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Thu, Feb 22, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Officials do nothing as temple rots

HISTORIC SITE Thirty years after the city acquired the Tung Ho Zen Temple and it's bell tower, the restoration has yet to begin and buildings continue to encroach

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

A giant 71-year-old bell hangs in the bell tower of the Tung Ho Zen Temple.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

For years, Master Yuan Ling (源靈師父) of Taipei's Tung Ho Zen Temple (東和禪寺) has been longing for a few simple things: a decent gate and the restoration of his temple's nearby bell tower. But for 30 years the government has kept him waiting.

"What we're asking for isn't very much. We've waited so long and still no progress has been made," Master Yuan Ling said.

And while he has waited for the restoration's approval, the government has gradually moved in on the land surrounding the temple, even after the tower was designated a municipal historic landmark in 1997.

The city's Bureau of Cultural Affairs has been reviewing plans for the restoration, but say that until their review is completed, money for the project cannot be dispensed.

"We'll start the second round of the reviewing process next Wednesday. If everything goes well, the restoration project should be completed in July," Li Bin (李斌), deputy director of the cultural affairs bureau, said.

In response, Taipei City Councilor Lee Hsin (李新) of the New Party and People First Party (PFP) lawmaker Josephine Chu (朱惠良) toured the temple complex yesterday demanding that the city government take immediate action and respect Master Yuan Ling's wishes.

"Since the City Council has already approved the NT$24 million budget for the restoration of the bell tower, there's no point in withholding the money," Lee said.

"Historical landmarks are the roots of every culture. If they're not well taken care of, the culture is a rootless one," Lee said.

Construction on the temple complex, located at the intersection of Linsen South Road and Jenai Road, first began in 1908. It originally covered an area of 4,500 pings (or 14,850m2) and consisted of the Soto Zen Center (曹洞宗台北別院), the Kuanyin Zen House (觀音禪堂), the Taipei Junior High School (台北中學), and the bell tower.

The bell tower and the Tung Ho Zen Temple are the only two remaining buildings in the complex. The temple was originally called the the Kuanyin Zen House, and was renamed in 1946, about the same time that the complex and the land it was built on were donated by the Japanese colonial owners to the temple's former master, Master Hsin Yuan (心源老師父).

The central government tried to acquire the land from Master Hsin. But Hsin remained unwilling to part with the complex, so cultural officials had to wait until April 1970, one month after the 89-year-old master died.

Since it took-over, the area of the complex has gradually shrunk to 700 pings (or 2,310 m2) due to a large number of illegal buildings.

The most recent encroachment on the temple's land is a new bathroom pink 10-floor building called the Taipei Municipal Youth Recreation Center (台北市立青少年育樂中心), 50m away from the bell tower.

The center cost the city over NT$1 billion to build and is slated to be opened to the public in July. Meanwhile, Master Yuan Ling's temple and the bell tower continue to deteriorate.

While the 71-year-old tower was designated a municipal historical landmark in 1997, the city has failed to take any rehabilitative action, doing little to maintain the Japanese-style two-story building. The building is now filled with only dead birds and their droppings.

PFP lawmaker Chu has called on the city's Bureau of Cultural Affairs (文化局) to conduct a survey on the current condition of all of the city's municipal historic relics.

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