Drawing on ethnography from Mazu, a group of demilitarized islands between China and Taiwan, this article argues that contemporary pilgrimage is an imaginative work that generates hope and potentialities for the increasingly marginalized islanders. I explore the imaginative qualities of the rituals, qualities that I refer to collectively as “virtual recentralization.” “Recentralization” connotes the islanders' longing to regain their Cold War status as the focal point between China and Taiwan, even though the desired goal can only be “virtual” as cross-strait tensions continue to diminish. These pilgrimages, with their eclectic, improvisatory, and novel forms, differ from traditional pilgrimages in important ways: rather than transmitting permanent and solid religious values, they are oriented towards performance and are imbued with elements of fiction and fantasy. They are the means by which the Mazu islanders, in this neoliberal era, imagine their future, reconfigure political, economic, and religious space, and forge new connections between China, Taiwan, and even the wider world.
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