Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Kinmen highlights its heritage

While the outlying islands is often thought of as a strategic military post, its architecture displays the unique blend of cultures and influences its residents have brought home

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

"Barbarian house" is a derogatory term referring to a traditional Chinese house with a western pediment, while the western houses with verandas in Kinmen can be characterized as "five-foot-way" buildings -- structures which have become a distinctive architectural feature in Kinmen.

Most of the western style houses were built with brick and stone. Many of the structures are decorated with colorful Victorian tiles which give many of Kinmens's structures a distinctive appearance.

One can imagine the beauty of these buildings during the island's era of wealth. However, as the owners of these western houses have settled overseas, many of the buildings have been abandoned.

"The structures need good repairs and restoration," said CCA Chairwoman Tchen Yu-chiou (陳郁秀) during an inspection trip there.

"The revitalization of cultural and historical heritage is part of the objective in the council's development scheme for the nation's creative industry," Tchen said.

By recognizing the cultural value of Kinmen, Tchen said the abundant cultural features are a potential tourism attraction for Kinmen in addition to its military attractions.

"But first of all, we need to restore the essence of these cultural and historical assets," Tchen said.

However, for Kinmen, it seems that the island's economic reliance on the "small three links," which also makes Kinmen an important transit stop across the Strait, matters far more to the people in Kinmen than cultural development.

Local cultural workers complain that "the Kinmen government put the priority of the island's development on the opening of the `small three links.'"

"Many of our cultural works have been left in a state of disrepair," a Kinmen's cultural worker said on condition of anonymity.

In addition to the western style houses built by overseas Kinmen people, traditional Minnan Chinese houses -- spread around the villages of Kinmen -- also reflect a sense of antiquity about Kinmen.

Unlike Taiwan, where most traditional houses have been torn down and replaced by modern concrete structures, the Minnan architectural features from the Fukien Province in Kinmen have been well preserved.

Some of the Minnan buildings have roofs that have sharp, pointed shapes, while others display more circular curves. Yet all of the roofs all are designed according to Chinese geomancy on the concept of the five elements: gold, wood, water, fire and earth.

In Kinmen, villages are usually formed by people who have the same ancestral relations. Almost every village has an ancestral shrine bearing the symbol of the village, which is the family name of most of the residents.

Some of these ancestral shrines were built 450 years ago.

Due to a big exodus of Kinmen immigrants in other parts of Asia, and mainly in Taiwan, the old houses are kept up or lived in by the elderly.

Some people have built new antique-style houses to ensure that the buildings blend in with the older structures.

Many old ladies are not shy about inviting tourists in for a cup of tea and snacks.

Many of their descendents moved to live and work in Taiwan, and only during the Chinese New Year or major traditional festivals, do the children return home.

"This big house accommodates all of my children and grandchildren," an old lady said. "But their lives are better in Taiwan," she said.

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