I thus became a silent participant of the divining ritual. By that time, I had already conducted several interviews with worshippers of the temple at a nearby park just a block away. As well, I had made observations of the session on previous occasions before, but I had not yet had the vantage point of seeing the ritual at work directly from inside the divining altar—a tiny room no more than three to four metres wide, barely large enough to house all the members involved in each séance. Below, I provide a generalized account of the séances based mostly on my field notes originating from this session. During each divining session, the spirit medium Lin Wenhuang is accompanied by a “ritual master” (fashi). Ritual masters, known as touq-thau in southern Min— both literally and figuratively “head of the table”—perform a key role in divining sessions. Chen Jiaxi, a man in his late sixties, has served the role of the ritual master at the temple for the last fifty years. Although reticent by nature, the first time I met Chen Jiaxi he was eager to show me the ritual table used for the séances. He promptly led me to the divining altar and showed me the inscriptions engraved on the wooden table.  The inscriptions were barely visible, and the date etched into the wood indicated the writings had been carved in 1957—a year after Chen Jiaxi became the ritual master at the temple. Initially I did not know what to make of his action, but I interpreted it as an assertion of his expertise and authority. In addition to the spirit medium and the  35 ritual master, three more assistants—each with definitive but limited roles—also partook in the ritual. One of the assistants, as I later learned, is in fact the spirit medium Lin Wenhuang’s younger brother. On each day of divination, at roughly an hour before noon, one of the assistants—usually Lin Wenhuang’s younger brother—gathers himself at a small table near the spirit altar to record information from supplicants who wish to beseech the god, Dazhongye. On a sheet of pink paper he records their personal details—the name, birth date, Chinese zodiac sign, current home address, and the issue(s) for which they wish to seek assistance. The request for such details is a common practice amongst diviners, fortune-tellers, and geomancers. When asked why such information is required, ritual specialists often reply that they are needed to ensure that the god has the right person, in essence so “the god could pull the right file” (Weller 1995:107), evoking the familiar bureaucratic metaphor that I discussed in the previous chapter. After the assistant has finished recording this information, he assigns the supplicants a number in the order in which they arrived. They are then told to wait outside the spirit altar—if it is only moments before the séances are to begin—or to return to the temple at two-thirty in the afternoon when the séances typically begin. The waiting period for divination is an unusually long one, demanding a great deal of patience from worshippers as it can sometimes take several hours before their turn arises. This creates a striking temporal contrast with other forms of divination at the temple, such as the throwing of moon blocks or the drawing of revelation verses, which worshippers  36 may engage in with relative ease without any delays (see Jordan 1982; Hatfield 2002).18 During this time, worshippers are also asked to obtain three sticks of incense and a small stack of gold “spirit money” for the séance, both of which can be acquired from the temple for a small donation, or through the numerous religious goods vendors at a short distance outside the temple. The payment for the divining session itself is also by voluntary donation, to be enclosed in “red envelopes” (hongbao) and handed off to one of the assistants afterward, as stacks of old, reused red envelopes can be found just outside the divining altar. Through word of mouth, the typical donation is 200 NT dollars (approximately 6 USD). By my estimate, the majority of funds given in exchange for the service are somewhere between 100 to 1,000 NT.19 At each session, the spirit medium Lin Wenhuang normally returns to the temple some time after lunch, with the rest of the ritual assistants and the ritual master already in place at the divining altar. Usually after a cigarette, he joins them in  18  As Ahern (1981:45–63) noted, several different methods of divining practices may be employed by worshippers. The most ubiquitous method is through poah-pue, the throwing of divination blocks. Briefly, this act involves the throwing of two moon-shaped wooden blocks, each with a concave and a convex side. Worshippers may petition questions before a god’s or ancestor’s altar before dropping the blocks to receive three possible responses: affirmative, negative, and “smile” or equivocal. Another method where supplicants may receive a more elaborate response is through thiu-chiam, the drawing of revelation verses. Usually recorded on bamboo slats in sets of sixty, these poetic verses can regularly be found at temples where worshippers may consult an interpreter to decipher the verses and calculate a worshipper’s “fate”, or mia in southern Min. For discussion on mia, see Harrell (1987). 