Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Dianji Temple: Extra-Religious Activities

The reasons for this close affiliation between temple and city were not simply of a religious nature, in large part because of the attempts that the Government-General made to constrain the temple by curtailing its secular activities. The Dianji Temple, like many if not most religious institutions within the Chinese cultural sphere, was the site of an important local market, which made it a center of commerce, entertainment, and the transmission of news and gossip. In fact, the combination of the mundane and sacred functions reinforced the Dianji's prominence. However, the Japanese colonial regime looked upon such market places as unhygienic and a threat to public health, and so began to construct state-regulated market places where they could enforce new standards of hygiene that challenged established patterns of social relations even as they may have reduced outbreaks of disease. The first, which opened in 1908, was a few blocks to the south of the Dianji; a second opened in the main Japanese district across town a few years later.

The Dianji Temple also became embroiled in cultural and political movements during the 1920s. As a social center with an open courtyard and sizable inner hall, it was one of the few places in Jilong where public events could be held, which made it a prime location for local residents to present “culture lectures” (wenhua jiangyan) as part of a larger trend begun by the Taiwan Culture Association (Ch. Taiwan wenhua xiehui; J. Taiwan bunka kyōkai) early in that decade. Across Taiwan, these lectures addressed topics including education, women's liberation, social and political reform, and reforming local customs such as funerals and religious festivals. Most of the speakers were Taiwanese, with an occasional Japanese visitor, and they were always well-attended. The colonial authorities, however, viewed these lectures with less enthusiasm and often acted to control or shut them down, as was frequently the practice in the Japanese home islands. One night in September 1924, according to a report in the Taiwan minbao, a key news source that facilitated the development of Taiwanese identities, the Jilong municipal police went to the home of the Dianji Temple's manager, who had agreed to host a culture lecture the following day, and warned him that it could not cause disruption or have negative content. At about the same time, Jilong's mayor—a Japanese official—cautioned local residents that culture lectures defiled the sacred ground of the temples, and warned that if residents continued to hold them there, then the city government might have to take over managing the institutions directly.

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