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Taiwanese paper funeral offerings set to dazzle southern France

  • Date:2019-12-21~2020-07-05
© Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts

An exhibition that offers an up-close look at Taiwanese beliefs surrounding the afterlife will be underway at the Museum of Asian Arts (Musée départemental des Arts asiatiques) in Nice, France's fifth largest city, from Dec. 21, 2019 to July 5, 2020, featuring sophisticated paper-mache sculptures that will eventually go up in flames.

Visitors will come upon the creations of two Taipei-based paper studios, Hsin Hsin Joss Paper Culture (新興糊紙文化) and Skea. The items selected for display include a "house for the afterlife (靈厝, also known as a 'spirit house')" — a bamboo-framed sculpture resembling a traditional temple with its carved pillars and dragon sculptures. A paper portrait of the deceased can also be seen inside the house, along with a property deed.

Dating back to the eighth century in China, the ritual of burning paper offerings took root in Taiwan and has since evolved over time. The realistic replicas of sedan chairs, traditionally a private mode of transportation, were replaced by private jets, yachts, and limousines. The chair bearers, maids, and servants, meanwhile, were succeeded by personal security guards and drivers. The purpose of paper funeral items, however, remains the same — to ensure that loved ones enjoy a lavish trip to heaven.

The exhibition titled "Palace Paradis" will not only showcase modern-day gadgets such as wireless headphones or laptops made of paper, the paper statue of Da Shi Yeh (大士爺, meaning "King of Ghosts"), will also make an appearance in Nice with his wrathful look accentuated by the flames spurting from his mouth.

Through the cremation of these ephemeral yet realistic replicas, earthly pleasures are hoped to be sampled in the afterlife. Such ideas can be traced back as far as the Warring States period (481–221 BC) in China, where arrays of pottery items mirroring important aspects of one's mortal life were found in tombs from that era.

Made possible by Julien Rousseau, the director of Quai Branly Museum's (Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac) Asian Heritage Collections, Taiwan Cultural Center in Paris, and the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, "Palace Paradis" first traveled to France in June this year as Quai Branly Museum's first-ever major showcase on traditional Taiwanese culture.

The French-language press release is available here.

June 9 Update: The exhibition, which was halted halfway per coronavirus control efforts, has moved its end date from March 19 to July 5, 2020