Superstition goes virtual in modern Taiwan

Superstition goes virtual in modern Taiwan

Taiwan’s most populous administrative district, has started to offer virtual worship. The new service is an example of the way in which one of Asia’s richest, most democratic and most technically advanced countries is trying to bring traditional culture in line with an otherwise highly modern society.

During August, the air, already heavy with humidity from afternoon thundershowers or typhoon downpours, thickens with the mist from incense and the smoke from piles of gilded paper burnt in temples, on balconies, in hallways and courtyards and in front of shops. The 3.7m residents of Taipei County alone burn 2,000 tons, worth T$400m ($12m, €8.9m, £6m) every year. “That creates 2,000 tons of CO2, and benzol, toluene and other carcinogens are released in the process” says Lin Sung-chin, of the county’s environmental protection bureau. Since 2003, the government has offered worshippers the facility of burning the money on their behalf in incinerators. This cut pollutant output by an estimated 350 tons last year.

The county government’s virtual worship site is registering strong traffic but Mr Lin has no illusions that it will eliminate the use of the real thing. “Many computer-literate people who would not otherwise have worshipped may try it for the fun of it, especially as it’s for free” he says. But opinion polls have found that up to 20 per cent of the population regard burning ghost money as “absolutely necessary”. “These [people] we will not convince that quickly.”

2,000 tons! They could offer to burn the money in incinerators, sure. That will help reduce the pollution a little bit, while doing nothing about the C02. Or they could do the obvious and insist people give up their backward and useless superstitions. The president should get up and give a speech: “Burning money to appease ghosts. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Appease the living and stop polluting!”
Ridicule is the only appropriate response. And, as a public health measure, a ban.

Comments (One comment)

Boyd R. Jones / September 5th, 2007, 8:33 pm / #1

I can tell you from first-hand experience that the Taiwanese still burn ghost money en masse in front of their places of business. I will try to take some videos of this.

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