A series of efforts by tourism authorities to turn some Aboriginal traditions into tourist attractions recently triggered protests from Aboriginal activists, who accused the government of disrespecting their culture by treating their sacred rituals as entertainment for tourists. However, this insensitivity on the part of the government is not limited to its ignorance of Aboriginal culture, but extends to the customs and traditions of other groups of people as well.
The controversy stemmed from a plan by the Tourism Bureau to bring tourists into Amis communities along the east coast, as the local communities there prepare for the Ilisin — one of the most important and sacred events of the year held by different Amis villages throughout the summer to celebrate the harvest and pay homage to their ancestors.
Amis activists immediately protested, saying that they welcome visitors who are sincere about learning about their culture and would respect all the taboos and practices at the Ilisin, but not tourists with no respect for their culture who regard the ritual as some form of entertainment.
A few days after, the East Coast Scenic Area Administration announced that it was organizing an Amis Ilisin dance competition.
That sparked another storm of protests from Amis Aborigines, who said the traditional dance is performed for their ancestors and other spirits, and that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” performance, as what counts most is a sincere heart.
Some Amis compared the dance to the ancestral worship practiced by some Han people, asking whether the government would also hold a contest to see who performs the ritual best.
While some may be surprised at the government’s cultural insensitivity in this case, it is hardly an isolated incident. Treating culture as a mere tourist attraction, disregarding the significance of local customs and traditions, seems to be common practice among government officials.
In the Han tradition, there are certain dates of the year when religious activities are held, such as around an immortal’s birthday, after a harvest to express gratitude for blessings or during the Lunar New Year to pray for a prosperous year. However, to attract tourists, local governments have turned many of these religious events into cultural festivals whose sole aim is to entertain.
For instance, the worship of the Hakka Yimin (義民) — literally “righteous people” who sacrificed themselves defending their villages during anti-government uprisings during the Qing Dynasty in Taiwan — are supposed to be held on the seventh month of the lunar calendar, or around July or August in the Gregorian calendar. However, for some odd reason, the Taipei City Government chose to hold its annual “Taipei Hakka Yimin Festival” in October, and dropped some rites that are sacred according to tradition.
Another example is the annual ritual held at the end of the Lunar New Year holiday by residents of the small fishing village of Yeliou (野柳) in New Taipei City’s Wanli District (萬里) to dispel evil spirits from the harbor and pray for a good harvest. During the celebration, young men from the village jump into the water while carrying sedans with statues of immortals on them.
However, since the New Taipei City Government took over the organization of the event a few years ago, it has taken to reserving the best viewing spots for officials and the media corps, leaving the villagers craning their necks and standing on tiptoes to see what is going on.
It is certainly a good thing for the government to promote unique cultural traditions around the country and for those who are interested to take part in them. However, if cultural tourism means harming and disrespecting local traditions, it is better that they be left to those who have practiced them for generations.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), tasked with reforming the party and returning it to the viable political force that it once was, is faced with a Gordian knot. The complexities of the job ahead go beyond appealing to a younger generation of voters. Chiang might have to decide between jettisoning much of what the party originally stood for and preparing it for a return to the Presidential Office, or doubling down on its founding purpose and representing what is increasingly, in the current state of Taiwanese politics, a minority view. The KMT, as the founding party and self-proclaimed champion
Although concerned over the impact of many citizens returning from Europe and the US while those nations cope with soaring COVID-19 infection rates, Taiwan has handled the pandemic with alacrity and seems to be successfully managing the process compared with many others, including European nations and the US. Despite its proximity to China, by March 3, Taiwan had only 42 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death, while Japan had 287 cases and six deaths and South Korea had 4,812 cases and 28 deaths. This is of considerable interest internationally because Taiwan is not only located near China, but is relatively densely
On Tuesday last week, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that he would ask government officials to assess the possibility of holding an online conference with international disease prevention experts to share Taiwan’s methods of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Su was responding to a question by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Charles Chen (陳以信), who had said that Taiwan should capitalize on its first-rate disease prevention experts and experience to “show the world its loss for excluding [Taiwan] from the WHO.” Chen is right. Taiwan must use this time — when the nation’s international profile has been elevated due to its pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the trend of US-China decoupling. For more than a decade, these two countries relied on each other for mutual economic growth and prosperity. Historian Niall Ferguson refers to this symbiotic connectivity as “Chimerica,” in which both nations worked closely to deal with the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, championing state-controlled capitalism through massive economic rescue packages. However, the “Chimerica” nexus seems to have come to an end. As bilateral ties have worsened amid trade and media disputes, the entangled US-China relationship further complicates the development of geopolitics and the global economy. In recent years,