SUPERSTITIONS AND CULTS IN TAIWAN

SUPERSTITIONS IN TAIWAN

On the 5th day of the 5th month children across Taiwan try to make eggs stand on end. According to local superstition this is the most auspicious day from trying such a feat. Many Chinese try not to work on the 3rd and 17th of month.

Feng shui masters are often consulted on building designs During good economic times, building owners splurge on fountains. fish tanks with expensive “feng shui fish,” such as the arowana, or “red dragon,” and designs with qi-friendly angles. During bad economic times they spend less and purchase things like mirrors and curtains to divert bad spirits.

Taiwanese have blood type superstitions like the Japanese. Some fortunetellers sell miniature coffins made of wood or jade. Customers write down their birthdates on slips of paper, put them in the coffins, and burn incense sticks and pray for rebirth. The Taipei Times runs a daily lunar prophecy that tells reads whether or not it is a good or bad day for traveling, worshiping, getting married, holding a burial or making a business deal.

There is an interesting story about the town of Longteng that is revealing of the superstitious beliefs that local people once held. When the first settlers started to cultivate land in the area, they believed that Liyu Lake, located nearby, was inhabited by a carp spirit which brought hardship to the people. In order to overcome this evil spirit they planted yuteng (a poisonous plant) in the Longteng Mountain area. At the same time they gave the mountain in the east the name Guandao Mountain (lit. Guan Sword Mountain) hoping that the Sword Mountain would cut the Yuteng Rattan. In this way, they hoped to poison the evil carp spirit. The ploy must have been effective, for people no longer believe that the evil carp spirit harms the people of Longteng. In the morning of April 24, 1935 a strong earthquake hit central Taiwan. lts epicenter was near Mt. Guandao, and many buildings in the Sanyi district were destroyed. A reminder of this earthquake remains in the ruins of the arched bridge over Long River. It can be seen from the railway line between Sanyi and Houli. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]

Moonies and Cults in Taiwan

Even some of Taiwan’s most powerful people get caught up in superstitions and weird religious beliefs. In 2007, the general secretary of the Kuomintang (KMT), took a short trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Der Speigel, “There, he visited Lin Yun, the grandmaster of Black Sect Tantric Buddhism, who lives in an opulent mansion near UC Berkekey. He was hoping Lin Yun could advise him on his chances in the upcoming presidential election in Taiwan. Master Lin Yun lived in Taiwan for years and has served as a spiritual and policy advisor to numerous leading politicians on the island. His followers also believe that he can perform magic rituals that can alter destiny.” [Source: Jürgen Kremb, Der Spiegel, September 27, 2007]

The largest Unification Church mass wedding involved 726,000 individuals (363,000 couples) that were married in ceremonies in 160 countries linked together via satellite. The largest gathering involved 72,000 couples who were married at Chamsil Olympic Stadium in Seoul. In other ceremonies 396,000 people were married in Africa, 58,000 in Russia, 21,000 in Japan, 20,000 in elsewhere in Korea, 20,000 in the Middle East, 11,000 in Latin America, 10,000 in Taiwan, 9,000 in Europe and 8,000 in North America.

Flying Saucer Cults in Taiwan

Taiwan has one of the highest incidents of U.F.O. sightings in the world. There were reportedly more 1,000 U.F.O. sighting recorded in Chinese historical records from ancient China before the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911.

Members of flying saucer cults have been attracted with promises of wealth and salvation and then fleeced of their life savings. Wu Tai-ching, the leader of the Sky and Earth Enlightenment Association, for example, said he arrived from outer space to save the world and promised followers a ride in a flying saucer if they gave him large sums of money. To prove he wasn't a fraud , Wu showed picture of the sun's glare and said the light was caused by "points of inner energy."

One woman who gave $312,000 to Wu's cult told the New York Times, "We believed, we completely believed. We got involved because my husband had these headaches and we were told he didn't have to have medicine and he would get better. We were curious and decided to try it." Another one of Wu followers said, "The pressure on our life is very heavy. We all seek spiritual sustenance. I believed in him. He had pictures. He showed them to us. Everyone said it was true, it was real...He said if you want to travel this road, you can't take belongings from this world. No possessions. Only then can you reach the force.”

