Residents from Mazutian Community (媽祖田) in Tucheng District (土城), New Taipei City (新北市), yesterday rallied outside the city hall, asking the city government to intervene in the forced demolition of the century-old lay Buddhist sanctuary of Puantang (普安堂), which is scheduled for Monday.
Holding a statute of the goddess Matsu (媽祖), photos of Puantang and the statutes and relics in the sanctuary, dozens of residents from the community kneeled in front of the city hall and called for a reversal of a demolition order by the New Taipei City District Court.
“Mazutian’s 300 hectares of land is the common property of residents whose families settled there more than 100 years ago, this was common practice during the Qing Dynasty,” said Puantang administer Lee Jung-tai (李榮台). “Cih-you Temple [慈祐宮] only obtained ownership of the site by unilaterally registering in the 1970s, and now it’s trying to kick us out and tear down the building, which has great historical, cultural, and religious value.”
Mazutian is a village of about 300 hectares along the bank of Dahan River (大漢溪) near the border of Tucheng and Sansia (三峽) districts.
Lee and other residents said the name literally means “farmland of the goddess Matsu,” because the original settlers from central and southern Taiwan were all faithful followers of the goddess.
In accordance with common practice during the Qing Dynasty, and to show their respect to Matsu, the residents did not register ownership of the land under their own names, rather, the ownership was placed under a religious organization that they founded among themselves, Lee said.
The land was commonly owned by all its residents, and revenue generated from the use of the land would be used for religious festivities, Lee said.
However, following the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1895, the religious organization was dissolved by the Japanese colonial government and placed under the local government, which was headquartered in Cih-you Temple at the time, she said.
“After World War II, ownership of the land became unclear as the Japanese colonial government collapsed, but before everything was straightened out, Cih-you Temple registered itself as owners of the land in the 1970s,” Lee said.
Separately yesterday, Chen Yuan-kuang (陳圓光), chairman of the Cih-you Temple’s Administrative Committee, said the land was given to Cih-you Temple as a tribute to the goddess Matsu by two settlers, brothers Lee Wei-chih (李維芝) and Lee Wu-hou (李武侯) during the Qing Dynasty and thus it has always been the temple’s property from then.
“We have negotiated with Mazutian residents, saying that if they pay the rent, we do not have to ask them to leave,” Chen said. “How would I explain to the public how the temple pays its property taxes every year, but allows residents to stay on the land without paying anything?”
Lee Jung-tai said that Chen’s account was only half true.
“It’s true the brothers presented the land to Cih-you Temple, but if you look closer into the document, the brothers only gave 10 hectares of land to Cih-you Temple, not the entire 300 hectares,” she said, adding that besides the dispute on ownership, it was unacceptable that Puantang, built in 1914, would be torn down.
“Puantang is one of the very few remaining lay Buddhist sanctuaries in Taiwan, it bears important historical, cultural and religious value,” she said. “Cih-you Temple’s Matsu should not tear down the home of Puantang’s Mastu.”
Lay Buddhism is a religious faction based on a version of Buddhism that was once popular in Taiwan. The major difference between lay Buddhism and orthodox Buddhism is that its sanctuaries are usually administered by people who are not monks nor nuns, but are vegetarians. Lay Buddhism also blends elements of Taoism and Confucianism.