Mon, Jan 01, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Matsu followers to set sail to China

By Kevin Chen and Richard Dobson  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN MATSU

Five hundred devotees of Matsu, Goddess of the Sea, are set to be among the first people from Taiwan to sail directly to China with the blessing of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Under provisions set out by the "small three links" scheme, which as of today allows direct shipping between Kinmen and Matsu and China, the vessel Taima Lun will sail from Fuao Port on the southern Nankang Island of the Matsu archipelago at 7:30am tomorrow.

One of Taiwan's most beloved deities, Matsu's birthday is celebrated by thousands of people throughout the island on the 23rd day of the third lunar month every year.

In the days leading up to her birthday, devotees carry statues of the goddess all around the island and then embark on a pilgrimage to Meichou in Fujian where she resided before being deified.

This is the second attempt to sail directly to Meichou.

Back in July, Taichung County Council Speaker Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) organized a temple group to make the first-ever direct sea crossing to Meichou.

The Taichung Chenlan Temple (鎮瀾宮) pilgrimage -- under pressure from Beijing to adhere to the "one China" principle -- was later forced to travel by air instead of by sea.

The trip finally went via Hong Kong in early August.

According to Matsu legislator Tsao Erh-chung (曹爾忠), the delegation, organized by Matsu's Tien Hou Temple, was the first to receive approval from related authorities in both Taiwan and China.

"We were the first group to get the OK from both the Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications," Tsao said.

The group also received the thumbs up from the Fujian authorities, who agreed to the visit as long at it was officially considered a voyage by a domestic vessel, the ship steams directly for China and not via a third port and the trip is made by private citizens, Tsao said.

Liu Li-chyun (劉立群 ), magistrate of the Lian Chiang Hsien Government -- the official title for authorities governing the Matsu archipelago -- said, "It is not important how China views the trip ... we have to take the first step if we want to create peace for the long term."

China's authorities have also appeared to soften on their prior refusal to allow reporters from Taiwan to make the voyage across by agreeing to permit journalists to accompany the devotees on the voyage, Tsao said.

"Some 15 to 20 reporters from Taiwan will also make the journey, but they will be restricted to covering news items related only to the religious aspects of the trip and nothing else," Tsao said.

However, Tsao clarified that China's authorities had only agreed verbally and he would seek final approval before they cast off tomorrow.

The Taima Lun will first sail the 60km to Mawei Port on the Fujian coast arriving around noon. From there they will journey to Putian -- Matsu's birthplace -- and will then proceed on to Meichou by bus.

At 9:00am on Wednesday followers will offer prayers to Matsu in a formal ceremony at the goddess' temple on Meichou Island.

The group plans to return to Fuao Port on Nankang Island on Friday.

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