1996 / 10月
by Anna Wang and Marlene Chen /tr. by Robert Taylor and Phil Newell
Love of family, love of hometown, and love of nation are three great emotional pillars for an individual. The wave of young people who left home to join Chungtai Temple forced many to face the pain of a break in familial love. At Taichung Harbor, the plans by Germany's Bayer company to build a chemical plant have struck fear into local residents, who are worried for their lives and environment. And the construction of a lighthouse on the Diaoyutai Islands by Japanese nationalists has sparked sentiments in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China to protect Chinese territory. In September, we saw that, when these emotional pillars are attacked, we will soon hear waves of protest.
And then there were nuns
On September 1, 157 people underwent head-shaving at the Chungtai Temple, marking their decision to pursue monastic life far from their families. People have been tonsured since ancient times, but this particular event caused great controversy, even triggering debate over self-regulation within the Buddhist community (going so far as proposals to create a Buddhist papacy similar to the Vatican). What's going on here?
Many of the young people (mainly college and high school students) who decided to commit to monastic life had disappeared without a word after having been participants in the "Little Star Summer Camp" sponsored by Chungtai Temple in Nantou County. Frightened parents went to the temple in Puli to demand their children back. Chungtai Temple at first was unwilling to admit that these youngsters had already gone through the tonsuring ceremony. But as the number of protesting parents grew, and public scrutiny intensified, the temple allowed these little Bhikkus to meet their families.
Faced with their parents' outpourings of emotion, most of the children held their ground and uniformly said that they committed to monastic life to complete their duties of greater filial piety and love, to win even greater blessings for their families. When parents saw their offspring had completely changed after staying at the camp-not only shedding their hair, but standing impassive before their parents' cries and addressing their parents with terms monks and nuns use for all secular benefactors-how could the parents not be heartbroken?
In this wave of tonsuring, parents focused their anger on Chungtai Temple, and especially on the temple's master, the widely respected old monk Wei Chueh. Some parents suspected the temple had drugged their children's food or brainwashed the kids; a couple even accused the temple of black magic. Some people in the Buddhist community suggested that Wei Chueh's excess of ambition to help many people violated the general custom of taking only one new novice per year, thus setting off the controversy over "excessive tonsuring." Two of the leading figures in the local Buddhist community, Master Cheng Yen (of the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation) and Master Hsing Yun (of Fokuangshan Temple) both said that preparatory work for entering monastic life should include complete communication with family. Cheng Yen herself did not shave her head while preparing to become a nun, out of deference to her beloved mother's wishes; she formally became a nun after her mother finally accepted her choice.
From a legal point of view, anyone over 20 years old has full responsibility for their behavior, and even parents have no right to interfere. But from a sentimental point of view, how many parents can readily accept that their children-just reaching the flowering of their young lives-have decided to spend the rest of their days ignoring the seductions of this world? What's more, Chinese parents are used to protecting their children, and make countless choices for them. How can they trust their child to make such an important decision that will affect their whole life? Thus we hear the novices saying: "I am not your property," while parents declare: "I've raised you all this time, what right have you got to go and join a monastery?"
Many scholars suggest that there is inadequate communication and respect between parents and children, that interpersonal relations are shallow in modern society, and that the pressure to succeed is enormous in a society driven by values of fame and fortune. These have created a sense of disaffection and anxiety in many young people, who in turn seek a life characterized by transcending material gain and by ideal personal relationships. The ideals of "all is vanity," "great love," and "nirvana" which are part of Buddhism precisely meet these children's hopes, so naturally it is powerfully attractive. But, as Changhua Normal College department of guidance professor Huang Te-hsiang writes, young people typically are filled with aspirations toward life, and may-given dissatisfaction with society and a long period of being overprotected by parents-be naive and lack judgment. This was an underlying reason for the mass tonsuring at Chungtai Temple.
Huang Te-hsiang further reminds society to compare the Chungtai Temple incident with such radical cults as the recent cases of the Branch Dravidians in the US and the Aum Shinri Kyo group in Japan. To attract followers, such groups employ methods of "intensive instruction, therapy and guidance, an isolated environment, and worship of the religious leader," which are akin to brainwashing techniques. These cause people to identify with the doctrine and ceremonies of the religion, so that believers fully believe themselves to be acting of their own free will. Yet outsiders find their behavior inexplicable. The end result is tragedy, with society paying enormous costs.
