Activists and local residents have joined hands to save a Yingge (鶯歌) landmark — a historic ceramic kiln and its smokestack — vowing to stop the destruction of Yingge’s cultural heritage and to protect the collective memory of the community.
The kiln, with its tall brick smokestack, dating back almost 90 years, is located at the corner of Guangming Street and Guocing Street of Yingge District in New Taipei City (新北市).
Since it ceased operations some years ago, the kiln and its brick smokestack have been left to the encroaching grass and vegetation that have partially overgrown it, covering the main kiln edifice.
Local residents said this historic landmark had witnessed the rise and fall of Yingge’s ceramic pottery industry.
It is also one of the remaining few kilns still relatively intact, but still might be torn down because the site’s new owner wants to develop the land it stands on.
Activists and locals have therefore gotten together to petition the government for assistance, and are seeking to relocate and reconstruct the whole kiln complex for preservation at another site.
However, the new landowner speaking through his assistant, said he has no intention of saving the kiln.
Yingge used to have multitudes of ceramic-firing kilns and smokestacks in the town. During its boom time, this “Hometown of Pottery and Ceramics” had more than 300 kiln smokestacks dotting its skyline.
Nowadays, with the changing times and awareness of environmental problems, these charcoal-burning kilns and ash-belching smokestacks have gradually shut up shop. Local culture researcher Ho Cheng-yuan (何振源) said that fewer than 10 smokestacks remain in the township.
Borough warden Lin Ching-te (林清得) said the old kilns and their smokestacks had featured much in the history of Yingge and brought back memories.
“They are witness to our changing history,” Lin said.
“We might have to sacrifice some old things in striving for economic development. However, this particular old kiln and smokestack are in good shape. It is worthy of preservation. The government should take it down and reconstruct it at a designated tourist site, and revitalize it,” he said.
“If we don’t do it, the memory will be gone forever. We can see the future, but are unable to see our past,” Lin said.
Ho concurred, saying that many of Yingge’s most precious cultural treasures have been torn down and destroyed.
He said these included the town’s historic Baroque-styled Chien Family Trading Co, the Japanese-era rice mill of the farmers’ cooperatives and the winery smokestack in the old town section.
These got torn down in a rush without due notice, which saddened many local people, he said.
“If we do not make active efforts to preserve these historic buildings, many of Yingge’s cultural treasures will disappear one by one,” he said.
District councilor Ou Ching-shih (歐金獅) said the New Taipei City Government could come up with NT$200 million (US$6.67 million) to pay a private owner for the “Rock of Yingge,” a famous local monument, and for its restoration and renovation of walkways around the site.
“This historic ceramic kiln and smokestack are also cultural treasures of Yingge. We should have systematic planning for its preservation. The government should educate the public on saving our cultural heritage. Now we have new culture, but must also keep old culture alive. This way, our town can have a special character, blending old and new cultures,” Ou said.
Tseng Hsu-tien (曾續田), a section head at New Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Heritage, said the government had tried to negotiate with the new landowner in 2006 for on-site preservation and restoration of the ceramic kiln and its smokestack, but the owner would not agree to it.
Tseng said that because about half of the kiln structure was below ground, it was impossible to know its current condition and original design. Therefor it would be a difficult task to dismantle, relocate and rebuild it.
He said the costs of relocation and reconstruction would be quite high, and because public land would be needed for its new location, that option was unlikely to be approved.