Search for “Taiwan + abortion” on Google, and you will find titles like “Taiwan’s Astonishing Abortion Rate,” “Abortions Exceed Births,” and “Taiwan has up to 500,000 Abortions in 2010“–titles that depict a culture where choosing death is an astonishingly ordinary occurrence. Most of these online articles were published in the last six months; in fact, a year or more ago when I learned by word of mouth about Taiwan’s high abortion rate, I could find very little data online about it. This is because until last summer, the most recent statistics were from over a decade ago. But on July 17, professor and pediatrician Lue Hung-chi announced in a public forum that he estimates there are 300,000 to 500,000 abortions every year in Taiwan. One article comments that if his estimate is true, “it has to be one of the highest per-capita abortion rates in the world” (“Taiwan’s Astonishing Abortion Rate“). Lue’s announcement began a long overdue discussion in Taiwan about the low birth rate and high abortion rate of recent years; rightly, these issues are of growing concern and alarm among leaders of the country.
I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts entitled “Prayers for Taiwan” about Taiwan’s culture and religion and the spiritual needs of the people. Taiwan is a country in desperate need of the Gospel. In fact, OMF, a mission organization with a strong presence in Taiwan, states that “Taiwan is recognised as the only major Chinese society where there has not yet been a significant spiritual breakthrough.” I am not in Taiwan as a church planter or an evangelist, but through my work teaching at Morrison, through volunteering with other ministries, and through my interaction with the Chinese people and culture in daily life, I am witnessing firsthand the spiritual needs of this nation. Many of you are already praying for my ministry in this place, so I feel compelled to share with you some of the specific spiritual strongholds in Taiwan so that you will know how to pray more effectively for this land.
Let’s begin by talking about “ghost month.” This morning as I was leaving for church, I noticed a large tent near the entrance to my community. I saw the same tent around this time last year and learned that it is for something called “bai-bai” (拜拜–sounds like “bye bye” in English). Every month on the first day and the fifteenth day, the Taiwanese people do “bai-bai” by burning paper money in large metal barrels and leaving food on tables outside their homes or businesses. “Bai-bai” can be translated as “paying respect, worshiping, visiting, or saluting” or as “bowing with hands together.” Boiled down to a basic definition, “bai-bai” is ancestor worship. Though it is done regularly twice a month, there are also other special times for “bai-bai” throughout the year. The seventh month of the lunar calendar (which began about a week ago) is called “ghost month” and this is one of those special times.