Against this background, Huang advises that it is inappropriate for students, lacking experience in society and with immature minds, to be allowed to participate in long-termed, closed activities like the summer camp. Moreover, he suggests, the government should regulate all religious activities that do not follow general practice or common sense. Otherwise, it is not impossible that similar crises of family and social ethics will again occur.
Looking overall at the Chungtai Temple incident, it not only attracted attention throughout our society as well as inspired explorations and discussions by scholars of education, sociology, religion, and psychology, it also spurred calls for reflection within the Buddhist community itself. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect upon Taiwan's religious beliefs, and there will no harm done by everyone continuing to keep a close eye on this subject.
Chemical reaction in Taichung
Another problem in Central Taiwan that had people protesting was the plan by the German firm Bayer to make a huge investment in Taichung Harbor. The project aims to build an industrial complex making the industrial chemical TDI as well as up- and down-stream products. Because TDI and related products include toxins-and, in particular, the phosgene needed in the TDI production process is highly toxic-local representatives and people are protesting against the plan.
In fact, Bayer is not the first group to bring TDI to Taiwan. Formosa Plastics built a TDI plant with a storage capacity of three tons at the site of the Sixth Naphtha Cracker. Also, there have long been heavy industries set up at Taichung Harbor. Despite all this, even now as Taiwan is urgently seeking foreign investment, the Bayer plan has generated unprecedented opposition. Why? Although some may blame intervention by politicians and exposure by the media, the bottom line is that people have doubts about the environmental impact, and these doubts have not been alleviated by the government or corporation.
First, questions have been raised about the initial environmental impact report, which was made by the Central District Environmental Protection Center of the Taiwan Provincial Government's Department of Environmental Protection. It was passed very rapidly, and many doubted it was thorough. In fact, it was the early release of the initial report that set off the protests to begin with.
The speed of the initial report has led some to suspect that the Ministry of Economic Affairs is sacrificing environmental protection to economic considerations.The Bayer plan promises an investment of NT$50 billion (about US$1.7 billion), which would not only create prosperity for the harbor, it would be a big step in moving toward one of the government's six aspects of making Taiwan a "Regional Operations Center"-creating a regional manufacturing center. On top of this, TDI is an important raw material in high-tech R&D, and is in short supply domestically.
Second, some have criticized the length of the lease given to Bayer-125 years-as being a replay of the humiliating "foreign concessions" of the Qing dynasty. If pollution remains after the lease expires, it will be difficult to insure that those responsible can be traced. Moreover, the government has made many concessions in terms of the lease, with local entrepreneurs not receiving nearly as good terms. This behavior, seen as "sucking up to the foreigners," and the over-eagerness displayed to draw Bayer to Taichung Harbor, have been even more important in raising citizen's ire.
According to Chen Chia-chung of Bayer Taiwan, who is in charge of the project, Bayer already has plants in the US, Germany, Japan, and Spain, many of which are high-tech heavy-industry factories in densely populated areas. Yet there have never been any incidents. Further, the TDI plant Bayer wants to set up in Taichung Harbor will have the most comprehensive safety measures of any Bayer factory in the world. As for the various incentives offered by the government, Chen says that Bayer's investment has been handled under normal procedures, not as a special case, and the advantages offered by the government are in fact applicable to all similar investment proposals.
But such explanations have not appeased the citizens' anti-Bayer feelings. Bayer did not handle information dissemination or communication well, and only began making an effort when running into protests after the project began. By then they had lost the initiative. Moreover, the project had bad luck in terms of timing, coming just as the state-run China Petroleum Corporation had a series of accidents including oil leaks and gas leaks. Public trust in the government and confidence in the chemical industry plummeted.
In mid-September, nearly half of all provincial assembly representatives voted for three preconditions for approving the Bayer project. These are completing the legally required environmental impact assessment procedures, insuring that provincial land is being leased fairly and reasonably, and eliminating citizens' concerns while gaining support from a majority of Taichung Harbor residents. At the same time, the second stage of the environmental impact assessment process for the Bayer project has begun. It is estimated this process will take more than six months; it's still uncertain whether Bayer will be able to build its plant six months from now.
Given Taiwan's island economy, attracting foreign investment and developing foreign markets are essential to survival. But precisely because Taiwan is so small, it makes destruction of the environmental that much harder to bear.
For the immediate future, the most urgent task is to create an unbiased environmental impact assessment body. The government must undertake long-term monitoring of the environmental effects of controversial investment projects, and assist businesses and residents in holding regular dialogues. If this were to happen, the Bayer case would not be a regrettable page in Taiwan's investment history, but an excellent precedent.
