Matsu, Goddess of the Sea, and her Island Shrine

By: Amber Riko Jimmy

The woman sang and raised her arms while walking around in a circle outside the temple. In front of her was a small altar with plates of fruits and meat on it. No one could understand her words. People stopped and stared, then went upstairs and went into the entrance of the temple. The woman was not just worshiping but actually being taken over by her object of worship: Matsu, goddess of the sea.


“She is possessed by a god,” Xu Yunxin, 60, chief director of Council of Tianhou Temple said.

Having worked in the temple council since 2006, Xu has met many people like the unknown woman. Xu said that the worshipping woman was not unique; followers of Matsu come and visit their god regularly.

The deity the woman had come for is Matsu, a goddess who protects people who live on the coastal areas of China from the disasters of the sea.

According to legend, Matsu is an indigenous goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors associated with the ocean. With her mortal name “Lin Moniang”, Matsu was born without crying and thus got a given name  — “moniang” — which means “Silent Girl.”

Stories surround Lin Moniang and her transformation into the godess Matsu. Moniang’s father and brother were both fishermen. One day, a terrible storm attacked them as they went out to fish. Moniang and her mother were staying at home and praying for the two at sea. Suddenly Moniang fell into a trance and saw her drowning father and brother in the dream. Her mother woke her up without noticing she was diverting Moniang’s attention, causing the death of her son. However, her father returned alive miraculously.Â

Over time, the legend of Lin Moniang transformed into stories of the goddes Matsu. ” Ma” here didn’t mean mother but grandmother in Chinese. “Tsu” meant ancestor. People put “Ma” and “Tsu ” together ,regarding it as a deferential form of address to women advanced in years and highly esteemed.Â

Now, coastal residents in China living a traditional sea-faring life worship the sea goddess as a deity who can help those at sea and living near the sea.

On a small land lying at the mouth of the Hanjiang River in the sea off Shantou coast, there is an island called Mayu; its main village has only about 1000 residents, but they are all followers of Matsu. The small island has eight temples devoted to sea gods. Among them the biggest temple, Tianhou, is devoted to Matsu.Â

 Villagers like the woman full of the spirit of Matsu can worship in ways as simple as what they usually eat. Fish, pork and fruits like apples are often put on the altar, behind which is a 1.5-meter-high clothed statues of Mastu.

Residents come to the Matsu temple to pray on the first and the fifteen day of every lunar month. Also on March 23 and September 9, which are the birthday of Matsu and the day she went back to the heaven, more people will come to the small temple.

Believers who come to the temple are mainly from Chaoyang, Chenghai, Puning and Chao’an. These Shantou districts form the biggest group of Matsu followers. However, overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia are also a big population believing in Matsu, especially those from Thailand.

Lying on the mountainside, the main temple has several shrines that stretch out on the mountainside below it. Before the entrance of the temple is an incense burner where “ghost money” can be burned for the deceased. The complex roofs are constructed in a traditional Chinese style and include numerous wood carvings, including dragons, lions, as well as sculptures of people.

Ke Kaiping, one of the four members of the Council of Tianhou Temple, emphasized the role played by the maritime trade in developing the Chaoshan area as a center of business. Over the past hundreds of years, as Chaoshan people went overseas, they paid tribute to Matsu. One of the things they must do before departure was to go to the temple and visit Matsu, only after which they could take a big wooden boat and leave. “Matsu is in charge of the sea. They wanted safety through their voyage in the boundless ocean,” Ke said with his arms stretching and made a wide circle. He added that every year when those believers come back, they will come to the temple and show their thanks and respect to Matsu.

Having a history of more than 800 years, Tianhou Temple has been reconstructed countless times. With all religious activities banned during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the Matsu culture here also suffered.

Recalling those period of time, Xu Wenxin said the Red Guard threw the Matsu statue into the sea. They had to put the destroyed temple to use keeping pigs. After the Cultural Revolution, the devoted villagers raised funds to rebuild the temple. It soon got generous support from many oversesas Chinese.

With a monument hanging in front of the building, Tianhou Temple is named a cultural relic by the Shantou government. But some believed it was support in name only. “The government didn’t help us at all!” Xu Yunxin said in a big voice.Â



Chen Zhanshan, a professor of Shantou University specializing in Chaoshan culture study, said that from ancient time to present, Chaoshan people have been earning a life by fishing and trading over the sea. “It’s so natural that they need the blessing from the god of the sea,” Chen Zhanshan said.