19  On a few occasions, I also witnessed extraordinarily large sums of donation being given in exchange for the services. In one instance, a man in his forties, satisfied with the divine assistance of the gods over a health concern, returned weeks later with a red envelope with a donation of 50,000 NT (around 1,400 USD). Both Lin Wenhuang and Chen Jiaxi, along with several rituals at the temple, made all efforts to decline this exceedingly large sum. After several minutes of exchanges, the man was convinced that this generous gesture was not required, and left. He returned several days later, however, insisting that this money must be accepted, arguing that such “divine help” (shenming zhizhu) must be matched with an equal “repayment” (huibao). Chen Jiaxi thus made the suggestion that such an exorbitant payment should only be accepted by those on the temple committee. A meeting was then arranged for the man with one of the temple committee members.  37 the room, as he gathers himself on an old wooden stool, placing one piece of gold spirit money down on it before sitting down. Lin Wenhuang closes his eyes, and places his hands on the far opposing corners of the table. The ritual master Chen Jiaxi, along with the rest of the assistants, then begins to sing an invocation hymn in a deep, low tone in southern Min.20 After a few minutes, the spirit medium begins to belch intermittently, an indication that the deity has begun to enter his corporal domain. More than half way through the incantation, which in all lasts about ten minutes, Lin Wenhuang begins to tap his foot on the ground. These actions become increasingly more dramatic and violent, until he stomps his foot heavily into the floor, loud enough to be heard throughout other parts of the temple. This continues on for about half a minute until the medium emerges from the chair, fully in trance and gestures his hands toward the body, assuming a wide stance to indicate that the god is fully in control of the corporal domain. The worshippers, having previously been assigned a number, are called out by sets of five at a time. As each worshipper enters the divining altar room, the ritual master reports aloud to the possessed medium the previously recorded biographical information provided by the worshippers. From the vantage point of the worshippers, it is the god and not the tang-ki that offers advice, performs cures, and exorcizes ghosts. As most observers have noted, tang-ki frequently speak in a high-pitched glossolalia, unintelligible to most except to the ritual assistants (Elliott 1955; Jordan 1972; Stafford 1995). In this particular ethnographic case, however, the spirit medium may speak directly to the worshippers in southern Min, and may engage in a dialogue with worshippers to clarify issues. Other times, the entranced spirit medium provides  20  Examples of such invocations can be found in Elliott (1955:170–171).  38 instructions that are nearly inaudible, perhaps even unintelligible to the worshippers.21 One of the crucial tasks of the ritual master is to interpret these divin words when a e ppropriate.  In all cases, whether the medium is able to verbally provide an explanation locating the source of discomfort, grief, complication, or pain, he prescribes the worshippers a set of five talismans (fu, or lingfu), regardless of the type of issues they bring forth. Magically-empowered talismans are said to drive away malevolent spirits, which are sometimes said to be the cause of the malaise or maladies. While in trance with his eyes remaining closed, the spirit medium utilizes a stylus brush and writes several illegible—or perhaps even archaic—characters on the spirit money brought in by the supplicants. The tang-ki also etches six dots, spread over the perimeter of the pieces of paper that are now the empowered talismans. The ritual master then collects these talismans from the spirit medium and records on the back of one of them the instructions given by the tang-ki. Along with a detailed instruction, he inscribes on it a single word of instructions for the talismans, with characters like burn (shao), imbibe (yin), protect (bao), wash (xi).22 He then passes these talismans onto an assistant, who stamps them with the seals of the temple in red ink, and holds them above the incense burner to further “empower” them with the incense smoke. He passes them out to the worshippers as they leave the spirit altar. Standing by the doorway, another assistant once again repeats to the worshippers the set of  21  Kleinman (1980:216) has made similar observations in his work about the inaudible nature of the communiqué. 