China Beat Archive



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February 1, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright February 1, 2009. Used by permission.


Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Prologue, Chapter 1: Lines 1-2, 11-12

Taiwan’s pilgrimage season, which tends to peak around the third lunar month (Chaucer’s April) has long been a time of intense religious devotion, with moving scenes of worshippers (especially elderly women) walking for days from one sacred site to another. There are also mammoth processions, fireworks, dramatic performances, etc. Pilgrimage season is also big business for the island’s leading temples, which compete to attract worshippers and enhance their financial and symbolic capital, referred to as “incense power” (香火權威).

One of the most famous temple rivalries involves the venerable Chaotian Gong(located in Beigang, Yunlin County; 雲林北港朝天宮) and the Fengtian Gong (in Xingang, Jiayi County; 嘉義新港奉天宮). While these two temples stand a mere three miles apart, tensions over which one could lay claim to being this nation’s oldest Mazu 媽祖 temple (開台媽祖) ended up sparking a religious cold war that has lasted 60 years, with neither temple willing to support or take part in the other’s activities.