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

The Postwar and the Reconsecration/Reinforcement of Sacred Space

Japanese rule of Taiwan came to an end following Japan's surrender to the Allies on August 15, 1945. The Dianji Temple built itself a new central altar for Kaizhang Shengwang in 1946, an act that marked the beginning of a long period of florescence for religions in Taiwan. On a purely statistical level, the number of temples exploded in Jilong, with almost 50 new institutions established between 1951 and 1992. The Joint Deity-Welcoming Festival proved to be a historical blip as it does not seem to have been practiced after the war, and the individual deity festivals in Jilong are certainly smaller than their pre-war antecedents, but the temples themselves have flourished. The Qing'an has gone through several renovations, including of its main gate and its restoration stele, since the early 1960s. It is also the heart of Jilong's Ghost Festival, the annual event for which the city is most well-known. The Dianji has also been restored and Jilong's famous Temple-mouth Night Market (Miaokou yeshi) sprawls outward from its courtyard. Even as they have flourished in the postwar, they retain physical ties to the colonial era, when they served as bulwarks of Taiwanese sacred geography: they hold stelae marking moments of reconstruction, and have dates inscribed upon them that are in the Japanese style, with the reign names of Japan's Meiji, Taishō, and Shōwa Emperors. The Lingquan Temple did particularly well immediately following the transfer of sovereignty, promptly taking over control of the former Kōzonji and reconsecrating it as one of its own branches (that site subsequently became a branch of the globally oriented Foguang shan) and establishing the Jilong branch of the officially sanctioned China Buddhist Association. It has remained one of Taiwan's most important monastery-temples, with a relatively new opulent structure that dwarfs the remnants of Shanhui's original institution.

The most dramatic example of reconsecration, of redrawing the sacred geography by overwriting a piece of Japanese sacred space, concerned the Jilong Shrine. By late in 1946, the new Jilong municipal government decided to transform the location into a Shrine to the National Martyrs (Zhonglie ci), and budgeted 60,000 yuan for the project, as briefly noted in an article in Minbao, one of the first Chinese-language newspapers to begin publishing in Taiwan after the end of the Japanese era:

Jilong City is planning to construct a Shrine to the National Martyrs and is selecting a site for the location. Today it decided to use the original location of the Jilong Shrine, with a cost currently estimated at 60,000 yuan.

This decision paralleled one taken in Taipei, where officials designated the Taiwan Shrine—which had been consecrated to Japan's war dead late in the Pacific War—as the Taiwan Province Shrine to the National Martyrs. That plan was never fulfilled, and the site of the Taiwan Shrine became the home of the Yuanshan Grand Hotel, but similar acts occurred in Tainan and Taoyuan. In Jilong, at least, this reconsecration seems to have held little significance for local residents: although the Martyrs' Shrine and its gateway are maintained in good order, the most frequent visitors seem to be feral dogs, and it takes some hunting through the underbrush to locate the stone lions donated a century ago by Japanese businessmen that stand as the main reminders of what the site used to be. Yet, the significance of the Japanese colonial period for Taiwan's sacred geography is far more important than these relics and repurposed spaces suggest: the most important temples that populate that city, linking sacred and profane space, rose to prominence between 1895 and 1945, when Jilong reached its apogee of urban significance.

Since that time, the map has been redrawn, and the physical geography has become much more densely filled with new sacred sites. A tremendous quantity of such locations, in Jilong and across Taiwan, appeared after 1945, with the real explosion beginning in the late 1960s. At that time, the KMT regime launched a program to distinguish the Republic of China from the People's Republic of China. The latter was in the midst of its Cultural Revolution, with its fearsome attacks on all manifestations of old culture, including temples, and so the government on Taiwan resolved to make the former the bastion of so-called true, traditional Chinese culture. The KMT's project of sacred reterritorialization failed, like the Japanese one before it, because the people who created and supported this remarkable surge in temple construction in fact replicated a key method of identity expression developed to resist Japanese colonization. The difference, and the reason for the tremendous density of sacred places covering a much greater area of the physical terrain, was that state policies now encouraged rather then suppressed the act. However, the ongoing expansion of Taiwanese sacred geography overwhelmed the initial Sinicizing goal.

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