Penghu County boasts more than 200 temples that serve the island’s residents who make their living on the seas.
While the 127km² county, consisting of 90 islands, has the highest concentration of temples in the country, most of them are old or have been destroyed because residents pay scant attention to the preservation of historical relics, conservationists said.
Wang Kuo-yu (王國裕), a county official responsible for museum affairs, said Penghu residents believe that the bigger and more ostentatious the temple, the greater the honor for their neighborhood.
With this attitude, residents have often moved to tear down an old temple in order to build a newer and bigger one, Wang said. Looking to benefit, some construction contractors have encouraged temple owners to begin reconstruction projects.
As a result, many valuable temples have simply vanished, Wang said.
Over the years, many of Penghu’s temples that were not old enough to be categorized as national heritage sites have undergone renovation — with disastrous results, Wang said.
Recalling the most notorious example — the reconstruction of the “Chou Wang Temple” in Makung City (馬公市) in 2001 — Wang said it was heartbreaking to see an excavator tearing down and destroying most of the precious folk art by famous Taiwanese ceramic figurine master Wang Pao-yuan (王保原) and painter Pan Li-shuei (潘麗水).
“I risked my life to save a few pieces of the masters’ works,” he said.
Wang Wen-liang (王文良), a Penghu resident who specializes in history and culture, said that in Penghu, only two temples — the Chou Wang Temple and Yung An Temple — owned art by Wang Pao-yuan, most of which was destroyed during temple renovations.
In Makung, Chen Fu-chi (陳扶氣), a native folk artist devoted to the preservation of old temples, has drawn criticism because of the means he chose to rescue works of art from some of the county’s dismantled temples.
Chen used the pillars and doors of an old temple to build a tea house named Chun Chiao and decorated the wooden building with ceramic figurines and other small objects taken from dismantled temples.
Critics accused Chen of having destroyed the antiques rather than attempting to preserve them.
In response, Chen explained that he had stored the collections in a warehouse but because of his limited financial resources, he was unable to properly protect them from damage wrought by decay and insects.