Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Group to take action against local officials over kilns

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The remnants of Szufang and Pakua kilns in Miaoli County are pictured on Tuesday.

PHOTO: PENG CHIEN-LI, TAIPEI TIMES

After the Miaoli County Government razed three kilns that served as the last witness to the county’s once-prosperous pottery industry, preservationists set up a commemorative Web site and pledged to take action against county government officials who backed down from an agreement with the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) to postpone the demolition.

“This is not the time for us to mourn: We must keep fighting,” Yang Chang-chen (楊長鎮), a Miaoli native and long-time activist for local culture preservation, wrote in a message posted on the site.

Yang said he would write a petition to the Control Yuan, requesting a probe into Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) and potential impeachment.

The three kilns were located in Miaoli’s Houlong Township (後龍) and were surrounded by rice fields and farms.

The area had a flourishing industry producing pottery, china, tiles and bricks during the Japanese colonial period.

As the nation’s economy developed, the old-fashioned labor-intensive kilns that once dotted the area became outdated. Eventually they were either closed, demolished or turned into factories that produce pottery with modern technology and equipment.

In 2003, however, the county government said it would build a station for the high-speed rail nearby and drew up an urban development project to turn the surrounding area into a transportation hub and high-tech industrial zone.

After the plans were drawn up, a county cultural heritage assessment commission said the three remaining old-style kilns were not of “enough historic value for preservation” and could be torn down.

Local historians and activists were upset by the decision and formed the Alliance to Rescue the Historic Kilns of Miaoli.

More than 50 civic groups across the country and nearly 600 individuals signed a petition asking the authorities to preserve the kilns.

“Miaoli can only become an attractive place for visitors if we preserve all these places with history and memory,” Den Shui-hui (鄧淑慧), founder of the alliance and owner of a traditional snake-shaped kiln in nearby Jhunan Township (竹南) told the Taipei Times via telephone.

“These kilns were hand-built and each of the bricks used was hand-made,” Den said.

“Many of the bricks actually bear some kind of mark on them and each mark has a story behind it,” Den said.

Den is also a researcher who has authored eight books on kilns in Miaoli.

The activists took their case to the CCA.

Last Tuesday, the council said it would ask the Miaoli County Government to halt the demolition and wait for the results of further negotiations with the activists.

Despite all the efforts, two of the three kilns were torn down on Thursday.

On the same day, the council released a statement expressing regret over the demolition and said it had reached an agreement with the county government to “postpone demolition until after a negotiation meeting on Jan. 14 to spare the remaining bun-shaped kiln.”

The last kiln, however, was torn down on Friday.

“We demand apologies from the CCA and County Commissioner Liu and we demand that the head of the county’s International Culture and Tourism Bureau, Lin Chen-feng [林振豐], step down. We’ll also sue him,” Den said.

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