Lee Jung-tai (李榮台), an activist fighting for the preservation of the Puantang (普安堂) Lay Buddhist monastery, yesterday began a hunger strike outside the Ministry of Culture building, calling for its intervention as a forced demolition of the complex is scheduled to take place tomorrow.
Quietly sitting in front of the ministry’s headquarters in Taipei, holding signs urging Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) to save Puantang in Tucheng District (土城), New Taipei City (新北市), while accusing the New Taipei City Government of inaction and calling Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) a murderer of the historic sanctuary, Lee silently began her hunger strike at about 2pm yesterday.
Puantang, the only remaining original lay Buddhist monastery still in operation since the 19th century, was initially scheduled to be torn down on Monday.
However, the demolition deadline was postponed to tomorrow after three hours of negotiations between representatives from Puantang and Cih-you Temple (慈祐宮), a temple in Sinjhuang District (新莊), New Taipei City, which is registered as the owner of 300 hectares of land in Tucheng on which Puantang stands.
The issues arose because Puantang disputes Cih-you Temple’s ownership of the land, and refuses to sign a leasing contract, which led the Cih-you Temple to request a forced demolition of the complex by the court.
In addition to Puantang clergy and followers, many academics and groups have also voiced their opposition to the demolition of the monastery, citing its historical and cultural value.
“There’s the law [for protecting historical sites], and there is the manpower to enforce the law, so I think the only problem here is whether the ministry wants to do it or not,” said Huang Jui-mao (黃瑞茂), an associate professor at Tamkang University’s Department of Architecture.
“If the existing law is not sufficient, the ministry should propose law revisions if it really cares about protecting historical sites,” Huang said.
Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲), a preservationist, said that the demolition of Puantang would not only destroy the religious site, but also lead to the destruction of the village around the monastery.
“In fact, the Cultural Heritage Review Committee of the New Taipei City Government has confirmed the cultural and historic value of Puantang, but it did not designate it as a historical site, because it says that the landlord objects to it,” Pan said.
“However, there’s nothing in the Cultural Heritage Protection Act (文化資產保護法) that says consent of the landlord is required to designate a historical site,” Pan added.
Responding to the demonstration, a Ministry of Culture spokesperson confirmed that consent of the landlord is not one of the prerequisites for designating a historical site, adding that it would discuss the issue with the New Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs.