Taiwan facts and information about the country.
- 1 HISTORY
- 2 GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
- 3 ECONOMY
- 4 CUISINE
- 5 CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
- 6 Public/Legal Holidays
- 7 Religious Holidays
- 8 Regional Holidays
- 9 Rites of Passage
- 10 Further Reading
The first people to settle on the island now called Taiwan arrived 30,000 years ago, but they were probably genetically distinct from any groups now living there. About 4,000 years ago, the ancestors of contemporary Taiwanese aborigines, who are genetically related to Malayans and Polynesians, settled Taiwan. The language they speak is Austronesian, a linguistic classification that includes languages spoken on the South Pacific islands of Indonesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
Linguists and other scholars as well, postulate that contemporary Austronesian language and culture originated on Taiwan approximately 6,000 years ago, because there is a greater diversity of language on Taiwan than in other Austronesian-speaking areas. The linguistic evidence shows that earlier linguistic separations mark the earliest settlements, indicating a lengthy split from its roots in southern Asia.
The indigenous people of Taiwan belong primarily to two groups: the Kao-shan tsu, who live in the high mountains, and the Ping-pu tsu, who inhabit the plains. The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) recognizes only 12 out of 23 tribes, most of which dwell in the highland mountains and speak archaic Formosan languages that belong to the Austronesian family of languages. In 2004 the total population of these tribes was about 400,000.
Taiwanese aborigines recognized by the ROC government include the following tribes: Ami (Amis; Pangcah), Atayal (Tayal, Tayan), Atayal (proper), Bunun, Kavalan, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat (Saisiat), Tao (Yami), Thao, Tsou (Cou), Northern Tsou, Southern Tsou, Truku (Taroko), and Sediq. Three of these tribes—the Amis, Kavalan, and Tsou—are sometimes regarded as plains tribes. There are 11 aboriginal tribes that the government does not recognize: Babuza, Basay, Hoanya, Ketagalan, Luilang, Pazeh/Kaxabu (Pazih), Popora, Qauqaut, Siraya, Taokas, and Trobiawan. Earlier records suggest that there may be 26 linguistic groups, and 6 of the nonrecognized tribes—the Babuza, Popora, Hoanya, Siraya, Taokas, and Pazeh—were included in Japanese field studies through 1945. The Bing-bu Zu (aborigines of the plains) lived in settled villages protected by bamboo walls. The most populated villages were in southern Taiwan and sometimes supported as many as 1,500 people. The villages of the Siraya were made of thatch and bamboo and stood on stilts almost six feet above the ground. A watchtower was used to watch for headhunting parties of the highland tribes. The people of the plains hunted spotted deer and muntjac (a small Asian deer) and farmed millet to some extent. They also cultivated sugar and rice, which were used primarily for making wine. Property was held communally, and the Bing-bu Zu villages were surrounded by a series of concentric rings, each with its specific use: The innermost ring was used for gardens and orchards that followed a fallowing cycle around the ring; the second ring was used to cultivate plants; and the third ring provided hunting and deer fields for the tribe. The structure of plains villages was a central concept in the later Qing administration of Taiwan.
A majority of the Bing-bu Zu lived in matriarchal or matrilineal societies. Women could reject as many men as they wanted before deciding to marry, and men married into a woman’s family following the courtship period. Before Dutch Reformed Church missionaries appeared, plains people generally did not marry until they were in their mid-thirties, when they were less capable of engaging in strenuous labor. Women did the sewing, cooking, and farming, and were often priestesses or mediums to the gods. Men we are responsible for hunting and taking heads.
According to ancient records, it’s probable that the Han Chinese knew of the existence of Taiwan’s main island of Taiwan since the Three Kingdoms period (third century), because they named some of the smaller offshore islands, such as Greater and Minor Liuqiu (Ryukyu). None of these names, however, have been connected with the main island of Taiwan with any certainty. Han Chinese began to settle in Penghu—islands attached to Taiwan lying in the Taiwan Strait—during the 1100s, but it was only in the 1400s that people other than aborigines, the Chinese, permanently settled the main island of Taiwan.
It was not until 1517, however, that Taiwan was found by European navigators, Portuguese sailors, who named the island Ilha Formosa (“Beautiful Island”), but the Portuguese made no effort to colonize it. The first serious European incursion occurred in 1624, when the Dutch invaded and built a trading post near Tainan. In 1626 the Spanish ousted the Dutch and annexed the region, but the Dutch returned in 1641 and forced the Spanish out. In 1661 after being expelled from China by the ruling Qing dynasty, the Ming dynasty, led by Cheng Cheng Gong, attacked the Dutch settlements,
which surrendered a year later. The people of Taiwan accepted Cheng as their leader, and the region did well under his regime. Cheng, however, dreamed of returning to China, but first he had to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. To support his objective, he taxed the people of Taiwan heavily, and this so annoyed the Taiwanese that their resentment to Cheng’s rule steadily grew. But in 1683 the Qing Dynasty invaded Taiwan, forcing Cheng and the Ming Dynasty to surrender. The new regime declared Taiwan a territory of China and kept Taiwan’s population low in order to maintain peace in the region.
In the mid-19th century China’s contacts with the European countries increased, and Taiwan started trading with European countries. After the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 (primarily fought over control of Korea) and China’s defeat, China was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan. Although the local people rebelled against Japanese rule, Japan suppressed the rebellion effectively. However, when Japan was defeated, ending World War II in the Pacific theater, China again seized control of Taiwan.
In 1949 Chinese Communists took control of China and forced General Jiang Jie Shi’s (Chiang Kai-shek’s) government to seek refuge in Taiwan. Jiang Jie Shi had been the leader of the Nationalist Party in China, which was called the Kuomintang (KMT). The Communists of mainland China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) both claimed to be the legitimate government of China, and this led to political tensions that remain unresolved in the early 21st century.
In 1975 Jiang Jie Shi (b. 1887) died and was succeeded by his son Jiang Qing-guo (b. 1910). After the latter’s death in 1988, martial law came to an end and Lee Teng-hui (b. 1923) became the first president of Taiwan. In 2000 Chen Shui-bian (b. 1950) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became president, ending more than 50 years of Kuomintang rule. His party, the DPP, has traditionally been supportive of Taiwan independence, and the issue of Taiwan independence remains a sensitive political issue.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Taiwan is an archipelago located in East Asia. It is the largest island of the Republic of China and lies off the mainland of the People’s Republic of China. The Tropic of Cancer passes through this country. Taiwan is separated from China by the Taiwan Strait. The country also has maritime borders with the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea, the East China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Taiwan has a mountainous region and a rocky coastline in the east and fertile plains in the west. The highest peak of the country is located at Mt. Yushan, which is close to 13,000 feet high.
The climatic conditions in Taiwan are tropical in nature. The country receives abundant rainfall during the months of June, July, and August, and
Taiwan receives close to 100 inches annually. The mountainous regions of Taiwan are cool and snowy during winter, while summers are hot and sticky. Temperatures can range from 68°F to 86°F throughout the year.
The mountains of Taiwan have forests of cypress and camphor trees. This island country is also home to the Formosan black bear and the Sika deer. A wide variety of fish and species of birds are also found in Taiwan. There are 67 reserves and 6 national parks spread around the country.
Taiwan has a capitalist economy with some of its major investments in mainland China, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The main crops are rice, corn, vegetables, fruit, and tea, but agriculture contributes only around 2 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The nation’s main industries include heavy equipment manufacturing, electrical equipment, electronic and computer goods, textiles, and iron and steel. Taiwan has good trade relations with the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The country exports computer products, electrical equipment, metals, textiles, plastics, rubber products, and chemicals.
Taiwanese cuisine is very similar to that of the Chinese. The people use a lot of seafood and sugar in their cooking but eat simple, light foodstuffs on a daily basis. Pork feet, mushrooms, and shark-fin stew are some of the local favorites. Because it is an island, Taiwan’s cuisine features fish and other seafood. Crustaceans, mollusks, and eels are delicacies, while oysters and clams are a regular part of the diet. Oachian (an omelet made of oysters, eggs, and cornstarch, served with sweet and sour sauce) is a very popular dish in Taiwan.
Pork, beef, lamb, goose, duck, and chicken are also important ingredients in Taiwanese cuisine. Rice is widely used to make a variety of snacks. Lopokao is a favorite dish made of rice, radish, and shrimp. Even though Taiwan does not produce wheat, this grain still plays an important role in Taiwanese kitchens.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The Taiwanese culture is based on many of the same traditions and lifestyles as the Chinese because of the country’s long association with mainland China.
Taiwan has at least 23 indigenous tribes, and each one has a style in the various art forms found in Taiwan. A trained eye can easily note the differences in the styles of woodcarving, weaving, and basketry.
Woodcarvings of toys, ornamental objects, religious buildings, furniture, and weapons are notable in Taiwan. Human heads and pairs of snakes are the most widely portrayed subjects. Pottery is important to traditional Taiwanese because pots are closely associated with ancestor worship. The Taiwanese architecture is evident in the indigenous homes of the country. People build homes with stacked slate, and these houses are partly underground in order to withstand typhoons. Handicrafts—paper cutting, knotting, and dough sculpture—and performing arts—puppetry, dragon and lion dances, folk dances, folk opera, and traditional acrobatics—remain vital, receiving special support from the government and other organizations.
The dance and music forms are among the major cultural contributions of the native people of Taiwan. Communal dances, performed at ceremonies and rituals, are mostly simple yet harmonious, accompanied with walking and foot-stomping movements, performed to the sounds of small bells or other metal ornaments. Musical instruments, such as drums, stringed instruments, woodwind instruments, and other percussion instruments are common in Taiwanese music.
Observed by:General Public Observed on: January 1–3 January 1 is a very important day in Taiwan. It is the anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China (in mainland China) under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, in 1912. The Republic of China was Asia’s first democratic republic, and a flag-raising ceremony is held in front of the Presidential Office Building on this day.
Taiwanese families decorate their homes and streets with the national flag, colorful lanterns, lights, and banners, and honor all the revolutionary heroes who were instrumental in establishing the Republic of China. In Taiwan families get together, including relatives who have been away, and enjoy a
Taiwanese opera was once performed on almost every auspicious occasion, such as weddings, birthdays, and temple festivals. This art form is similar to that of mainland Chinese opera. The colorful makeup and costumes, stage props, and stylized gestures, music, acting, and the general ambience of the opera are beautiful. There are many opera troupes that perform throughout Taiwan. Yang Li-hua is known to be one of the most celebrated operatic actors in the country. She is known for playing only male roles.
To make sure that no riches are swept outdoors, the Taiwanese do not sweep floors or clear trash on New Year’s Day.
special feast. The day begins by worshipping their ancestors. People love to visit their friends and relatives on this day and watch displays of dragons, lion dancing, and other folk activities on the streets. January 1 also marks the beginning of the Western, or Gregorian, calendar, which is celebrated as New Year’s Day all over the world. The Taiwanese mark the occasion with fireworks and other festivities. On January 2 married women visit their parents’ home. The celebrations continue until the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the new year. This festival is seen as the second New Year’s celebration and is also enjoyed by Taiwanese families. They decorate lanterns, used to decorate temples, with depictions of birds, beasts, historical figures, and other themes. There are fireworks displays in the night and many other festive activities.
PEACE MEMORIAL DAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:February 28 Peace Memorial Day, or 228 Memorial Day, commemorates the incident that took place on this day in 1947. Often called the “Taiwanese Holocaust,” it resulted in the murder of thousands of Taiwanese— by most accounts between 18,000 and 28,000 people—during a protest, and the government has designated this day as Peace Memorial Day. On this
February 28 Incident
When World War II ended, Japan lost control over Taiwan, which then came under Chinese rule. The people of Taiwan were initially very happy with this change of government, but they were soon disillusioned. The Chinese government was corrupt and insensitive to the needs and aspirations of the Taiwanese. In protest on February 28, 1947, thousands of people gathered in Taipei. The Chinese government, under the leadership of Jiang Jie Shi, fired at the demonstrators with machine guns, brutally killing many of them on the spot. More Taiwanese were massacred to curb the uprising. Many teachers and thinkers were detained by the Chinese military. Some of them were released decades later in the 1980s.
Even though in 1995, the Chinese premier apologized to the Taiwanese people on behalf of his government, the wounds from this incident remain fresh for many senior citizens in Taiwan.
day memorial services, concerts, art exhibitions, group runs, and other activities are held to mark the loss of innocent people.
Observed by:General Public Observed on:March 29 On this day in 1910 the founding father of the Republic of China Dr. Sun Yat-sen spearheaded the Canton Uprising to topple the Ching government. During this struggle many young soldiers were killed. They were hailed as martyrs, and this day is observed as Youth Day in memory of these heroes. On Youth Day in Taiwan, the Republic of China’s (ROC) president attends the public service at the Martyrs Shrine (a shrine to the martyrs of the revolution), and similar ceremonies are also held at the regional level. Ten outstanding youths are honored for their achievements on this day.
Observed by:General Public Observed on:May 1 May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day, also known as Workers’ Day and May Day, in many parts of the world; it recognizes the important role played by workers in building their nations and societies.
In 1889 the Second International, a consortium of socialist organizations, declared May 1 a day to recognize the importance of workers around the world and scheduled the first demonstrations and celebrations for the following year, 1890. They coordinated this observance with the strike called by the U.S. labor union, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), demanding an eight-hour workday. Although the strike was postponed, the day for the observance remained May 1. The United States made efforts to discourage the May 1 commemoration because of its socialist origins, so America celebrates a cleansed, nonpolitical Labor Day in September.
In Taiwan workers hold marches, rallies, and demonstrations on Labor Day.
See also Volume III: LABORDAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on: September 28 Teacher’s Day, also celebrated as Confucius’s Birthday, is celebrated on September 28, when the Republic of China remembers and honors the model educator’s contribution to Chinese culture and society. On this day, the Confucius Memorial Service is held at the Confucius Temple. The government presents awards to local educational institutes and teachers for their positive influence and contributions to society.
DOUBLE TENTH DAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:October 10 Double Tenth Day, also celebrated as National Celebration Day or Republic Day, is the national day of the Republic of China (ROC). On this day in 1911 the Wuchang Uprising began. This led to the eventual collapse of the Ching Dynasty. In Taiwan, military and public parades are held on the streets of Taipei and in front of the Presidential Office Building. The president of the ROC addresses the country, and firework displays are held in various parts of the island nation. All the streets are specially decorated for this occasion with flags, lights, and colorful banners.
Observed by:General Public Observed on:October 25 On this day in 1945 Taiwan was released from Japanese control and became a part of the Republic of China. Taiwan had been a Japanese territory since 1894, and the condition of the Taiwanese people during this period was deplorable. After the transfer the island country’s economy and the standard of living improved considerably.
This day reminds the Taiwanese of the hardships they have endured in the past, and various memorial activities are held on Taiwan’s Retrocession Day. Families hang the national flag in front of their homes to commemorate this event.
JIANG JIE SHI’S (CHIANG KAI-SHEK’S) BIRTHDAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:October 31 This day is the birth anniversary of Jiang Jie Shi, the Chinese military and political leader who succeeded Dr. Sun Yat-sen. During Jiang Jie Shi ’s rule the seat of government was moved to the island of Taipei because the Communists had taken control in mainland China. However, Chiang spent his last days in Taiwan. On the day he died the Taiwanese mourned his passing by wearing black armbands. Jiang Jie Shi is credited with unifying China and leading the country during the difficult times of World War II.
Observed by:General Public Observed on:December 25 On this day in 1946, the constitution of the Republic of China was passed; it was implemented soon after. In Taiwan this significant day is listed as a national holiday. Government agencies, schools, and families celebrate by raising the national flag to symbolize this historic event.
Confucius (551–479 B.C.E.)
Confucius, the renowned ancient Chinese philosopher and teacher, symbolized the dictum of “educate all without discrimination, and teach according to the abilities of one’s students.” Confucius used arts, music, archery, chariot driving, reading, writing, and mathematics to bring more than 3,000 disciples under his tutelage. In a class-ridden Chinese society, Confucius never refused any student education because of his class or status. He also played an important role in formulating many of the basic principles that structure Chinese lifestyle and culture, even now. During times of unrest and political tensions Confucius toured China to advise rulers on the ethics of ruling a province.
While his teachings had a great influence on Chinese philosophy, his ideal of equality in education made Confucius one of the foremost educators in Chinese history.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
Observed by:General Public Observed on: First day of the first month of the Chinese calendar The Taiwanese celebrate the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and the Spring Festival, with great joy. Around mid-December, weeks before the celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve, people in Taiwan start their preparations. There is great excitement because New Year’s is a time when entire families gather for dinner, if possible. If someone is unable to make the trip home for the celebration, a place setting is still placed on the table; it symbolizes the person’s presence in spirit, if not in body. After dinner youngsters are given cash gifts by their elders and everyone stays up late to see the old year out and to welcome in the new one.
The Chinese New Year is a two-week holiday filled with festivities as well as piety. The Taiwanese begin the next day with prayer and worship. This day is set aside to meet and greet friends and relatives and the streets are filled with throngs of people on their way to reunions or watching dragon dancing, lion dancing, and other traditional forms of entertainment and activities that take place on the streets. Families get together to share special feasts on this day. The streets and homes in Taiwan are decorated with colorful lanterns and elaborate lighting and there are firework displays all over Taiwan.
On the second day of the new year, married women return home to visit their families. (The third day is regarded as a bad day for visiting relatives.) On the fourth day a host of deities who made a trip to heaven to report the activities of individual families return to take up their vigil once more, and most people go back to work after celebrating for four or five days. On the 13th and 14th days shopkeepers are open again, and they hang lanterns out for the Lantern Festival (Yuen Siu). The festivities continue until the colorful Lantern Festival, on the 15th day of the new year, before life again returns to its routine.
Though the traditional festivities associated with the Chinese New Year are millennia old, they still have great importance. Cleaning and rearranging one’s home improves cleanliness and symbolizes a fresh start; worshiping ancestors and deities upholds filial piety and family ethics; sitting around the hearth together symbolizes unity and the value of spending important occasions with one’s family; and making New Year’s visits home after marriage maintains important bonds between friends and families.
See also Volume III: CHINESE NEW YEAR;
Observed by:General Public Observed on: Fifteenth of the first month of the Chinese calendar The Lantern Festival, also known as the Shang Yuan Festival, is the climax of a series of springtime celebrations, a “second New Year’s” gladly celebrated by the people of Taiwan. It ends the two-week-long festivities of the Chinese New Year’s. On the night of the festival decorative lanterns depicting birds, beasts, historical figures, or any of numerous themes are carried by children or adorn temples. Competitions are held to show off these glowing works of art. The Taipei Lantern Festival, held annually at Jiang Jie Shi Memorial Hall Plaza (and the largest and most famous of these competitions), is attended every year by thousands. The festivities and different customs associated with this festival not only provide celebrants with rich entertainment, like the his-
torical-theme lantern displays and riddles, but the ancient wisdom expressed is also instructive. The lanterns feature different folk art techniques, impressing these arts deep in the hearts and minds of the people. Fireworks light the night skies around the island, and there are also many regional folk activities unique to Taiwan such as Farmer’s Day, which is also celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month.
One of the most popular features of the Lantern Festival are the customary lantern riddle parties that are held on this night. Lantern riddles are stuck on the surface of lanterns, and people try to guess the answers to them. The keys to riddles may be found in a single word, a line from a poem, or the name of a place or an object. Because guessing the riddles is said to be “as hard as shooting a tiger,” these brain-stumpers are called “lantern tigers.” Newspapers, magazines, and department stores all make up riddles for festival-goers to puzzle over. There are also lantern riddle parties held at temples.
See also Volume III: CHINESE NEW YEAR;
Observed by:General Public Observed on:Fifteenth of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar This day signifies the commencement of spring in the Republic of China. The aim of celebrating this event is to encourage the farmers of Taiwan and to highlight the importance of agriculture to the Taiwanese economy. The main event held during this occasion is the “Whipping of the Spring Ox.” The spring ox is a colorful paper cow stuffed with five types of grains to symbolize a good harvest. This ox is then whipped while the grain pours out from it. This is seen as a good omen for the spring, which is a time of regeneration and new beginnings. While the Spring Cow is being struck, the following words are said: “With the first hit comes timely and favorable weather; with the second comes fertile land and warm rains; with the third comes a peaceful start to a new year; with the fourth comes peace through the four seasons; with the fifth comes a harvest of the five grains; and with the sixth comes springtime to the Six Unities or universe.”
On this day, the people drink spring wine and worship the spring deity, the Earth god who can bring a plentiful harvest. They also consume foods associated with the spring season such as celery, chives, and bamboo shoots; these represent industriousness, longevity, and prosperity, respectively.
The fifth day of the first lunar month is also celebrated as Tourism Day in Taiwan, while the second day of the month is the Earth god’s birthday.
See also Volume III: SPRINGFESTIVALS
Observed by:General Public Observed on:One hundred sixth after the winter solstice Tomb-Sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming or Ching Ming Festival, and Qing Ming Jie, which can be translated as the “Pure Brightness” Festival, is a traditional Chinese festival observed on the 106th day following the winter solstice, which falls early in April on the Gregorian calendar. It signifies the middle of spring and is a sacred day of the dead. For the Taiwanese this day remembers and honors the dead. Families visit the graves of their dead ancestors and clean and tidy the tombs. They offer prayers and food items at the graves and pray for their souls. The most common dish offered is a special type of “grave cake,” although it differs from one region to another. Most cemeteries are located on hillsides outside towns and villages, so Taiwanese families often combine the visit to the cemetery with a family picnic, taking advantage of the fine weather and the time they can spend with their families.
April 5 is also a very significant date in Chinese history. Major events such as the April Fifth Movement and the Tiananmen Incident occurred on this day, albeit in different years. This is also the date when the Taiwanese leader Jiang Jie Shi died.
DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
Observed by:General Public Observed on: Fifth of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar The Dragon Boat Festival, also called Tueno Ng, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. With the Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, it is one of the three major Chinese holidays. Because diseases spread most easily during summers, Dragon Boat Festival was started to drive off evil spirits and disease and to help find peace. The legend of the poet–saint Chu Yuan is a later addition, and the event now also commemorates his death. According to tradition, he drowned himself 2,300 years ago to protest the government’s corruption. Competing teams take part in boat races in specially designed boats with dragon-shaped heads, rowing to the rhythm of drums. People also consume a special dish, tzung tzu (rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves), in memory of Chu Yuan.
This festival continues its original purpose as a day to ward off evil spirits and pests that cause diseases during the summer season. The Taiwanese hang calamus and moxa (herbs) on their front door. The elders drink hsiung huang wine, and children carry special sachets to ward off evil spirits and bring peace. The Taiwanese also believe that if they consume well water drawn on the afternoon of the festival, it will cure illnesses. This custom is known as “fetching noon water.”
Dragon boat teams paddle through the course on the Keelung River during preliminary races in the lead up to the Dragon Boat Festival in Taipei. According to historians, dragon boats were used as part of a complex shamanistic ritual for supplicating the water gods in order to prevent floods and other watery disasters over 3,000 years ago. The death of poet and respected bureaucrat Chu Yuan in 290 B.C.E., saw the dragon boats become an integral part of Chinese culture. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
See also Volume III: HARVESTFESTIVALS
Observed by:General Public Observed on: Fifteenth of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar Taiwan celebrates the Ghost Festival to honor the deceased, believed to live in the underworld, by offering sumptuous feasts on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. It is the custom for families to offer sacrifices of the newly harvested grain to their departed ancestors, as well as freshly slaughtered pigs and sheep and wine. Because the Taoist Ghost Festival and the Buddhist Ullambana (Deliverance) Festival fall on the same day, and both festivals pay homage to the spirits of the dead, the seventh lunar month has come to be known as Ghost Month. It is a time when Taiwanese believe the dead return from the underworld to feast on the food provided for them by the living. The Ullambana Festival and Ghost Festival have combined and are now celebrated as Chung Yuan Putu or “Mid-Origin Passage to Universal Salvation.”
See also Volume III: BUDDHISM; TAOISM
MID-AUTUMN MOON FESTIVAL
Observed by:General Public Observed on:Fifteenth of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival has traditionally been a time when Taiwanese families get together. This festival has ancient Chinese origins and is believed to have been a ceremony of sacrifice to the Moon goddess. At some point that ceremony was merged with the tradition of eating mooncakes, and what is now celebrated as the Mid-Autumn Festival became a major event. On this night the Taiwanese gather at picnic spots and parks for “moon appreciation parties,” eating specially prepared mooncakes and praying for a safe year ahead. This festival also coincides with the fall harvest in Taiwan. People pray to the Earth god (Tu-ti Gong) so that the next year’s harvest will be bountiful, too.
See also Volume III: HARVESTFESTIVALS
DOUBLE NINTH DAY
Observed by:General Public Observed on:Ninth day of ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar The Double Ninth Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This Chinese festival is based on the theory of yin and yang, the two opposing, complementary forces of the universe. Traditionally the number nine is associated with the positive principle, yang, so this observance is also known as Chung Yang, or Double Yang Festival. Yin is thought to be the negative and feminine force; yang is the masculine and positive force. On this day, the odd digit nine occurs twice, and, therefore, is an auspicious occasion to celebrate. On this day the people of the Republic of China drink chrysanthemum wine and eat cakes made with chrysanthemums. This plant is viewed as a medicinal herb that cleanses the body and ward offs evil spirits.
