Yingge’s pottery past disappearing fast

HISTORICAL STRUCTURES::Citing the prioritization of profit over culture, Yingge locals are worried that their town’s past is being torn down in the name of progress

By Hsieh Chia-chun and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with Staff writer

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - Page 5

The skyline of New Taipei City’s (新北市) Yingge District (鶯歌) has recently lost two of its last remaining brick smokestacks — which once stood high over what is known as the birthplace of the nation’s pottery and ceramics industry — after they were torn down to make way for development projects.

A 90-year-old oval-shaped kiln and its smokestack at the intersection of Guangming Street and Guocing Street were on Thursday last week demolished by a construction company which owns the site.

The next day, a square-shaped kiln and its brick-built chimney that had stood for more than 50 years were also torn down without notice, sparking public concern that the remaining smokestacks in the area could soon become mere piles of rubble.

The owner of the land on which the square kiln used to stand, surnamed Hsu (許), said its smokestack, which had been tottering for some time, was “accidentally” torn down by construction workers charged with clearing the site, who were worried it might collapse.

However, Hsu pledged to preserve the Hohsing Kiln (合興窯), a larger kiln nearby, and its smokestack, which also stand on land he owns.

Expressing regret over the demolitions, pottery artist Cho Wen-ching (卓文慶) said that in the past, Yingge had scores of kilns and more than 300 high-rise smokestacks.

“With the development of the district and the rise of environmental awareness, these traditional buildings have gradually been superseded by more advanced gas-powered kilns and have become relics,” Cho said, adding that there might not even be 10 brick smokestacks left in the area.

The demolitions came only one week before the New Taipei City Government Cultural Affairs Department’s planned inspection of the area’s remaining kilns and chimneys to evaluate their cultural significance.

In an effort to safeguard the structures, the city government has offered incentives at a meeting of several local cultural groups in December last year to encourage landowners to preserve the sites.

Cultural Affairs Department Deputy Director Wang Yu-fen (王玉芬) said the Hohsing Kiln, the 60-year-old Chung Hsing Tien Tzu Kiln (中興電瓷窯), a snake kiln (蛇窯) on Wunhua Road, a square kiln on Pottery Street and a similar one that stood behind the former Yingge township office, as well as the oval-shaped kiln knocked down on Thursday last week, were all listed buildings.

“Although the square-shaped kiln demolished on Friday last week was not a listed structure due to the severe damage it had sustained, the department was rather surprised by the construction company’s swiftness in tearing down the oval-shaped kiln,” Wang said, adding that while property owners and developers tend to prioritize profits, the city government may offer compensation for preserving historical structures.

“The more kilns the city government could save, the better” Cho said.

“The city government constantly cites private ownership of these structures as an excuse for not taking immediate action,” Cho added. “I’m afraid that Yingge’s reputation as a livable community could be undeserved.”