Family turns to history to save home

DELICATE ISSUE::Most property owners do not want their homes listed as historic monuments, but one family is trying to do that to save their home from demolition

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 - Page 4

While many owners of properties with historic value are worried that their homes may be designated as historic monuments, a family surnamed Lee (李) in Greater Kaohsiung applied to have their family home listed as a historic monument in order to save it.

People generally do not want their homes to be named historic monuments because of the many regulations and restrictions such a designation brings.

However, the Lee family was informed recently that their property may be demolished to make way for a new road.

This led them to apply to have the home listed as a historic monument in order to stop the demolition, but the local government has not yet finalized the designation.

The Lee family home is one of the few remaining traditional U-shaped brick-and-tile houses in the centuries-old community of Neiwei (內惟) in Greater Kaohsiung’s Gushan District (鼓山).

“I think our family home is not only of great historic value, but is also an example of traditional decorative art in buildings,” family member Lee Meng-hsiu (李孟修) said.

“You can always build a road elsewhere, but when a historic building like this is torn down, it’s gone forever,” he added.

Lee said that the house was built during the Qing Dynasty, but was constructed in the style of the Ming Dynasty.

He added that his family is one of the few families in the country that still hold annual rituals to pay respects to the God of the Sun. These rituals are performed in the house’s central hall, which is traditionally used for important rituals such as religious rites, ancestral worship, weddings or funerals.

The worship of the God of the Sun, which takes place on the 19th day of the third lunar month, is believed to be a ritual to pay respect to the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, who committed suicide outside the imperial palace in Beijing on the 19th day of the third lunar month in 1644 when the Manchurians took control of the city.

“Our family have been in Neiwei since 1736, but unfortunately, the exact year when the house was built remains unknown,” Lee said. “What we do know is that the house was last repaired in 1916.”

Upon learning earlier this year of the city government’s plan to tear down part of the building and build a road right through the center of the house, the Lees applied to the city’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs to have the building designated as a historic monument.

“Although the city government agreed to temporarily suspend the construction project and the Bureau of Cultural Affairs called a cultural heritage evaluation meeting, the meeting failed to reach a conclusion on whether to designate the house as a historic monument, because some of our family members disagreed with taking such a measure,” Lee said.

He said that ownership of the house is shared by 18 relatives. Ten of the owners support making it a historic monument, while four are indifferent and four would rather give up the house and receive compensation.

Lee’s father, Lee Yu-ying (李育英), proposed a deal.

“Maybe those relatives who want to give up the house could give up their ownership and receive their compensation, while those who want to keep it — including myself — could donate the rest of the ownership to the city government. The city government can then turn the house into a historical monument,” he said.

Worried that the house may be flattened at any time, the Lees have petitioned the Ministry of Culture, which is scheduled to have a meeting today to discuss the matter.