Lien is a redesign of the Taiwanese practice of burning joss paper to honor the deceased. It offers a zero-waste, all-inclusive package that fulfills the cultural needs of traditional, 49-day funerary rituals.
Student Designer: Jupone Wang Faculty: Heidrun Mumper Drumm and Fridolin Beisert
An intervention reflecting rare cultural sensitivity, combining that with a concern for the environment. The positive impact could have a ripple effect beyond one ritual, into the society for which this ritual has such importance.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
In Taiwan, family members burn joss paper to ensure safe passage for loved ones into the spiritual world. This has been an intrinsic part of Taiwanese culture since the 17th Century. Unfortunately, modern joss paper is factory-made, using furniture industry byproducts. This makes the paper more affordable but highly toxic. Tests show modern joss paper causes cancer, skin irritation, and respiratory diseases. However, the lowered cost reduces the perceived value, and to compensate, people buy and burn more. Each year, Taiwan consumes 100,000 tons of joss paper and the demand is still growing. Due to health and safety concerns, Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency tries in vain to phase out the tradition.
I was very excited to take on the challenge of updating a tradition that is such an inherent part of our culture and to make it relevant and valuable to future generations.
The goals for this project were to eliminate toxic emissions, preserve the core of the tradition, engage the younger generation, revitalize local paper industry, elevate the value of single sheets of joss paper, and have a positive impact on society and the environment.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Instead of just eliminating negative associations with the practice, I wanted to revamp the tradition so that it becomes a positive representative of Taiwanese culture, embodying the values that are important to younger generations.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
This project was designed for grieving families to use during traditional funerary rituals. The interests of younger generations were considered to ensure the culture continues to be passed on. Production would be established in small towns in Taiwan to revitalize the joss paper industry and provide local jobs.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The project began with a life-cycle analysis of existing joss paper. From the analysis, I learned that modern joss paper is produced by soaking furniture manufacturing byproducts in nitric acid. During drying and burning, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds are released that cause cancer, skin irritation, and respiratory diseases. I sent a sample of the paper to EMS Laboratories to be screened for heavy metals. The results showed unsafe levels of Barium and Zinc. Despite harsh environmental and health impacts, demand is still growing. The belief reinforced by funeral homes and temples is, “The more you burn, the more you care.” This led to the idea of a zero-waste, all-inclusive package that limits excessive behavior.
Aside from using non-toxic paper, I wanted the ritual of burning joss paper to benefit the environment. I studied and practiced traditional paper-making techniques, exploring how to embed the paper with nutrients. This led to the creation of clean-burning joss paper infused with tea leaves. When burned, tea leaves become a great source of potassium for plants.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Lien is a sustainable ritual that has a positive impact on society and the environment.
The first shop will be in the small town of Puli, Taiwan. Puli is known for its superior handmade paper. It is also actively funding cultural preservation programs. With Lien, citizens are encouraged to participate in the building of the shop and its sustainable tree farm as well as paper production. Participants are given a share of the company. This provides local jobs, revitalizes the paper industry, puts a positive new face on the tradition, preserves culturally important rituals, and reinforces bond between people and culture. This ritual helps with the grieving process and brings family closer together in a communal activity. The all-organic and non-toxic paper is safe to burn with no harmful health effects. All ash created during the 49-day ritual is buried around the tomb as fertilizer, reintroducing valuable nutrients back into earth.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
If given the chance, I would include in the package natural dyes and stamps to push further the idea that the paper is meant to be personalized, enhancing its value through customization.