Explaining why cults are so popular in Taiwan, Taiwan's former president Chen Shui-bian told the New York Times, "In Taiwan society many people don't have faith in ordinary things, including science and technology, so they put it into these religions...These religions are...just another form of deception. People get deeply involved. It's not a matter a education because there are lots of professors, Ph.D.'s, they can believe in these things."

Liao Cheng-hao, the Minister of Justice was considering taking legal action against the flying saucer cults. He told the New York Times, "People feel empty and are searching for a king or civilized society. They are all looking for the true religion. But these flying saucer cults are a relatively strange phenomena."

God Saves the Earth Flying Saucer Association

Chen Heng-ming is the leader of cult know as Jep Dao (“Way of Truth”) and the God Saves the Earth Flying Saucer Association. He is a Taiwanese social science professor who began preaching a mix of Christian, Buddhist and New Age beliefs in the early 1990s and combined that with a prediction that god would arrive on the earth in a flying saucer.

In 1999, more than a hundred followers of Chen Heng-ming, went to Garland, Texas to "be meeting God,” who “would arrive in a flying saucer to save them." Garland is a middle class suburb of Dallas. "They told me that Garland is God's country and I thought, 'Well, OK, to each his own," a Garland resident said.

The followers believed that God was going to destroy Taiwan and set off nuclear bombs in the Middle East to mark Jesus’s true birthday and take the followers on a year-long flying saucer trip to Mars. After God failed to show up at 10:00pm on March 31 as he predicted, Chen said, "My predictions of God arriving...can be considered nonsense."

Resident of Garland Texas are worried that the cult might try a mass suicide along the lines of the one by California’s Heaven Gate cult. Chen once said his followers would be “executed, stoned to death or put on the cross” if his predications didn’t come true. Fortunately there were no suicides.

Ho Hsein-jung, chairman of the Chinese Flying Saucer Association, was outraged by the stunt. He told the New York Times, "Religion itself is very mysterious. Adding U.F.O.s only makes it more attractive. But if you are using U.F.O.s in your religion, your religion has got real problems." Ho said he has never seen a flying saucer himself.

Auspicious Days Don't Prevent Burglars from Being Arrested

In January 2012, the China Post reported: “Two burglars in southern Kaohsiung have been detained by police after running out of luck, even though they selected particularly auspicious days for break-ins. Police in Kaohsiung's Fenshan District found a raid schedule with a copy of the traditional Chinese farmers' calendar when arresting them. They said that they had pulled off over 20 thefts in two months by using the calendar that provides details on auspicious dates for doing things and unfortunate days for avoiding certain things in accordance with the lunar calendar. [Source: China Post, January 4, 2012 ~|~]

“The police tracked down the two by tracing stolen goods being sold on the market. The two told police that they selected particularly the dates most auspicious for holding weddings because many people tend to leave home for wedding banquets. Former businessman Wu Chun-Ji, 42, said he turned to stealing following return to Taiwan after his business operations in mainland China went bankrupt. He was already arrested a couple of times and has a criminal record. After meeting Wei Dian-chin, 52, a more experienced thief, in prison, the two came up with the idea of striking only on auspicious dates. ~|~

“The two admitted that they had already raided three empty homes on Jan. 1, a day with many weddings scheduled, before the arrest. Close to 20 families were prevented from being burglarized after the two were locked up since the two already mapped out plans and dates for at least 17 break-ins in the Kaohsiung area. Police officers urged residents to be on heightened alert for thefts ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays in late January. They suggested residents and neighbors join hands and help each other guard against possible burglary. Burglars normally shun communities where residents cooperate closely for public safety, said the police officers. ~|~

Democracy in Superstitious Taiwan

On the eve of presidential and legislative elections in January 2012, Kyodo reported: “When registration for the election opened, opposition Democratic Progressive Party leader and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen and her running mate Su Jia-chyuan picked Nov. 23, an auspicious day on the Chinese lunar calendar. They also registered early in the day as morning hours were deemed most likely to bring good fortune. Tsai, a rising star in Taiwan politics, has degrees from Cornell University and the London School of Economics. Hers is one of numerous PhDs from major Western educational institutions in the DPP party hierarchy, while lawyers and hard-nosed political operatives abound. [Source: Kyodo, January 2, 2012 *-*]

