The Delicate Dance of Faith and Politics: Taiwanese Worshippers Caught in the Cross-Strait Struggle


Every year, the devout Chang Ke-chung embarks on a sacred pilgrimage from Taiwan to China, worshipping Mazu, a revered sea goddess with a massive following spanning Taiwan and Chinese communities worldwide. This spiritual journey, however, has become more than a religious rite; it’s a poignant symbol of the political tug-of-war between China and Taiwan.

Taiwanese Faithful Caught in Political Crossfire

Accompanying Our Mother: The Emotional Pilgrimage to Meizhou

For Chang Ke-chung and countless Taiwanese worshippers, the pilgrimage to Meizhou’s Mazu temple is an act of faith, akin to visiting a revered ancestral home. While such sentiments bring joy to Beijing, they trigger concerns in Taipei, especially with impending elections. The intertwining of religious practices and politics has put Taiwanese devotees at the heart of a geopolitical struggle.

China’s United Front Strategy: Nurturing Ties Through Religion

Beijing, eyeing “peaceful reunification,” strategically leverages the deep-rooted emotional ties between religious communities in Taiwan and China. The United Front Work Department facilitates visits, with the Chinese Communist Party encouraging religious exchanges. This calculated approach aims to enhance identification with China among ordinary Taiwanese, fostering a sense of unity through religious connections.

China’s Embrace of Mazu: A Political Endeavor

Championing “Spiritual Harmony” for Reunification

The Chinese Communist Party, particularly attentive to Taiwan’s Mazu community, welcomes Taiwanese religious groups with open arms. The rhetoric emphasizes “spiritual harmony” and envisions a shared future of reunification. As experts caution about potential deepening of influence, the grand united front strategy unfolds, using religious lineages to reinforce the narrative of a shared heritage across the Taiwan Strait.

The Unspoken Concerns: Potential PRC Funding and Regulation

Taiwan’s unregistered temples, comprising a majority of the 12,000, face scrutiny over their funding sources. Sociologist Ming-sho Ho warns of “potential PRC funding,” prompting calls for stricter regulation. Religion becomes a pivotal element in China’s grand united front strategy, with themes of ‘homecoming’ and familial ties reinforcing the narrative of oneness.

Taipei’s Balancing Act: Political Dilemmas Amid Religious Freedoms

The Taiwanese Government’s Quandary

The Taiwanese government, while upholding religious freedom, grapples with the challenge posed by cultural exchanges with China. The delicate balance involves avoiding clamping down on exchanges while addressing concerns about growing Chinese influence. With the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in power, Taiwan insists on sovereignty, sparking heightened vigilance ahead of elections.

Stepping Up Warnings: Battling Influence Ahead of Elections

As the DPP government issues warnings about Chinese influence, tensions rise. The fear that voters may lean towards Beijing-friendly parties prompts increased scrutiny of exchanges. The recent ban on a Chinese delegation entering Taiwan reflects a proactive stance against potential interference in religious events.

Temple Leaders in the Spotlight: Navigating Allegations and Allegiances

Denials and Justifications: Leaders Defend Cultural Exchanges

Temple leaders with close ties to China vehemently deny accusations of aiding unification efforts. They stress their role in facilitating cross-strait cultural exchanges, portraying Mazu as a symbol of peace that bridges divides. While asserting that their activities are benign, they acknowledge the involvement of United Front officials in their religious events in China.

The Perceived Hypocrisy: A Delicate Balance for the DPP

Taiwan’s DPP government, facing allegations of targeting religious groups, risks alienating a significant voter base. As temples remain integral civic spaces, the government’s scrutiny triggers concerns of religious motives being misunderstood. The delicate dance between combating Chinese influence and maintaining voter support becomes a high-stakes political endeavor.


In the intricate dance between faith and politics, Taiwanese worshippers find themselves unwitting pawns in a geopolitical struggle. The upcoming elections cast a spotlight on the delicate balancing act between preserving democratic values and safeguarding against undue external influence.

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