Sun, Oct 08, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Dismantling history, brick by brick

The planned relocation of the then-195 year old Lin An Tai Old House created quite a stir in 1977, with history experts and enthusiasts scrambling to stop the government’s plans

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A child roams through a rock garden behind the Lin An Tai Old House in 2011.

Photo: Lin Hsiang-mei, Taipei Times

Oct. 9 to Oct. 15

The windows and furniture went first, then each roof tile, truss, brick and finally the stone floor panels. In November of 1978, the then-195 year old Lin An Tai Old House (林安泰古厝) was gone — but not demolished.

Luckily, the government’s decision to remove the house came during a time when historic preservation was becoming a hot topic. Instead of razing the house, all parts were carefully labeled and numbered so it could one day be put together again.

However, since it was the first undertaking of its kind in Taiwan, things did not go as smoothly as anticipated, and the 10km move to its new site took 10 years to complete, with only a third of the original courtyard compound rebuilt.

Perhaps environmental activist and current Taipei Clean Government and Transparency Commission (台北市廉政透明委員會) member Ma Yi-kung (馬以工) was right: after the plan was unveiled on Oct. 11, 1977, she wrote in the book, Goodbye Lin An Tai (再見林安泰), that “there is no way the entire house could be restored to its former glory with such a hasty plan.”

SAVING HISTORY

Lee Chia-lin (李家琳) writes in the book, Introduction to Cultural Heritage and its Regulations (文化資產概論與法規) that the the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) completely ignored historic preservation when it first arrived, their main focus was to solidify their rule and focus on economic development.

Rapid industrialization and urbanization in the 1950s and 1960s led to the destruction of countless historic sites, which alarmed many scholars. Since the KMT was only concerned with promoting Chinese culture, Lee writes that preservationists argued that historic buildings were built by people who originally came from China and thus were worthy of attention.

The “movement” to save old buildings took off in the 1970s, with notable events such as the restoration of the Lin Family Garden and the successful resistance to the government’s attempt to raze the Changhua Confucius Temple.

Ma was actually elated when she first heard in 1976 that the government was planning to move the Lin An Tai house to the planned Taipei Zoo in order to extend Dunhua South Road (敦化南路) to meet Heping East Road (和平東路).

“We’ve been too used to seeing old houses replaced by modern apartments,” she writes in the book. “At least this shows that society is now paying attention to cultural progress and historical value.”

But when she met with the Taipei City Government to discuss the plans in March 1977, she realized that there was no plan, nor were the officials confident that they could pull off the relocation.

This news garnered the attention of scholars, historians and cultural experts, who all made attempts to stop the government. Of course, there was also a camp who advocated modernization and removal of all things old. The city officials argued that since the house was not listed among Taipei’s official historic sites, it did not have legal protection.

Ma and the other scholars were furious. They later learned that the building was indeed surveyed during the making of the list in 1973, but since it was already in the way of the planned Dunhua South Road extension, the city government intentionally left it out.

After much back and forth over the following few months, the final decision came down for the building to be removed by the end of October 1978.

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