Sat, Feb 28, 2009 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Old village wins preservation battle

‘IMPORTANT SETTLEMENT’ Residents of Chungshe Village finally obtained government protection of their unique homes, but their victory might be a hollow one

By Elizabeth Hsu  /  CNA

Old houses are pictured in Chungshe Village on Penghu’s Wang’an Islet on Thursday. The Council for Cultural Affairs has agreed to list the village’s cluster of old coral-built houses as an “important settlement.”

PHOTO: CNA

It was a small victory hardly mentioned by the mainstream media, but in the opinion of Penghu residents, a giant step toward saving an important piece of history.

On Dec. 23 last year, the Council for Cultural Affairs agreed to list a cluster of old coral-built houses in Chungshe Village (中社) on Penghu’s Wang’an Islet (望安島) as an “important settlement,” after several decades of efforts by local residents to obtain government protection of the centuries-old homes.

The quiet Chungshe Village, which locals call by its ancient name Hua Zhai (花宅), or “Flower Village,” is believed to have existed as a settlement since Han immigrants from China began settling there many centuries ago.

The new designation for Hua Zhai may finally bring about much-needed government support for the challenging work of preserving the houses in the village, which is considered the largest and most well-preserved early Han settlement in Taiwan.

“Chungshe residents have waited for more than 20 years for this moment,” said Tzeng Ching-hsin (曾敬信), secretary-general of the Taiwan Hua Zhai Settlement Preservation Association — a civic group founded by local residents and homeowners in 2005.

The central government’s move comes as the nation tries to attract more tourists to boost its lagging economy and as local governments are increasingly recognizing that what tourists want to see is not tall new buildings, but traditional houses that teach them something about local culture and history.

Over the past two decades, residents have made repeated requests to government offices seeking government restrictions against destroying the homes and funding to preserve them — but to no avail.

Chungshe Village’s cultural significance

• The village is believed to have existed since Han immigrants began settling there centuries ago and is considered the largest and most well-preserved early Han settlement in Taiwan.

• More than half of the approximately 150 old houses have been damaged or destroyed.

• Only some 50 structures remain intact.

source: CNA


While waiting for government protection over the years, Hua Zhai has paid the price, Tzeng said, as more than half of the village’s approximately 150 old houses were either inadvertently damaged or intentionally destroyed by residents who preferred to build new homes with modern conveniences. Although some 50 structures remain intact, the landscape has partly been marred by the new buildings.

Harsh weather has also taken a toll. In the summer of last year alone, three powerful typhoons badly damaged the village, as many of the dwellings’ holed roofs provided little protection against rainfall.

Yet the settlement is fertile ground for renovation because most of the houses, which date back 75 to 150 years, have not been modified and reflect designs handed down from early Han settlers.

In a 2006 survey of the village, the Foundation of Historic City Conservation and Regeneration found that of the village’s 158 buildings, 73 percent had not been changed in any way.

Ironically, the village’s remote location and an exodus of people looking for work in more populated areas have been critical to preserving its unique identity.

“A serious population outflow is the reason why Chungshe has been able to keep its original appearance,” association chairman Yen Hsin-hsiung (顏信雄) said.

Even today, some of the 100 remaining villagers — mostly senior citizens and children — live the same way their ancestors did, fishing, collecting seaweed and ­growing their own food.

“They take what nature offers,” foundation director-general Chang Yu-huang (張玉璜) said. “It is the old wisdom of living in harmony with nature that is valuable and deserves to be preserved, protected and passed on.”

This story has been viewed 2276 times.
TOP top