Although the Ministry of Culture yesterday promised that the Puantang (普安堂) lay Buddhist monastery would not be torn down as scheduled today and urged the New Taipei City (新北市) Cultural Affairs Department to register the complex as historic building, the city authority declined to do so.
“We notified the department asking it to, as soon as possible, register as historic sites those buildings in the Puantang complex that have been confirmed to meet the criteria for designation as historic structures, including the ancient prayer hall, the entrance gate, and the stone-paved stairway leading to the monastery,” the ministry’s Bureau of Cultural Heritage director-general Shy Gwo-long (施國隆) told a group of Puantang preservation activists demonstrating outside the ministry building.
“At the same time, we also asked the New Taipei City District Court to suspend its planned demolition of those buildings,” Shy said.
Originally scheduled to be flattened on Monday, the demolition of the centuries-old monastery in Tucheng (土城) was postponed to today following a prolonged negotiation between representatives from Puantang and from Cih-you Temple (慈祐宮), which is officially the owner of the plot of land on which Puantang stands, though Puantang disputes the claim.
Following a huger strike outside the ministry building that began on Wednesday, the ministry gave its response to the demonstrators yesterday.
Shy said that while a review committee of the city’s cultural department has confirmed that the original monastery buildings do qualify to be designated as historic buildings, the committee did not do so because it said that it must get the consent of the landlord first.
“Article 9 of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act [文化資產保存法] stipulates that the competent authority shall respect the rights and interests of the owner of a cultural heritage site, but that does not mean that the authority in charge must have the consent of the owner before making the designation,” Shy said. “We think the department’s decision has violated the spirit of the law.”
Shy said if the department fails to follow the suggestion in 10 days, the ministry would designate Puantang as a historic building on its own.
“I assure you that buildings designated as historic sites will not be torn down,” he added.
However, the department disagreed with the ministry and declined to agree to the requests.
“We would definitely appeal the ministry’s request to officially register Puantang as a historic building, because the review process for this has closed, and the ministry has already confirmed the result,” said Tseng Chi-tien (曾繼田), head of the department’s Cultural Heritage Division. “It’s unlikely that we will reopen the case.”
Tseng said the ministry has stated several times that it is the local government’s job to decide whether a building should be designated as historic, and that another appeal filed by Puantang against the decision to not designate it as such was also turned down earlier this year.
He said that according to Article 17 of the preservation act, the ministry can only designate a historic monument on behalf of local cultural affairs authorities, not historic buildings.
According to the law, historic monuments are more protected than historic buildings.
Responding to Tseng’s comments, Shy reaffirmed the ministry’ stance, stressing that the ministry will designate Puantang as a historic building if the department fails to do so within 10 days.