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The Inheritance of Traditional Craftsmanship Ensures Cultural Continuity of Kinmen

Kinmen has always amazed the world with the richness and integrity of its cultural heritage. