The Chinese goddess of the sea, Mazu, is big business in Taiwan, and blockchain could make it even bigger.
Known as the protector of seafarers and worshiped by Chinese communities around the world for centuries, the deity Mazu is especially popular in Taiwan. The Dajia Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung City hosts an annual 300-kilometre run nine day pilgrimage with a statue of the goddess that attracts hundreds of thousands of followers.
Pilgrimages and related festivals have formed what is known as the “Mazu economy”, which refers to donations and spending on Mazu-themed merchandise and business opportunities revolving around the religion.
Dajia Jenn Lann Temple, which dates back to the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, has decided to add a Web 3.0 element to its activities. It involves minting and selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of the sea goddess that act as a priority pass for the pilgrimage that usually occurs in the spring.
“According to estimates, the nine-day pilgrimage may generate more than NT$5 billion (US$163 million) in spending. On the day Mazu returned to the home temple, we saw about 500,000 people join the pilgrimage,” said Mingkun Cheng, vice chairman of the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple board. Forkast.
More young people are joining the pilgrimage, which is why the MazuDAO NFTs appeal to them, Cheng said.
Many traditional cultural activities are adapting to digital and technological innovation, said Mao-Hsien Lin, an associate professor in the department of Taiwanese languages and literature at National Taichung University of Education. Forkast.
However, Lin, who researches Mazu’s religion, said many older followers aren’t so sure about the developments.
“They prefer physical contact and direct contact with the statue of the deities,” Lin said. They are not so sure that if they worship online, the deities are also online to hear their prayers.
However, Lin said that the pilgrimage priority benefit for NFT holders might not be too appealing to traditional believers.
“Usually when we pray, the distance between you and the statue doesn’t really matter. It’s not like you get special treatment if you’re closer,” she added. “It’s getting a bit too commercialized.”
To tap into the traditional believer market, the NFT project team organized offline marketing campaigns, a different approach from most NFT projects that prioritize online marketing channels.
Jerry Yan, MazuDAO project leader, said Forkast that many older supporters didn’t even own a smartphone and “lived largely in a Web 0.0 world.”
“We had to set up promotional booths in front of the temple to introduce MazuDAO NFT to those Web0 believers,” Yan said, adding that they also needed a landline customer service team because it was the only way to reach the temple’s older followers. .
“Often over the phone we would ask them to call their grandchildren to help and set up crypto wallets on their behalf.”
Cheng said the temple authorized some online sellers to use its Mazu intellectual property to manufacture merchandise for sale on its MazuBuyBuy e-commerce platform.
Lin, the researcher, said Mazu has become a highly commercialized intellectual property in Taiwan, with Mazu-themed products in convenience stores and major online shopping sites.
“Again, I think a large part of the essence of religion lies in offering that mental comfort to believers. It’s not necessarily a good thing if it’s overly commercialized,” Lin said. “If we see the deity as a business generator, she would lose the sense of divinity.”
Still, Cheng of the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple said the temple’s annual pilgrimages have attracted an increasing number of young people, with many posting videos of the festival and pilgrimage on social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.
A Taiwan-based Korean YouTuber (known as Korean Kimchengu, literally “Korean enoki mushroom”) joined the pilgrimage last year and made a video which has garnered more than 580,000 hits.
Logan Beck, an American YouTuber based in Taiwan, also uploaded a video of the 2021 pilgrimage, which already has more than 405,000 views.