Taiwan’s temples smoke out joss sticks

TAIPEI: The bearded deity Guan Yu, flanked by other deities who represent righteousness, brotherhood and victory in war, presides over worshippers who kneel before his altar at the Xingtian Temple.

But devotees at the prayer grounds in the heart of Taipei’s Zhongshan district do not pay respects to the Taoist God of War in the traditional way, which is by lighting joss sticks or burning paper offerings.

Instead, they clasp their hands and bow their heads to pray.

Only temple helpers are allowed to light environmentally-friendly joss sticks that emit less smoke for a daily blessing ritual.

“People come here to pray for better lives and good health… it would be counterproductive for them to be breathing in smoke and ash that can harm their bodies,” said temple elder Wu Yueh-yu, who spearheaded the move to stop devotees from lighting joss sticks in 2014.

Other temples are also going green. Among them is one of Taiwan’s oldest and most popular temples, Longshan Temple. It recently limited each devotee to one joss stick and reduced the number of joss-stick holders from seven to one.

The ground-up efforts are accompanied by the government’s push to reduce the burning of joss sticks and paper offerings to improve Taiwan’s air quality.

From next year, it is also looking to tighten the inspection of imported incense products to ensure they do not contain large amounts of chemicals that produce harmful air pollutants.


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