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Session B4
Electric Flower Cars in Taiwan: Modernist Traditionalism, Traditionalist Modernity
Marc Moskowitz
Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, USA

Electric Flower Cars (dianzihuache 電子花車) are trucks that have been converted to moving stages so that women can sing, dance, and at times strip, as the vehicles follow along with funerals or religious processions. Electric Flower Cars came to Taiwan's widespread public attention in 1980 when newspapers began sensationalizing the phenomenon, but there are records of women stripping at temple events that date back to approximately a century earlier. Today there is a great deal of debate about whether this practice should be allowed to continue. Electric Flower Cars are seen as backwards and provincial by educated urbanites who frame much of their lives around participation in a perceived global culture. This association with tradition is reified because Electric Flower Cars usually appear in religious events, such as pilgrimages and funeral processions, that can trace their history back hundreds of years. Yet in watching these performances, it is hard not to be struck by their visual representation of modernity. The very technology of Electric Flower Cars speaks to contemporary mechanized life; flashing lights, karaoke equipment, and Stage Car diesel trucks’ hydraulic engines that set up the stage, are but a few examples of this. Electric Flower Cars embody an overwhelming visual pastiche ranging from the ornate stages to the attire and self presentation of the performers themselves. This is a commitment to local rather than global cultural practice, but as with so much of Taiwan’s local identity formation, it is saturated with foreign symbology. Performers sing songs in Hokkien and Mandarin Chinese, English, and Japanese—a testament to Taiwan’s complex political and economic history, as well as its contemporary cultural hybridity. As such, an appreciation of Electric Flower Cars is a marker of modernist traditionalism while at the same moment evincing an ethos of traditionalist modernism.