A Washington state park dedicated to Chinese goddess Mazu is finally in progress after years of effort

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  • The effort to build a Washington state park dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of the Sea, Mazu, took a step forward on Aug. 30 when King County and the North American Mazu Cultural Exchange Association signed an agreement for the plan.
  • Describing Mazu as a “compassionate mother figure,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said the agreement would “explore the feasibility of creating” the park in King County.
  • “As new Chinese immigrants traveled to new lands, they would erect structures to honor Mazu for bringing them across the sea safely,” Constantine said. “And many now appeal to Mazu for other blessings.”
  • Before becoming the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu was believed to be born Lin Mo Naing. Described as a very intelligent child with a photographic memory, Lin Naing learned the art of healing before her training as a Buddhist and later a Taoist monk.
  • She was reportedly known for saving fishermen and died in the process of rescuing people.

The Asian community in King County, Washington, recently celebrated the proclamation of Mazu Day in King County on Sept. 9 and the moving forward of the plan to build a park dedicated to the Chinese goddess in the county.

Addressing a crowd of 110 people, mostly consisting of groups affiliated with China and Taiwan with strong ties to China, at the China Harbor Restaurant in Seattle on Aug. 30, Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce Director Felicity Wang described the Chinese Goddess of the Sea as someone like Jesus.

Among the attendees at the event were King County Executive Dow Constantine, Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-WA), King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci, Bellevue Deputy Mayor Jared Nieuwenhuis and others.

The signing of the agreement

Besides the proclamation for Mazu day, the event also hosted the signing of the agreement between King County and the North American Mazu Cultural Exchange Association to build a park for Mazu.

Describing Mazu as a “compassionate mother figure,” Constantine said the agreement would “explore the feasibility of creating” the park in King County.

As new Chinese immigrants traveled to new lands, they would erect structures to honor Mazu for bringing them across the sea safely,” Constantine said before turning to Wang and adding, “And many now appeal to Mazu for other blessings.”

Wang turned and prayed to Mazu when she went through chemotherapy earlier this year, Northwest Asian Weekly reported.

Mazu “symbolizes the transcendence of earthly boundaries, protecting and helping people across cultures,” Balducci said, adding, “We’re taking a big step in honoring our Chinese and Taiwanese communities—and really, pan-Asian communities.”

During her opening remarks, Wang noted that the building of the park “is not political, it would not belong to China or Taiwan or Japan, it is for the global community, everybody who believes in her will be there.”

Zhao Qiliang, president of the Shandong Mazu Cultural Exchange Association, said in Chinese that the goal of the association is to “promote culture, travel, and other activities.”

Who is Mazu, Goddess of the Sea?

According to Wang, Mazu was originally a woman born on an island off the coast of Fujian Province, China. She is known by many names or epithets in Chinese mythology, such as Ma-Tsu, A-ma, Motherly Matriarch and Daughter of the Dragon, to name a few.

Before becoming the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu was believed to be born Lin Mo Naing in the 10th century. Described as a very intelligent child with a photographic memory, Lin Naing learned the art of healing before her training as a Buddhist and later a Taoist monk. She also trained in martial arts.

She was reportedly known for saving fishermen and died in the process of rescuing shipwreck survivors.

There are currently over 5,000 temples around the world dedicated to the Chinese goddess. People hold two celebrations every year in her honor. The first one is during her birthday on the 23rd day of the third lunar month, and another on her death anniversary, which lands on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.

Efforts to build the park

The effort to build Mazu Park began when Andy Chin, the former director of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Seattle, Taiwan’s unofficial representative office, started discussing the idea with King County in 2015, Wang recalled.

After Chin’s term ended in 2016, Wang continued the drive and dedicated herself to the effort. Wang recalled the struggle she encountered when speaking with officials about the statue.

Wang said an official resented how some local politicians supported the effort to build a Mazu statue in the county, asking her, “‘Are you using these politicians to pressure us?”

Another challenge that Wang faced was the contention that she was trying to establish a religious site, which she countered with a 2009 United Nations document declaring Mazu was a cultural tradition and not religious.

Wang recalled a park official telling her, “If I approve this for you since it’s the first cultural park, then India will want one, Thailand will want one,” after she protested that Mazu is not religious.

The effort was put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and in 2021, Wang assumed the leadership role of the Mazu Association in Seattle.

The Mazu Park, set to be called the “Mazu Compassion with Wisdom Center,” was initially intended to take a space in Marymoor Park in Bellevue and will contain a 29- and 32-foottall statue of the Chinese Goddess of the Sea, a pavilion with cultural information.

Wang noted that if the space becomes unavailable, the association will find another one for the park.

Besides the park, Wang also revealed plans that connect the Mazu Compassion with Wisdom Center with other tours in Mazu temples in Taiwan, other sites in India and the goddess’ birthplace.

As for the building cost, the temple where Mazu was born would also help raise money for the construction.

Right now, the United States is in a very difficult situation, we are losing our way. Peace has taken a back seat to fighting and boisterous arguments,” Hasegawa said at the event. “So I think it’s really timely that Mazu draws attention and blessings to the United States. We do need to find a pathway to peace.”

 

Featured Image via malinhett (CC BY 3.0)

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