Bell ringing ceremony 2016 (photo by ROC presidential office via Flickr)

On Lunar New Year’s Eve (春節除夕夜) the Taiwan’s President Ts’ai Ying-wen and her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou attended a ceremony on Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山), an influential Buddhist foundation located in Jinshan district, New Taipei City.

Since 2007 Taiwanese presidents have taken part in the Dharma Bell Ringing Assembly (撞鐘祈福法會), during which believers pray for good luck and ring a massive bell.

According to 2005 estimates, about 35% of Taiwan’s population are Buddhists, making it the first most widespread religion on the island, ahead of Taoism (33%).

The ceremony was attended by Taiwanese president Ts’ai Ying-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), by former president Ma Ying-jeou of the Guomindang and by incumbent Guomindang chairman Wu Tun-I.

Ma Ying-jeou attended the ceremony for the first time in 2008 as a presidential candidate, alongside his DPP opponent Hsieh Ch’ang-t’ing.

The Dharma Bell Ringing Assembly has become an occasion for leaders of political parties to promote themselves.

President Ts’ai supports a Taiwan-centric policy that is opposed to unification with China. In her speech at the Assembly she prayed for “prosperity and tranquillity” (國泰民安), for Taiwan’s development and progress.

Ma Ying-jeou, by contrast, prayed for the prosperity of the Republic of China (ROC), which is Taiwan’s official name, and for “cross-strait relations and peace,” a reference to relations with China.

While the DPP rejects China’s claim that Taiwan is part of its territory, the Guomindang seeks closer ties to Beijing and eventual unification.