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Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Cool reception for Matsu pilgrims

CROSS-STRAIT VOYAGE A ship carrying devotees of Matsu made a historic journey to China yesterday, and was received by somber officials on the other side

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

Members of a pilgrimage group from the Tienhou Temple in Matsu get ready for the first direct legal crossing of the Taiwan Strait by a pilgrimage group in 50 years. The pilgrims are carrying a palanquin of the goddess Matsu, the temple's patron deity.

PHOTO: LEE HUNG-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

The vessel Taima Lun (臺馬輪), carrying more than 500 pilgrims and 12 government officials and journalists from Matsu arrived at Mawei (馬尾) on the Fujian coast at 11:00am yesterday.

The devotees of Matsu, Goddess of the Sea, gathered early yesterday morning in front of the Tienhou Temple (天后宮) on Nankan Island, part of the Matsu archipelago, to greet the statues of the goddess before boarding the vessel.

Dressed in red coats and accompanied by a magistrate from the Lianchiang County Government, Liu Li-chyun (劉立群), local KMT Legislator Tsao Erh-chung (曹爾忠) and county council speaker Chen Chen-ching (陳振清), they waved to crowds before steaming away from Fuao port at 7:30am.

Cabinet Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁), Vice Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council Chen Ming-tung (陳明通) and other central government officials were there to see them off with firecrackers and applause.

"We hope the first voyage will lay a foundation for peaceful cross-strait interaction [in the future]," Chiou said.

"The sea today is so calm it seems to represent our confidence [in cross-strait relations]," Tsao said on the boat.

Upon arrival in China's Mawei port, the Taima Lun was greeted by some 40 Chinese officials, with only a few of them applauding.

The pilgrimage to Putian -- Matsu's supposed birthplace -- and Meizhou -- where the goddess resided before she was deified -- then set off.

Some members of the Taiwanese media, however, were barred from covering the event.

News photographers were asked to leave their cameras on the boat while other reporters were asked to remain with the group and to limit their reports to nothing but the religious side of the journey.

Local Chinese media, nevertheless, all rushed into the port to witness the first-ever pilgrimage made directly from Taiwan to China.

Meanwhile in Taipei, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) urged China to resume cross-strait negotiations and facilitate the implementation of the "small three links."

"I'd like to ask the Chinese authorities to [assist and] take care of those who made these first voyages from Kinmen and Matsu as part of the small three links," Chang said yesterday morning.

Chang said that yesterday's first legal direct voyages (from Kinmen as well as Matsu) were an opportunity for both sides of the Taiwan Strait to ease the political standoff and usher in a new era of peaceful co-existence.

"Leaders of both sides of the Strait should sit down and talk, otherwise, it will be hard to implement the small three links smoothly," Chang said, adding that he hoped he would recall this moment with pride in years to come.

The group said it plans to return to Fuao port on Nankan Island on Friday, concluding a four-day trip.

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