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Thu, Jun 15, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Yen Ching-piao: pious leader or crafty politician?

LEADING THE FLOCK Many say political and economic factors, as well as religion, are what drove Taichung's most controversial politician to push for direct links

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A file photo shows Yen Ching-piao, chairman of Chen Lan temple in Tachia, Taichung County, leading a palanquin carrying the goddess Matsu through Chiayi County.


By 7:30pm Tuesday, Taichung County Council Speaker Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) was already drunk.

"He's asleep, unable to accept your interview. The visiting Kinmen County Commissioner and councilors brought him bottles of Kinmen `kaoliang' liquor. He's drunk now," Liu Hsu-mei (劉淑媚), Yen's secretary, told the Taipei Times.

Yen's guests from Kinmen had a mission. They wanted Yen, who chairs the board of the Chen Lan Temple (鎮瀾宮) in Taichung County, to lead Matsu followers on a pilgrimage to China to worship the goddess Matsu via Kinmen. By doing so, Yen would take the first step toward opening direct links with China and would also open Kinmen to a fresh wave of investment and resources for the island's stunted economy.

But as Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) officials have said, direct travel to China via outlying islands for religious purposes is out of the question for the time being.

For Yen, who had originally planned to lead thousands of Matsu followers to Meizhou Temple (湄洲媽祖廟) in China's Fujian Province on the first direct sailing via outlying islands, this possibility has disappeared like kaoliang at a dinner party.

Yen, however, isn't taking no for an answer. It's impossible to cancel the scheduled pilgrimage on July 16 as it's the date the goddess Matsu has selected, Yen says.

"We have to go anyway, otherwise it would be disrespectful to Matsu," Yen said, but added that the trip would follow legal routes.

Religious Fervor?

Yen claims that Chen Lan Temple's application to sail directly to China to worship Matsu was a bid to save money, time and energy for Matsu followers.

After all, as Taiwan still bans direct cross-strait transportation, local pilgrims have to spend nearly a day reaching Meizhou via either Hong Kong or Japan's Ishigaki Islands.

The ban has prompted some Taiwanese to travel across the Strait illegally on fishing boats to cut down on time and costs.

If direct travel from Taichung Harbor to Meizhou is allowed, locals need only travel a few hours to cross the 133km Strait before reaching the island where the goddess of the sea is believed to have been born and lived as a person before she was raised to the status of a goddess.

Although Yen has presented himself as a speaker for Matsu followers, saying the case is purely a religious one, some have said Yen's push for religious direct links is instead a maneuver to seek political and economic gains.

Political Gains

"I am wondering if he is interested in running for the Taichung County Commissioner post," said Hsu Szu-chien (徐斯儉), a political analyst at National Chengchi University.

If so, then Yen's urging the government to open direct links with China for religious purposes -- if it succeeds -- would enhance his reputation in Taichung County, Hsu said.

KMT legislator Kuo Jung-cheng (郭榮振), elected from Taichung County, confirmed Yen's wish to run for the county commissioner position. "KMT lawmaker Tseng Chen-nung (曾振農) once told me that Yen intended to run for commissioner," Kuo said.

But not everyone agrees with this interpretation.

DDP legislator Chiu Tai-san (邱太三), also elected from Taichung County, said insiders in the People First Party (PFP) had told him it was unlikely the PFP would nominate Yen as a candidate to run for commissioner despite the close connections between Yen and the party.

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