22  To provide a few examples, in some cases the worshippers were told to burn the talisman over a series of three days—either inside or outside their domestic space, depending on the case. In other instances, some were told to first burn the lingfu, and then consume the ashes with water. Some were advised to carry the lingfu with them, while in some circumstances, worshippers were told to bathe in the burnt ashes of the talismans in the water.  39 instructions on how the talismans are to be used. To further understand divination as a spatial practice, rituals such as divination act as a method to make the “experientially inaccessible entities accessible” (Miyazaki 2000:32), and imbue the immaterial with material essence. The talismans prescribed by the spirit medium serve further to this logic. All of these actions and words occur in plain sight of the other worshippers. The public and circumspect nature of the divination no doubt plays a role in the types of issues brought forth, as worshippers are more likely to request divine interventions on issues regarded to be more socially acceptable. 23 Still, the types of issues remain broad, and difficult to categorize. Some examples of them include: health concerns of selves or family members (by far the most common issue), pending outcome of court cases, unclaimed debts, children’s well-being (e.g., struggles at school), retrieval of lost objects, advice on the most auspicious days for conducting a certain event (marriage, moving homes, and so forth). But it is this fact that any requests may be answered which makes the gods powerful. Conclusions Most Western anthropologists writing on issues of popular religion in Taiwan have pointed out the importance of the concept of ling (or lieng in southern Min), the magical power or efficacy attributed to supernatural entities of gods (Ahern 1981;  23  For instance, a number of observers (e.g., Weller 1994; Chen 2001) have attributed the dajiale— (literally “Everybody’s happy”) a generic name for illegal lotteries involving the prediction of winning numbers—in increasing the popularity of spirit mediums in the 1980s and 1990s, as gamblers often employed such services in hopes of obtaining a winning prediction. When a national lottery was legalized by the state in 2002, stories of crowds flocking at various anomalous shrines requesting the prediction of winning numbers from tang-ki and other diviners became a prominent feature in the news during this period. However, during my time at Dazhong Temple I did not witness a single case of this.  40 Sangren 1987, 2000; Stafford 1995), ghosts (Feuchtwang 2001; Weller 1987), or ancestors (Ahern 1973). Sangren (1987, 2000) has particularly developed a novel synthesis of this structure of power. As he argues, “[t]he rationale that underlies this symbolic constitution of magical power … embodies a [sometimes] unacknowledged circularity: one worships a god because it is powerful; one knows a god is powerful because it is worshipped” (Sangren 2000:73). As one perceptive interlocutor of Ahern explains this logic, When we say a god is lieng [ling] we mean the god really does help us. Word is then spread from person to person, each telling the other that the god helped. So it is really a matter of relations among [people] … A change in the popularity of temples is not a result of change in gods’ abilities. The abilities of gods don’t change. People’s attitudes toward them do, however. [Ahern 1981:94, quoted in Sangren 1987:202]  Thus, in essence, the power and efficacy of a god is dependent on the productive efforts of worshipper as well. As Stafford succinctly puts it, “Gods have strength, but without human productive effort, they may diminish in power and literally end up on the scrap heap” (1995:144). Furthermore, as I have attempted to argue throughout this work, without practice and productive efforts from worshippers, social spaces fail to materialize into culturally and socially meaningful places. In Xinzhuang, one does not have to travel too far away from the Dazhong Temple—just a few minutes down the block to the neighbourhood ironically dubbed the Temple Avenue district—to see where this fails to be the case (see Chapter 1). As Kleinman (1980, 1986) has noted, Chinese patients often somatize social and psychological symptoms, manifesting personal and social distress through physical bodily symptoms and ailments. Part of the reason for the success and popularity of the spirit mediums lies in their abilities in attributing or allocating a source for the  41 person’s maladies or misfortunes. As Li has argued in his earlier work on spirit mediums, a tang-ki “not only provides a specific answer for the client … [but] also draws upon the whole cultural system to give a meaningful explanation to the client” (1976:187). In a