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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
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London, WC2A 2AE


Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Multiple Religious and National Identities: Mazu Pilgrimages across the Taiwan Strait after 1987

With Professor Hsun Chang (Academia Sinica, Taiwan)

Series:  LSE Seminar on Chinese Worlds in Comparative Perspective

Date: Thursday 18 May from 6–8pm

Venue: Seligman Library, 6th Floor, Old Building, LSE

Chair: Dr Fang-long Shih (LSE Taiwan Research Programme)

Discussants: Prof Stephan Feuchtwang (LSE Anthropology) and Stuart Thompson (SOAS)


After the lifting of Martial Law in 1987 and the opening of cross-Strait trade, transportation, and postal services between Taiwan and China in 2000, pilgrimages to China have become a routine activity for many temples in Taiwan, especially in the case of temples for Mazu, who is a patron goddess of Taiwan. To most residents of Taiwan, Mazu is a symbol of Taiwanese identity; to the Chinese, Mazu is a symbol of peace between Taiwan and China. Thus, there are two nationalist interpretations of Mazu, and many tensions exist among Mazu believers, Taiwanese temples and Chinese temples of Mazu.

This paper focuses on a cross-Strait pilgrimage from Xingang Mazu Temple in Taiwan to Yongchun, Fujian in China in 2011, and the establishment of a Taiwanese branch temple in Fujian. In addition, the speaker shows that Taiwanese local politicians employ the Xingang Mazu Temple to attract tourists and as a platform for a  new religious nationalism. The relationships between state and religion involves multiple actors and political processes: the speaker will show that in Taiwan, the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) and the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) have different attitudes towards the Chinese goddess Mazu, resulting in involvement with different groups of Mazu temples, and different degrees of communication with Chinese temples. Politicians and bureaucratsr in Taiwan and in China are in debate over the interpretation of the Mazu cult and its application to cross-Strait relations occur in Taiwan and in China.

About the Speaker

Hsun Chang received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1993, and she is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. She has been a Deputy Director of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica (2011-2014), and was the Chairwoman of the Taiwan Society of Anthropology and Ethnology (TSAE, 2012-2015). She is currently the Discipline Coordinator for Anthropology and Ethnic Studies at the Ministry of Science and Technology (2015-2017). Her teaching and research interests include folk medicine and folk religion in Taiwan, religious revival in China, and intangible cultural heritage in Taiwan and China. She has worked on cross Taiwan Strait pilgrimages since 2011, on religious transformation in Xiamen, and on interreligious dialogue in the Chinese context with researchers in the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijin. Her publications include Illness and Culture: Essays on the Folk Medicine in Taiwan (in Chinese, 1994 second edition), Constructing Mazu: Selected papers on the Mazu Cult (in Chinese, 2003), Marine Folklore and Belief: Mazu and Wanya  (in Chinese, 2010), and “Between Religion and State: the Dajia pilgrimage in Taiwan”, Social Compass 59(3): 298-310, 2012. Prof Chang is also the editor of Chinese Popular Religion: Linking Fieldwork and Theory (2013) and Religion in Taiwan and China: Locality and Transmission (2017, co-edited with Benjamin Penny).