Prac­tice your piety if you’re run­ning for elec­tion!

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Mazu of Tachia is mak­ing a nine-day tour of South­ern Tai­wan. Mazu is known as the God­dess of the Seas, wor­shiped by hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in Tai­wan, where there are at least 1,000 tem­ples ded­i­cated to her. The statue housed at Chen­lan Tem­ple in Tachia near Taichung is the most popular. She started the an­nual tour of her ter­ri­tory last Fri­day, es­corted by tens of thou­sands of the faith­ful on a tour of 21 town­ships in Taichung City and bound for the three nearby coun­ties of Changhua, Yun­lin and Chi­ayi to com­plete her tour next Sun­day.

One con­spic­u­ous pil­grim who won’t be es­cort­ing the God­dess of the Seas is Tsai Ing-wen, chair­woman of the Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party and its stan­dard bearer in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion next year. It’s her first ever pil­grim­age to the Chen­lan Tem­ple: she didn’t visit it in the run-up to the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Other VIP pil­grims have in­cluded Pres­i­dent Ma Ying­jeou, Vice Pres­i­dent Wu Den-yih, and Leg­isla­tive Speaker Wang Jin-pyng. Wu and Wang are po­ten­tial Kuom­intang can­di­dates for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Ab­sent was Eric Chu, mayor of New Taipei City who dou­bles as Kuom­intang chair­man and has de­clared again and again that he won’t run for pres­i­dent.

Well, it’s elec­tion time. Ev­ery pres­i­den­tial can­di­date or hope­ful has to take part in the rit­ual pil­grim­age to the most wor­shiped God­dess of the Seas in or­der to keep up ap­pear­ances. Ma was in Tachia de­spite the fact he will step down as pres­i­dent next May. He is, how­ever, a regular pil­grim. Per­haps he just paid a visit out of habit. Tsai, on the other hand, pre­sum­ably made her de­but at the Chen­lan Tem­ple af­ter com­ing to the con­clu­sion that her ab­sence in 2012 led to her dis­as­trous de­feat at the hands of Pres­i­dent Ma.

Yen Ching-piao, chair­man of the board of di­rec­tors of the Chen­lan Tem­ple, re­vealed Tsai vis­ited the tem­ple for the first time a cou­ple of days be­fore. Yen, a for­mer mem­ber of the Leg­isla­tive Yuan ousted in 2013 af­ter be­ing con­victed on cor­rup­tion charges by the Supreme Court, said “There was no talk of elec­tions at the tem­ple.” Yen has no party af­fil­i­a­tion.

Mazu’s an­nual in­spec­tion of her ter­ri­tory is much like the Ratha Ya­tra or Char­iot Fes­ti­val in In­dia. The Ja­gan­nath triad on three char­i­ots is pulled by devo­tees three kilo­me­ters from its tem­ple in Puri to one in Shri Gundicha and back ev­ery year. Devo­tees com­pete against each other to pull the char­i­ots, and when there’s a com­mo­tion, some of them are some­times crushed un­der the char­i­ots’ wheels. Just like some Mazu faith­ful are se­ri­ously wounded — some were even killed in the past — try­ing to crawl past un­der the palan­quin of the god­dess in an ef­fort to get her to an­swer their prayers through her di­vine pow­ers.

Of course none of the politi­cians are go­ing to try that stunt with Mazu on her palan­quin. They just showed up like a bad penny at the be­gin­ning of her an­nual tour to as­so­ciate them­selves with Mazu wor­ship to win the votes of the hoi pol­loi faith­ful. Politi­cians at elec­tion time love to carry into prac­tice an old Chi­nese say­ing, “lin-shi bao fu-jiao” ( ), which lit­er­ally means “cling to the Bud­dha’s feet im­promptu” or “pro­fess de­vo­tion when in trou­ble.” Or “dan­ger past, god forgotten.”

At any rate, it’s the cheap­est way to run for public of­fice. All politi­cians, re­gard­less of their faith, visit the shrines or tem­ples in their con­stituen­cies to wor­ship whichever deities lo­cal tem­ples are ded­i­cated to, one ben­e­fit for them be­ing that they are ac­cepted with­out ques­tion by the Jack and Jill faith­ful. So politi­cians of all stripes never fail to show up at re­li­gious or quasi-re­li­gious fes­ti­vals come elec­tion time. Elec­tion past, gods and god­desses forgotten. In­ci­den­tally, Mazu wor­ship is still a folk reli­gion or popular be­lief, though Bud­dhism has long re­claimed her as a rein­car­na­tion of Aval­okites­vara, a god in the Bud­dhist pan­theon in In­dia who un­der­went gen­der trans­for­ma­tion into a fe­male when in­tro­duced to China about 2,000 years ago.

Tai­wan’s democ­racy will con­tinue to waste time as long as public of­fice seek­ers have to pro­fess de­vo­tion when run­ning for elec­tion.

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