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Lucy Gilder

Fieldwork in Taipei

My purpose in Taipei was to investigate the aftermath of the November 2018 referendum on same-sex marriage, which, to the surprise of many, failed to pass. In the decades leading up to the referendum, Taiwan had come to be seen as an anomaly in East Asian politics. While still preserving many elements of its traditional culture, Taiwan had embraced human rights discourse and was home to the largest gay pride festival across the whole continent. I wanted to find out why, with the rejection of same-sex marriage, the Taiwanese appeared to break with this liberal trajectory. Specifically, I wanted to learn about the strategies used by activist groups in the run up to the referendum and how these may reflect a distinctly East Asian type of grassroots politics. A huge factor in the referendum was the China dilemma, so I was also interested in finding out how campaigns for independence might have interlinked with demands for gay rights. Throughout my fieldwork I spoke to key individuals with a variety of thoughts on the matter, from a pro-independence legislator to the island’s most formidable gay rights activist.

 

A Rainbow Amidst Grey

1 A Rainbow Amidst Grey
Two LGBTQ flags flutter in a quiet Taipei neighbourhood. These small, unassuming symbols of the gay rights movement in Taiwan; almost hidden amongst the clutter of cars and grey apartment blocks, reflect the status of Taiwan in Asia. Given its small size and lack of international influence, it would be easy to overlook the island in favour of its dominant neighbours, China and Japan. Yet upon closer inspection the uniqueness of Taiwan and its flourishing democracy stands out – its liberal politics remain unmatched by any other Asian government.

 

 

 

 

Qing Ming Celebrations

2 Qing Ming Celebrations copy
Elderly Taiwanese celebrate ‘Qing Ming’ festival by burning small pieces of paper inside a large furnace. The paper represents money and is delivered to ancestors to ensure their prosperity in the afterlife. Known as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’ in English, this annual celebration involves millions of Chinese and Taiwanese returning to the tombs of their ancestors in order pay their respects and fulfil their filial duties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lanterns at the Night Market

3 MazuNight markets are a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike in Taipei. As well as celebrating local food culture, many night markets feature a grandly ornate temple where people can pay homage to ancestors or pray for success in a particular area of their life. This temple, Songshan Ciyou, is dedicated to ‘Mazu’ - a Taoist sea goddess. A year prior to the referendum a gay rights demonstration saw activists halt along their street march while gripping the edges of a giant rainbow flag. Standing deadly still, they told the gathering crowds that Mazu stood before them, blessing their protest. This moment exemplifies one way in which Taiwanese grassroots movements draw on traditional culture, in order to localise their cause against accusations of gay rights representing a form of Western interference.