In Chinese the word for “nine” sounds exactly like the word for “long time,” so nine has become associated with longevity. As a result in 1966, Double Ninth Day was declared Senior Citizen’s Day in Taiwan, and the week that begins this holiday is observed as Senior Citizen’s Week. Since then Double Ninth Day has lost its original significance and is now a time of expressing gratitude to the elderly for their hard work, a new custom that fits nicely with the Chinese tradition of revering the old and one’s ancestors.
Observed in:Miaoli County Observed by:Saisiyat tribe Observed on:Fifteenth of the 10th lunar month of the Chinese calendar The Saisiyat people are one of the aboriginal tribes who inhabited Taiwan before the Chinese arrived. An agrarian people numbering somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000, they have lived on their land for over 400 years. The Saisiyat Festival, known as Sacrifice to the Short People, is a three-day festival that starts on the first full Moon after the fall harvest. It is observed every two years. According to the Saisiyat elders, the ritual is performed to appease the Short People and to correct a great injustice that involved a man of the Short People and a Saisiyat woman, although the details are vague.
Before this tragic event, the Short People and the Saisiyat lived harmoniously, sharing the bounty of their harvests. The woman, who may have been married or, perhaps, a maiden, was raped or assaulted. No one knows. During a harvest while the ceremonials were being prepared, the brother, or maybe the husband, of the offended woman, sneaked away and chopped halfway through the trunk of the Great Tree where the Short People would return to sleep when the ritual was over. Having covered his work with mud, he went back to the village and rejoined his people, behaving as if nothing was wrong. Eventually, the Short People returned to their tree and fell asleep. Then the tree fell over, killing almost all but two old women. When numerous calamities befell the Saisiyat because of the genocide, the remaining old women of the Short People taught them the ceremonies that would placate the angry spirits and atone for the injustice of their ancestors.
At sunset on the first day, the Saisiyat gather in a circle and invite the Short Spirits to come and receive their offering and share in the bounties of the harvest. The meanings of the songs they sing are said to be so sacred that most Saisiyat cannot understand them. Then the dancing begins. Remaining in the large circle, the people link arms and begin to sway, moving slowly the center. The dancing will not stop until dawn, except for prayer. Eventually participants tire, drop out, and fall asleep under the shelters set up at the edge of the site. Others replace them, while others wait, keeping meals warm and pounding rice. Starting at midnight each night, the dancing stops, the circle turns to the east, and everyone supports the ritual leader as he prays. The shaman-priest intones prayers to appease the spirits,
then the dance begins again. See also Volume III: HARVESTFESTIVALS
Rites of Passage
Observed in:Taiwan Observed by:General Public Observed on:Seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar Chi Hsi (Qi Xi) is known by several names in Taiwan, including the Night of Sevens (because it falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month), Festival to Plead for Skills, Seventh Sister’s Birthday, and Night of Skills; it is also sometimes called the Chinese Valentine’s Day. On this day it is traditional for young girls to demonstrate their domestic arts, especially melon-carving, and to wish for a good husband.
During late summer the stars Altair, Vega, and Deneb—the Summer Triangle—are directly overhead in the night sky, and the Chinese tell the tragic story of a young cowherd named Niu Lang (the star Altair) who accidentally found seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. After stealing their clothes he waits to see what will happen. The fairy sisters choose the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhi Nu (“the weaver girl,” the star Vega) to recover their clothes. In the process, the cowherd sees her naked so she is obliged to agree to marry him. Niu Lang and Zhi Nu are very happy together, but the Goddess of Heaven (in some versions it’s Zhi Nu’s mother or father or the Emperor of Heaven who wants to separate them) finds out that a mortal has married a fairy girl and becomes enraged. Taking out her hairpin, she scratches a wide river in the sky that will separate the lovers forever (thus creating the Milky Way, which separates Altair and Vega). Zhi Nu sits forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving, while Niu Lang watches her from afar and cares for their two children (his flanking stars). But the magpies of the world take pity on them and annually fly up to heaven and make a bridge across the star Deneb so the lovers can be together for one night, the seventh night of the seventh Moon.
It is the custom on Chi Hsi for a single or newly married woman to put a wreath in the front yard and to make an offering of fruit, flowers, tea, and makeup to Niu Lang and Zhi Nu. When the offering is finished, half of the makeup (face powder) is thrown on the roof, and the other half is shared among the young women. They believe that, by making this offering, they will be bound in beauty with Zhi Nu.