He added that the culture in Chaoshan area is complicated, with different combinations of culture and belief from other religions. Matsu may have a connection with Buddhism, or Lao Tzu, or even Christianity.

People in Mayu village lead a quiet life of farming work. Ke Kaiping said they have harmony and comfort in their minds, though the place they live in is an isolated small island due to their beliefs. “The whole village worships Matsu and she will protect us forever,” Ke Kaiping said with a big smile.

Unique Chaoshan Centipede Dance Creeping Along Despite Woes

Journalist: Catherine Lee and Zhang Xiaodan

Photos and video are offered by Chenghai Photography Institute

Video:Centipede Dance

A man leads the centipede with a golden ball, like a conductor directing an orchestra. Wherever the ball moves, a twenty-two meter long centipede starts to dance. Raising its sharp head, twisting and moving its flexible body forward rapidly, the lifelike myriapod seems as vivid as the real one.

Originating in Ximen town, Centipede Dance is the most famous dance among those special dances in Chenghai district, Shantou, namely Double Dragon Dance and Lobster Dance, which are dubbed by local people as “The aero-amphibious dances”. The Centipede Dance applied for the National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2004, then finally successfully selected into it in 2008.

The twenty-two-meter long “Centipede”, is made by iron, bamboo and cloth, composed of twelve sections. In the traditional scale, each articular sclerate needs at least five people to hold and manipulate. Besides, there is a group of participants playing gongs and drums. Normally speaking, totally more than a hundred participants needed each time in tradition.

The centipede is a the star of a traditional dance, the Centipede Dance, only performed on special days. 16th, February every leap year is one of the biggest ceremonies. When the traditional “Divinities Contest” is held, the “centipede” will parade along the main street of the town. Whenever and wherever it appears, there will be a big crowd yelling and cheering excitedly.

The centipede dance is similar to lion dances performed at Chinese festivals. However, the lion dance only requires two people where the centipede dance requires at least a hundred people to be performed. Unlike the lion dance, the centipede dance is representative of Chaoshan culture. But this unique dance is in jeopardy because of lack of interest among the younger generation and the high costs associated with it.

Stupendously, it costs two hundred thousand RMB (about twenty nine thousand US dollars) per time.

“We need thirty thousand RMB to make a centipede, not accounting for more than one hundred people's salary.” Said Chen Xishun, 58-year-old. He is the fifth generation successor of Centipede Dance.

Chen Xishun mentioned that the expensive fee restricts the development of Centipede Dance. Before selected into the National Intangible Cultural Heritage, performances of Centipede Dance depends on villagers' donation. But luckier than other dance forms, Centipede Dance is now supported by government after successfully selected into the National Intangible Cultural Heritage. Therefore, the dance form can be carried on. However, the financial aid rescues the dying dance form but it's still far way from carrying forward the tradition.

Cai Zhuoqiang, the officer of Ximen town propaganda department said: “Government's routine financial aid is not enough to carry on such a big custom. We're now applying for another financial aid.”

Policy of national culture department tends to support the countryside. Traditional culture or customs like Centipede Dance, which exists in the middle-scale town, is not highly protected. In addition, financial aid is hard to apply according to Cai zhuoqiang.

Meanwhile, despite the financial support, holding a Centipede Dance performance still meets difficulties. The obvious one is lacking new performers willing to devote their time to the craft. As the amateur team, participants mainly are local people. It's not easy to find enough people for a performance, so teams even recruit children to help out.

“My little kid needs to be the drummer,” Chen Xishun said. Costing huge expense of money and human resource, that's why normally the dance is performed every four years.

Besides, another common way to protect a culture is to teach the next generation whoever wants to learn. However, Chen Xishun has his own opinion to protect Centipede Dance. Actually, he is strongly against teaching Centipede Dance skills to youth from other places——even other districts of Shantou city.

“Those who teach it to people in other place are traitors!” he said.

Having no plan to teach the next generation, Chen Xishun prefers to let whoever wants to play to join in the Centipede Dance performance. Speaking about who will be the nest successor, he laughed and said: “It's just a pattern. Who plays well who is the next successor.”

·Centipede Dance·

Centipede dance, which is long about twenty-second meters. It is separated for three parts: head, body and tail. The head of the centipede looks like the lion's head. There is a pair of sharp teeth in both sides of the mouth. Its body is combined by twenty-eight hard and soft clothes, which makes it to move flexibly. And some lamps and candles and fireworks equipment are hung inside its body. The tail is in the shape of scissors. When the Centipede Dance begins to show, one person holds a colorful ball leading way and fifteen persons hiding in the abdomen of the centipede. The fifteen men should stoop and bend the knees and they must use “Ding zi Ma”, “bow step”, “Guan yin zuo lian” (different kinds of horse stances) and other martial art actions to control the big centipede.

