1995 / 4月
Sunny Hsiao /tr. by Brent Heinrich
In today's global village, the major cities in nearly every country face the problems of traffic congestion, air pollution and excess solid waste. Taipei is no exception.
Complaints can be heard not only from a good many Taipei residents; even members of the international media have labeled the city as East Asia's "ugly duckling." And in the context of the ROC government's plan to turn Taiwan into an "Asia-Pacific Regional Operations Center," the way Taipei City develops is crucial to the nation's success. For this reason we have prepared a study on the theme of Taipei's urban planning, attempting to analyze how Taipei has developed to its current state and suggesting future means of solving its problems.
But where to go in search of a solution? We discovered that during the Tang dynasty, China already had a city, Chang'an, with a population of over one million. To date, many scholars, including the late sinologist Joseph Needham, have concurred that Chang'an and Beijing are among mankind's most perfectly designed municipalities. "Taking the ancients as our teachers" is perhaps a very advisable method. Therefore, by comparing modern Taipei with historical Chang'an, this edition's cover story taps into the wisdom of the Chinese of antiquity, who did not have access to modern scientific management methodology.
After finishing the interview process for her articles, Sinorama's associate editor Chang Chin-ju discovered that a city's problems are really human and cultural in nature.
"Only if people begin to wake up can the city begin to change, can a city plan emerge which is not so out of control," says Shyu Yu-jiann, chairman of the department of architecture and city planning at Huafan College of Humanities and Technology, pointing out a good course of action for changing the city's physical makeup.
An example is the Chingcheng subdivision, located in up-scale east Taipei. The Taipei municipal government intentionally zoned it as a commercial district, but the residents there did not appreciate the "favor." The differences in property value between residential and commercial areas did not attract them; what they treasured was their own neighborhood they had worked so hard to build.
"Taipei doesn't have a lot of hope. Its only hope is that in the last five years its citizens have begun to wake up and speak out," avers Hsia Chu-joe, a professor at Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning. The Chingcheng district marks the beginning of a new history for Taipei City.
This kind of active participation is tremendously different from the former habit of passively receiving information.
In the past, after a city plan was drafted and publicly announced, if no one brought up any objections within a 30-day period of time, it could immediately be implemented. Nevertheless, professional investors usually had a thorough understanding of the contents of urban planning modifications, whereas local residents were not necessarily aware of them at all. Once changes had been executed according to law, residents did not have the slightest right to stop them.
If the populace can take part in the city's reforms and provide the government with relevant input, then when new buildings, roads or subdivisions are developed, we will be able to consider their function in terms of human lifestyle and the flow of traffic, to design a city more suitable for people to live in.
In our cover story we introduce the methods of urban planning of the ancient Chinese, which contain many points well worth considering. But we are also very clear that today's society is not the same as society thousands of years ago; we can not return to those days. Modern people should incorporate the wisdom of the ancients into our own experience, treasure limited resources and effectively use improvements in technology; only then will we be able to develop a humanitarian city.
After interaction began between people living on Taiwan and mainland China, one of the more fascinating developments was the "Matsu phenomenon."
To understand this phenomenon, we can analyze it from the various perspectives of religion, economics and culture. Several years ago when mainland China was going through the Cultural Revolution, "reactionary superstitious thinking" was forcibly crushed. Nevertheless, on the gods' birthdays, many people secretly worshipped them as always. Today the PRC's stance toward religious belief has been liberalized. But folk customs such as the worship of the goddess Matsu, half religion and half superstition, are neither prohibited nor encouraged.
Nonetheless, among the many deities, Matsu seems to have the greatest fame, especially the Matsu of Meizhou Island's Mother Temple, which has attracted great multitudes of believers from Taiwan. The Matsu temples on Taiwan compete with one another to foster relations and forge bonds of kinship with the Mother Temple.
And the faithful on the mainland are not to be outdone. With the current economic situation improving day by day, people hope to turn a profit, to test into a good school, to give birth to a bouncing baby boy with so many different concerns that require the intervention of the gods, the incense never stops burning in the Matsu temples. At Quanzhou's Empress of Heaven Temple, after a young entrepreneur struck it rich, he even made the grand gesture of footing the bill for a nine-day-long opera.
Matsu's universal veneration has inadvertently produced a complicated competitive psychology. One trend is that the Matsu temples on Taiwan, in order to build up authority, vie with one another for close relations with the Mother Temple, in order to claim that they are the island's original center of Matsu worship.
Another trend is that disputes have arisen over which site is the birthplace of Matsu. This question is important in terms of attracting the contributions of religious pilgrims. One undeniable development is that on Meizhou, an island of only 35,000 people, the magical charisma of Matsu attracts about a million visitors every year. In order to meet the demands of tourists, they have developed such diversions as eating "Matsu banquets," wearing "Matsu costumes," getting one's hair made up in "Matsu dos," dreaming "Matsu dreams," even large-scale Matsu cultural festivals. All of these affairs have brought about economic development in the "habitation of Matsu."
Sinorama writer Ventine Tsai and photographer Hsueh Chi-kuang rushed to Fujian Province's Meizhou Island around the time of Lantern Festival to witness the procession of the deities from the village temples. They have provided our readers with an in-depth analysis of how Matsu has come to prominence among the many folk deities, becoming the "Goddess of Peace" across the Taiwan Strait.