Living at the Edge: Book Review

Category: Book Reviews

Living at the Edge

“Living at the Edge: Religion, Capitalism, and the End of the Nation-State in Taiwan” by Robert P. Weller is an article talking about life in Taiwan. As the author states, Taiwan sits at the borders of the world and its economy has developed remarkably well. Taiwan does not have corporate identities that are highly recognized in the international sphere. The country made a late entrance into capitalism and grew as a number of several networks of small firms and contractors. Taiwan has spent the last four hundred years as a frontier of the Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese empires. The article shows religious ways of the people of Taiwan and the manner in which religion influences their lives and their experiences in different ways (Weller, 2000).

The author states that religious practices in Taiwan differ significantly in terms of social organization, claims to universal societal morals, and the relationship that exist between the society and individual people (Weller, 2000). Religions that offer Fee-for-service type of attention accommodate asocial individuals and do not focus much on and has unclear deities. 

In addition, there are temples that are dedicated to community gods. These temples have been at the core of Taiwanese religion and have grown in number and their influence in the society. Old temples have been reconstructed in addition to new ones that have been developed. They treat societal members as entrenched members of social links, despite the fact that their orientation is predominantly local. These religious institutions have internalized aspects of old and new lines of trade and migration. Another religious institution in Taiwan is pietistic Buddhist movement that is a supporter of the new social values and encourages the establishment of new types of communities that encompass globalization, structuring, and modernity. All of the religious institutions in Taiwan restructure and transform social and cultural values that have been existent in Taiwan for many decades (Weller, 2000). 

Taiwan is an island that connects Japan, China, and Southeast Asia and has a highly structured political history. Before the seventeenth century, most of its inhabitants were Austronesian speakers. The island was infrequently used as a place where pirates, with Japanese and Chinese traders, often visited. The Dutch took over the governance of Taiwan in the seventeenth century but was forcefully removed in 1661 by the Qing government. The Chinese took control of the Island after the Second World War, but it was still conceived as a backwater. 

The inability to declare its occupancy had a weak point for Taiwan and this was clearly demonstrated when the US withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in 1979. It was also removed from the UN, meaning that it does not contribute in any way to international issues. The martial law that was in use in Taiwan was removed in 1987 and enabled the locals to call themselves Taiwanese instead of Chinese, as they had been for the previous four decades and colonial Japanese that they were for five decades before being Chinese (Weller, 2000).

Compared to the political history, Taiwan’s economy has been relatively stable. The locals practiced agriculture and contributed to the market-oriented economy in the country. It was a major exporter of tea to the US and an exporter of rice and sugarcane to mainland China. Nationalist officials were responsible for the tough political rule and enlightened economic leadership (Weller, 2000).

The temples that were previously obscure temples, such as the Eighteen Lords, became widespread in Taiwan during the mid-1980s as gambling became widespread (Weller, 2000). For many years, soldiers who were on coastal sentinel would worship at the temple. In these temples, ghosts were the symbol of improper deaths of people and signified the spirits of people who died young or violently and had no people to worship them. It was believed that unlike gods, ghosts would grant any kind of request because the absence of descendants worshiping them meant that they starved. The Eighteen Lords was different from other shadowy Taiwanese religion because they opened up for the world to recognize them, and towards the end of the 1980s, it was the most popular temple on the island. These temples were not emphatic of the morals that were based on community and conventional morality. The link that existed between illegal lottery and fee-for-service temples was that they both had aspects of unearned wealth (Weller, 2000).

The ghost temples were famous partly because they rivaled community god temples. In many respects, the worship of community gods was contrary to the conceptions of religion in the West. For instance, the term religion lacked a clear translation in the Chinese before the twentieth century. China borrowed the translation from Japan that had borrowed it from the Western philosophy. The difference between the worlds of commerce and religion was not applicable in Taiwan. God temples have become successful in Taiwan over the past few decades, but similar to ghost temples (Weller, 2000).

Religious sects related to Chines traditions also grew in Taiwan. The sects are millenarian and saw themselves as avenues of bringing back morals, in an era of moral crisis. They are built behind clear leaders and clear set of ideas and do not oppose the market economy or Taiwan’s modernist state.

The study of religious institutions in Taiwan raises several important questions. What is the link between religion and capitalism? How do they reflect the end to the nation-state in Taiwan? Are religious institutions tied to economic activities of Taiwan?

As the author indicates, religious institutions in Taiwan have participated in acts of charity and compassion and have done charity events in Taiwan (Weller, 2000). The start of gambling also saw the development and success of certain religious institutions, such as the Eighteen Lords temple. Moreover, the compassionate relief shows an aspect of change because it downplays traditional aspects of Buddhism in Taiwan and is not an anti-market movement (Weller, 2000). 

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The growth of religious institutions in Taiwan has indicated a reaction to millennial capitalism and a change from a nation-state to a modernist state. Religions are integral parts of Taiwan’s recent political and economic transformations and the ease of movement created by communication in the media and transportation has allowed religious institutions to act on a larger scale than before.