As the weight of the centipede is over 100 kg, so it demands the performers should have the basic of martial art.

Centipede dance is one of the excellent dances in Chenghai district. It has a long history, which more than 100 years. And now it's a famed folk consummate art in Chenghai.

The idea for a centipede dance came from two Chenghai residents in Qing dynasty who saw a centipede creeping and decided it would make a good dance.

“Province Towns” Separate Migrants from Shantou People

Ten o’clock is the busiest time for the old market in Tuopu every day, when you should speak loudly in order to make yourself be heard in two meters. It’s very hard to know what others are saying in this place where crowds of people are selling and bargaining. However that’s just for the left side where local residents live.

For the right side which is not near the busy road, it is so silent that everything seems still in a deep sleep, an anomaly in a country where boisterous street life is the norm. Most residents in the right side are migrant workers from Anhui, Guizhou and Jiangxi who go to work at five o’clock in the morning and come home late in the evening.

“This place is almost empty at the daytime. It’s hard to find a person to talk to,” said Zhang Lixia, an Anhui woman who resided in the right side of this Old Market in Tuopu for at least four years. “We don’t like blending with local people. Also, though there are many migrant workers in this small place. Often those from the same province live together,” added Zhang.

Zhang’s neighborhood in Tuopu could be called “Anhui town,” due to the high number of Anhui residents who live there. Similar to Chinatowns in foreign countries, migrant workers like Zhang often live in “province towns,” areas of the city where they live with relatives or people from the same province. They use their own dialect not standard Chinese, play and eat with people from the same province.

Though living in Shantou, the gap between them and the mainstream society is large. Like Robinson Crusoe, in Shantou those migrant workers are isolated in island-like neighborhoods, a phenomenon rooted in the government’s policies,  the local people’s bias and by different culture or custom. What’s more, migrants themselves make the separation stronger by sticking to their “province towns.”

Migrants’ lives rely entirely on people from the same province. “We were introduced to Shantou by fellow villagers ten years ago, and our life here also depends on them,” said Zhang. Struggling for more than ten years in Shantou, Zhang and her husband owned a  big shop (more than 100㎡) to do wholesale business. They bought goods from Yiwu, Guangzhou and Jieyang. Most of their goods were sold to fellow villagers and Jiangxi people, who setting up a temporary stall with goods spread out on the ground for sale in downtown.

Migrants’ lives have little connection with local ones. “We do not mix much with the local people and we don’t like to mix with them so much,” Zhang said when she was helping a fellow villager to take care of his two kids on a sunny weekend. Those kids were studying in Jinleyuan Primary School with local kids. They played with the local classmates in school and when they back home they just played with kids from Anhui.

There are more than 150,000 migrant workers in Shantou, according to the Shantou government website. According to Shantou Special Economic Zone Evening, Huang Bingzhang, a representative of NPC in Shantou, said migrant workers were crowded in “City Villages” — under-developed areas of the city, resembling villages — and had a hard life.

Xiaogongyuan, Xidong, Jinlongcun and Longhucun were these kind of “City Villages”  in Shantou where there are many “province towns.”

Language was a big problem, which contributed to separate migrants from local ones. “Some time we want to talk to the local people, but it’s very hard to understand what they are saying,” said Wang, a 60 year old Guizhou woman who had been Shantou for 3 years. Chao Shan dialect to them is just like French to Italian.

Bias of local people to migrants also made the “province towns” emerged. “The local people always look down upon us migrant workers. Working for the same restaurant, I do more work than local one, but only get 500-600yuan every month. That’s quite less than local one,” said Cai Lanxia, a 43 year old Anhui woman lived in Xiaogongyuan.

Low social status and a lack of respect upsets migrants who live with locals. “I have only a few local friends and they treat me not bad. Nevertheless, I always feel my status is lower than the locals,” said Mr. Zhou, a 46 year Henan man lived in Xiaogongyuan who earned 500-600 yuan per month by transporting goods with tricycle. He didn’t like to be a marginal man in this city. But for his kids to have good education and his family to have better life, he said he had to stay here.

Many local people thought they did not discriminate these outsiders, however most of they did not ever meet or talk with migrants. Even those local people who lived with migrants for years didn’t familiar with their neighbors.