Patriotic protests over Diaoyutai
While residents of the Taichung Harbor district were protesting against Bayer's factory plans, the right-wing "Japanese Youth Federation" surreptitiously rebuilt its lighthouse on Diaoyutai Island, as a declaration of Japan's sovereignty over the Diaoyutai archipelago.
Back in July, the JYF had already landed on Diaoyutai and built a lighthouse there, after which the Japanese government declared a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone including Diaoyutai. This action by the Japanese attracted protests from the governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Under pressure, the Japanese demolished the lighthouse, and the dispute subsided for a while. But in mid-September the JYF returned to Diaoyutai, and this time Japan's coastguard, on the grounds of protecting Japan's economic zone, prevented our fishing boats and reporters approaching, while the Japanese government turned a deaf ear to official and unofficial protests from Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. Even the Japanese media took a low-key approach to the affair, not only treating it as a non-event, but also calling on the Hong Kong media not to make a mountain out of a molehill. Will this little group of islands, which has crystallized a century of bitter memories for so many Chinese, really become a flashpoint which shatters peace in East Asia? And how should we in the Republic of China on Taiwan, which has the most legitimate claim to the islands, regard this dispute?
The dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (called the Senkaku Islands by the Japanese) goes back a long way. Both cite history to claim these little islands at the Western edge of the Pacific Ocean, with their strategic position and rich undersea oil deposits. In terms of actual sovereignty, however, Diaoyutai, was ceded to Japan along with Taiwan and the Penghu Islands by the Qing court after China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894. But after WWII, sovereignty over Diaoyutai was not returned to the ROC along with Taiwan and the Penghus. Instead, the islands remained under American control. It was not until 1952, when China and Japan signed a peace treaty which revoked the terms of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, that the Diaoyutai islands were formally stated to be part of the territory of the Republic of China.
In 1971, the US military suddenly turned administration of the islands over to Japan. This instantly aroused the first patriotic movement to protect Diaoyutai; Chinese students on campuses in the USA, Hong Kong and Taiwan joined together to protest. The ROC, which at that time still had diplomatic relations with the USA and Japan, presented a note to the US government reaffirming that Diaoyutai was part of ROC territory. Faced with a storm of protest from Chinese around the world, Japan refrained from declaring sovereignty over the islands. Since then, despite some minor incidents, there has been a tacit agreement between Taipei, Beijing and Tokyo that the question of sovereignty over Diaoyutai has not been finally settled.
Now, the construction of the lighthouse by the JYF has whipped up another storm over Diaoyutai. But today the balance of forces around the Taiwan Strait is very different. Not only is the ROC government unable to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Japan; its relationship with the communist mainland has also changed enormously, as has its domestic political environment. Thus, when it became known that when the mainland and Japanese foreign ministers met in New York to discuss the issue, they simply talked past each other, and that before the meeting Japan had made a formal declaration of its sovereignty over Diaoyutai, the ROC could only leave it to members of the unofficial Diaoyutai defense movement, and sister movements in Hong Kong and the USA, to set off for Diaoyutai with the purpose of smashing down the JYF lighthouse. Yet, what with the howling northeasterlies and the well-armed vessels of the Japanese patrolling around Diaoyutai, the chances of the protesters actually making a landing were practically nil.
Given the positions of the governments in Taipei and Beijing, the dispute seems set to end in an indefinite standoff in the interests of international Realpolitik, although even Japanese professor of international law Okuhara Toshio acknowledges that for Japan to acquire legal territorial sovereignty over Diaoyutai, it would have to deny that the Sino-Japanese war of 1894 ever took place. For if, as the Japanese insist, Diaoyutai has been theirs since ancient times, why should they have gone to the trouble of having the islands ceded to Japan in along with Taiwan and Penghu in the Treaty of Shimonoseki?
The storms which have blown up over the Diaoyutai Islands have always been out of all proportion to their size, and the most moving aspect of the whole affair is the way these tiny islets have become a focus for the common sentiments of Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China and around the world. However, will their righteous indignation finally make them willing to go to war and sacrifice peace in Asia? And is the Japanese government prepared to insist on gaining the economic use of the seas around Diaoyutai in the face of universal anger? We hope for wisdom from those in positions of power, and also pray for the safe return of the protesters and of our media colleagues.
Parting from loved ones is one of the trials of life Buddhism takes note of. The mother in the picture looks heart-broken, and one can be sure that her daughter-eyes closed and hands folded-isn't feeling very happy either. (photo by Lu Ta-yung)