Friday, March 2, 2012

Temple reconstruction

Many temples in Taiwan have a long history, but in relatively few instances is the structure itself more than a century old. Depending on how wealthy a temple is, the building may be torn down and rebuilt from scratch - or at least refurbished beyond recognition - every two or three generations. An Australian who worked on Dalongdong Baoan Temple (one of Taipei's finest) said this:
In Western culture we are absolutely fixated on the preservation of the object, but in Chinese culture it is the concept that is all important – the object is merely an expression of the concept. Thus the replacement of elements in an artefact is carried out as a matter of course. 'Old' temples have been rebuilt many times... Generally there is little effort to replicate the original, though the design and layout is predetermined by custom. Renovation is seen as an opportunity for improvement – to use richer materials and to use craftsman of even greater skill than previously.
I came across the semi-renovated shrine pictured above during a recent trip into Kaohsiung's backcountry. Clearly, the first stage of the process had been to strip the building of everything but the basic concrete-and-rebar. Private homes are often renovated in the same manner.

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