“Migrant workers’ lives are quite mysterious to me. I just know my neighbors are from Anhui and Guizhou, but I haven’t got a chance to talk with them in more than one year,” said a local woman lived in Tuopu near Guizhou town.

Life is better in Shantou, according to many migrants in the “province towns.” However many migrants didn’t want to get the residence permit because that would mean losing their right to land ownership in their home province. “We make more money by doing business in Shantou than staying in Anhui on the farm. We don’t plan to register in Shantou to be a local residence, though it saves us 1400 yuan every year for kids’ education.” said Zhang, living a quite success life in Anhui town in Tuopu.

Zhang said in the near future, they would say goodbye to their successful business in Shantou and back home to be farmers again. “Shantou is a more developed city, but no matter how beautiful it is, it’s not our hometown,” Zhang added.

“Cold Violence” Comes out of the Home, into Public Discussion

by Shirley Xue

When it comes to domestic abuse, a common image is someone  beaten with blood running on the body comes to mind.

However, have you ever suffered or seen this in a marriage: After quarreling, the couple didn’t speak to each other for more than one month; Sleeping on the same bed, but no sexual life for several months; No beating, but one threatens the other; One controls the money of the family, and  only gives the other little money (maybe even not enough for eating).

This is more than a simple conflict between a couple, it is a new kind of home violence-cold violence.

“Cold violence is on the increase. It’s more often to occur in white collars families,” said Chen Chun, the director of Legal Aid Center of Chenghai,

Chen, in her late thirties, is a female lawyer in Shantou  who has helped dozens of women to deal with  home violence in her 15 year career as an attorney. The Legal Aid Center for which she works, a low cost legal aid service, has received more than 100 cases in total; 70% of  are concerned with women who have suffered domestic abuse.

Chen, a graduate of Zhongshan University, passed up opportunities to work in Shenzhen and Guangzhou to champion causes of social justice in Shantou.  She has worked to provide safe places to stay for women — many of whom are migrants married to local men —  who face domestic violence.

Chen says that cold violence can do as much damage — or more — than physical abuse because it is not punishable by law.

“Cold violence is much more horrible than physical abuse in the marriage,” added Chen. “Not  telling the bad things of your marriage to others is no longer suitable for today.”

According to China Daily, Hou Zhiming, director of the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center (a nonprofit organization based in Beijing) said rather than physical, cold violence was psychological abuse which involved such things as verbal attacks, disregarding a partner’s views or imposing economic controls on them.

According to the popular theory of marriage law in China, there are three kind of violence in marriage-physical abuse, sexual violence and cold violence. Cold violence is the update version of domestic violence, which can lead people to feel anxious, depressive and even kill themselves.

The term “cold violence” has emerged over the past ten years. However, this kind of domestic abuse is becoming a trend in the post-1980s generation who has a higher average level of education. In the past, it was regarded as domestic affairs. Nevertheless, as it is more and more common, some provinces consider making law to protect family members’ rights.

China’s Marriage Law describes a lot about physical abuse, but only mentions that couples could not hurt the other in psychology. “Cold violence does not have obvious appearance, so it’s very hard to confirm it is really exist,” said Chen. She felt frustrated to recognize it’s so hard to help women to get rid of cold violence.

One of Chen’ client was a woman lived in Chenghai (Chen declined to give the woman’s name in order to protect her.) The husband didn’t talk to the woman for more than one year because she couldn’t give birth to a baby. The woman couldn’t bear her husband ignoring her for such a long time that she got mental disease. She had been ill for more than two years and finally divorced her husband. As there were no prove of cold violence using, the woman couldn’t get anything.

Like this poor woman, about one-third of China’s 267 million families have experienced some form of domestic violence, a recent survey by the All-China Women’s Federation found. About 88% of China’s couples didn’t talk to each other after quarreling for days or even months, according a recent survey by China’s Law Association.

Some provinces had been considered to make law about the cold violence. From the year 2005, Beijing Women’s Federation had been trying to make a regulation about this and had set up 19 Women’s Legal Aid Center. Receiving more case about women asking for help about cold violence, Zhejiang had even made a regulation about domestic abuse and wanted to put cold violence in it on March, 2009.

Chen is encouraged that people are paying attention to cold violence, however she think it hard to make a law about this more private area. “Even if there is a law, it’s almost impossible to really put it into force,” said Chen.

However she was optimistic about reducing cold violence. “Maybe the next generation or our grandson’s generation would be able to find a solution to prevent cold violence. What women should do now is survive on our own by becoming more independent in thinking and financially,” added Chen.