“So why would people with such credentials be making decisions based on an ancient practice of divination that most now regard as superstition? ''Some politicians may not believe (in divination),'' said Ku Chung-hwa, a sociology professor at National Chengchi University, ''but they follow the practices anyway, not only for their political luck, but also for their party's and the country's good fortune.'' Scheduling campaign events according to the lunar calendar is politically expedient then, especially during a tight campaign. When a few thousand votes can make the difference between winning and losing, Taiwanese politicians cannot afford to alienate the significant portion of the electorate that still believes in the old traditions of how to organize the world. They also cannot afford to appear dismissive before those who may have doubts about the effectiveness of the old ways, but either do not want to take chances or still regard these ways as important to their cultural heritage and thus worthy of respect. *-*

“Picking auspicious times is also not the only thing politicians do to honor past beliefs. A striking feature of Tsai's headquarters in Banciao, New Taipei City, is the arrangement of her office, where a desk sits in the middle of a spacious, almost empty room, flanked on the right by a sword with a bright yellow tassel, and on the left by a large jade stone in the shape of a mountain. Tsai never addresses such issues publicly and her campaign staffers are very low-key. But the objects and their positioning in the room are supposed to bring good fortune to Tsai and the campaign as a whole, according to a feng shui master. It is unclear whether Tsai's rising popularity has anything to do with the arrangement of her office. But in such a neck-and-neck race, she cannot afford to treat the matter lightly. And her political opponents seem to agree. *-*

“Ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) vice presidential candidate Wu Den-yih and his wife have a long history of consulting fortunetellers. Wu is also sensitive to how this plays before a public divided on merits of feng shui as a means of political decision making. In August, a Taiwanese magazine alleged that Wu's wife went to a fortuneteller and got a reading that said her husband is destined to become an ''emperor.'' Wu categorically dismissed the prediction as ''no big deal,'' but was careful not to disparage fortunetelling itself or deny his wife's interest in it. *-*

“Unlike Wu, People First Party candidate James Soong's running mate Lin Ruey-shiung is open and vocal in his support. In describing his decision to pair with Soong, Lin, a 73-year-old political amateur, raised political eyebrow when he said that he consulted the book of I-Ching for advice and chose to run only after he determined that it was ''God's will.''Numerology also plays a part in the current Taiwanese election campaign as each party was quick to come up with auspicious slogans based on the numbers drawn for their place on the ballot. *-*

“The Tsai-Su ticket is first, so her campaign came up with ''Taiwan's first female president.'' Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou and Wu are second, so their campaign predicts a victory for Ma's second term. Third on the ballot, the Soong campaign says the number signifies the three groups Soong emphasizes in his campaign: the middle-class, small businesses and low-income families. The effect such slogans have on the voting public is unclear, once again. It is also unclear what the future holds for feng shui, the lunar calendar, I-Ching and other forms of traditional Chinese fortune telling in the modern democracy of Taiwan. The only thing that can be said for sure is that no party is likely to relinquish such practices anytime soon.” *-*

Taiwan Officials Won't Move Subway Line to Comply with Feng Shui

In 2005, Associated Press reported: Mass transit officials have rejected a demand by Taiwan's state-run oil refinery to reroute a new subway line said to violate ancient Chinese principles of geomancy or feng shui, which deals with the harmonious placement of objects. The Chinese Petroleum Corp. or CPC wanted the subway line rerouted because its overhead portion would have two support columns facing the company's front door -- unacceptable under feng shui rules, which say harmonious energy and better fortune come by correctly positioning buildings, furniture and other objects. [Source: Associated Press , 15, 2005]

The new line is being built in the southern city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second largest. The Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit Bureau said it was rejecting CPC's request, and would proceed with its building program next week. "The subway line passes alongside hundreds of households," bureau official Lee Kuo-pao said on ETTV Cable News. "What if others also demand that we move the columns away from their front doors?"

CPC officials had demanded that the overhead portion be at least 15 meters (50 feet) from its front door -- not next to it, as planned -- saying the tall columns could block the flow of air and bring bad luck. Over the weekend they had the area wrapped with banners to prevent workers from carrying out construction. Many in Taiwan routinely consult feng shui experts when designing or decorating homes or businesses.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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