Japan also celebrates this festival, which is called Tanabata there, on July 7, celebrating the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). Other East Asian cultures continue to celebrate the “starcrossed” lovers on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar,
After giving birth, a Taiwanese woman is expected to stay indoors and recover. During this period she is not allowed to do any work; she is to recuperate by eating, resting, and sleeping. She is not allowed to eat anything salty or cold. Cabbages, bamboo shoots, oranges, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables are also not considered ideal food for a new mother. Her diet includes eggs, rice, noodles, brown sugar, ginger, chicken, fish, and pig kidneys. Ma-yu chi (chicken stewed in sesame oil and rice wine) and sheng-hua tang (a concoction of peach kernels, ginger, herbs, and rice wine) are two special dishes prepared for her during this period of postnatal care.
In some communities in Taiwan, the birth of the first child is celebrated on a grand scale. The father’s family sends gifts to the mother’s family to show their joy and gratitude.
COMING OF AGE
The traditional coming-of-age ceremonies of the various groups in Taiwan are no longer observed in modern Taiwan. The young people are aware of such rituals only from stories they hear from their elders and from books. In former times young boys in Taiwan underwent many rituals before attaining manhood. There was an array of rituals such as admonishments and beatings by the village elders to show that the young boy could withstand pain and suffering. Hunting ceremonies, in which boys were required to hunt a deer or catch a monkey, were performed, and drinking sacrificial beer also signified the coming of age of Taiwanese boys.
Taiwanese girls do not have an organized system that formally declares their reaching womanhood. In some areas young girls received tattoos on their forehead to signify that they were women. Married women were tattooed on their cheeks. These practices are no longer followed.
Before Taiwanese marriages take place, the horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom are analyzed and matched. If their match proves to be ideal, the families exchange gifts and confirm the marriage. The groom gives the bride 12 gift items including shoes, jewelry, and pagoda-shaped candies. The groom’s betrothal letter is read out loud, and the bride’s family responds by sending 12 gift items to the groom’s family. These items include chopsticks and a goldfish, to signify prosperity and the wish for male offspring in the future. The couple exchanges rings at their engagement ceremony, rather than on the wedding day. On the wedding day the groom comes to the bride’s home to pick her up. He is expected to kneel in front of her parents and vow that he will take care of their daughter. Then the groom is allowed to see his bride and take her along with him. The couple seeks blessings from the bride’s parents and grandparents, then she is taken to the groom’s home, where she is presented to the new family. The couple seeks blessings from the groom’s parents, grandparents, and their dead ancestors. There are no bridesmaids or a best man in a traditional Taiwanese wedding.
The friends of the newlyweds often organize some special wedding games, and the groom is required to show how well he knows his bride. He may be asked questions about her personal belongings. The groom is allowed to meet his bride only after answering the questions correctly.
Most contemporary Taiwanese weddings feature huge banquets held in restaurants, and wedding guests give cash sealed in red envelopes as gifts.
The Taiwanese believe in immortality of the soul in spite of death. When a death occurs, they pay their respects to the deceased by holding elaborate funeral ceremonies. A dead person may be cremated or buried in Taiwan. Some Taiwanese ritually remove the bones of the buried after seven years. These bones are then washed and placed in a grave again. Special ceremonies are held to remember the dead even after the official mourning period, which usually lasts for 49 days, and no celebrations are held. If the dead person was a close family member, anyone who was planning to marry must do so within 100 days of the death or else wait an entire year.
The different communities of Taiwan have different death rituals. However, they generally share the idea that there are good and bad deaths. If someone dies at home in the company of loved ones, it is considered a good death. However, if it is a suicide, violent death, death during childbirth, or a death outdoors, it is considered to be a bad death.
Kum-Kum Bhavnani, John Foran, and Priya A. Kurian, eds., Feminist Futures: Re-imagining Women, Culture, and Development (London: Zed Books, 2003); Melissa J. Brown, Is Taiwan Chinese: The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004); Gary Marvin Davison and Barbara E. Reed, Culture and Customs of Taiwan (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998); Edward M. Gunn, Rendering the Regional: Local Language in Contemporary Chinese Media (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006); Koichi Iwabuchi, Stephen Muecke, and Mandy Thomas, eds., Rogue Flows: Trans-Asian Cultural Traffic (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004); Denny Roy, Taiwan: A Political History (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003); Scott Simon, Tanners of Taiwan: Life Strategies and National Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Westview, 2005).