How Communist China is using the Sea Goddess to make inroads into Taiwan?

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulDec 22, 2023 | 08:00

How Communist China is using the Sea Goddess to make inroads into Taiwan?

Taiwan believes Mazu religious centres in rural areas are target. Photo: Getty

Communist China, an atheist state, has reportedly been engaging with religious groups in rural Taiwan. This engagement has escalated as the Republic of China prepares for general elections in January 2024.

According to Reuters, citing Taiwan government documents and security officials, the CCP seems to be utilizing religious exchanges, especially with followers of the popular 'sea goddess' Mazu, as a means to influence political opinions in its favour.


Religious diplomacy

  • Religious trips between Taiwan and mainland China have surged this year following the relaxation of China's zero-COVID policy.
  • The CCP has been emphasizing the worship of Mazu, a deity with a significant following in Taiwan, for intelligence gathering and recruitment of sympathisers.
  • Reuters reports reveal active efforts by the CCP to establish ties with religious institutions, offering incentives such as subsidized trips to China.
  • At least five Taiwanese Mazu temple associations reportedly have connections with their Chinese counterparts, all overseen by the Religious Affairs Administration.
  • Experts believe that the CCP sees rural temples as effective channels for shaping public opinion due to their influence on grassroots life. Connecting with the rural population provides the CCP "an edge over urban religious centers," according to Taiwanese academic Wen Tsung-han, as reported by Reuters.
  • Focus Taiwan reported that in November 2023, some members of a delegation from Meizhou Island in China's Fujian,
  • Mazu's birthplace, were detained in Taiwan after 218 were deemed "non-religious." The delegation was invited by more than 100 temples in Taiwan, reported Focus Taiwan.

The timing

  • China's strategic engagement with Mazu worshipers is perceived as part of Beijing's broader efforts to influence the upcoming January 13 presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan.

  • The CCP's influence over the Mazu faith in Taiwan is facilitated through its Religious Affairs Administration, overseen by the CCP's United Front Work Department.

  • A Taiwanese intelligence report cited by Reuters indicates that China regards this faith, closely linked with Beijing, as the "axis" of its influence operations.



  • Mainland China's attempts to foster religious ties have met resistance, with Taiwan intensifying monitoring of major temples and religious figures suspected of CCP ties.
  • "Taiwan has increased monitoring of religious activities with China, including Mazu," said the Mainland Affairs Council, responsible for Taiwan's relations with Beijing.
  • Some Taiwanese politicians and religious leaders advocate for stricter laws to counter Beijing's influence through religious channels.
  • "Religion should be neutral. We shouldn't take sides," mentioned Chang, a Mazu temple manager, to Reuters.
  • However, certain Taiwanese individuals, with a pro-China sentiment, believe that these religious and cultural ties could help mend relations between the two countries, separated since 1949.
  • Lin Join-sane, former chairman of the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation, told ChinaDaily, "Mazu culture is a deep-rooted homeland memory that will forever connect the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Last updated: December 22, 2023 | 08:00
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