paper he delivered on the recent surge in popularity of spirit mediums in Taiwan, Chen (2001) speculated on the “most plausible explanations” accounting for their prominence. As he writes, Taiwan’s rapid entry into a fully industrialized country raised its people’s material standards of living, but generated greater psychological stress and uncertainty. Demographic shifts from rural to urban areas added a sense of personal estrangement. Allopathic medicine is often inadequate in healing the kind of suffering brought about by rapid industrialization and the changes that come with such a process … In a society that has a long-established spirit mediumship, tang-ki and their practices might have been revived for its effectiveness in treating such ailments. [Chen 2001:176–177]  My own account of spirit mediumship in this work has advanced additional evidence to confirm what Chen has suggested in his writing. Furthermore, I have attempted to link the affective experience of people to the spatial politics of place in Xinzhuang. As sacred social spaces, temples play an important role in the everyday life of local residents as they are the sites where divine and human agencies intersect. As the locus of religious activities, temples not only offer a shared public space where worshippers converge—not only to share their stories of anxieties, pains, and grief—but also a place to turn to their gods in hopes of changing such fates. As I conducted research in Xinzhuang in 2006 and 2007, construction was well underway for the local line of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project—a plan initially commissioned in the mid-1980s as an attempt to alleviate traffic congestion and improve transportation around metropolitan Taipei. Now, more than two decades since construction first begun, the same project has been expanded to incorporate the  42 various nearby outlying city districts surrounding metropolitan Taipei. Grand projects such as the MRT have further implications for the spatial politics of the region, as they further intensify the “time-space compression” of late capitalism (Harvey 1989). Nonetheless, most of those with whom I spoke in Xinzhuang saw this project as a positive, welcoming change—despite their constant complaints about the inconveniences caused by its construction. As one of the shopkeepers outside the temple, a woman in her forties, paradoxically remarked to me one day, “perhaps this project will enable Xinzhuang to become ‘more like an urban city’ (gengxiang ge dushi)”. As I left Xinzhuang in 2007, rumours had been circulating amongst locals regarding a plan to amalgamate the ten cities (shi), four urban townships (zheng), and fifteen rural townships (xiang) of Taipei County into one administrative entity. Now, more than two years later in 2009, a resolution was finally passed in June to carry forth this plan. Commencing on December 25, 2010, what once stood as Taipei County will instead become a special, directly controlled municipality in its own right, with the provisional name of Xinbei—literally “new northern”—city. The repercussions of this announcement have yet to be truly felt. In her recent article on the reappropriation of ritual spaces in southeastern China, Yang (2004b) made the observation that various ethnographic and historical works in rural southwestern China and Taiwan have revealed old systems of ritual territory dating back to late imperial times: Village communities, kinship groups, and deity cult followers gave geographical form to their common identities and community life by performing their collective rituals in local deity temples, ancestor halls, and at tombs. Collective rituals, whether making sacrificial offerings in temples and halls and carrying gods in annual ritual processions to mark out community  43 boundaries or celebrating festivals and deity birthdays, ritually demarcated the land into a patchwork of community territories that often did not correspond to state administrative boundaries. [Yang 2004b:723]  Yet, the migration and urbanization of recent decades in Taiwan has blurred kinship ties and village boundaries. With the advancement of abstract space, the dominant representations of space have eliminated many of these sites where collective rituals had once been performed—the only exception to this are the temples within certain communities, as I have stressed in this work. Only through the productive efforts of worshippers, via spatial practices such as divination, are the symbolic representational spaces being restored and maintained (Lefebvre 1991). During the course of my field research, one of my closest informants was Li Yaling (the woman I mentioned near the beginning of this chapter). By chance, I also met her on numerous occasions at the temple, and each time she seemed eager to have a conversation. 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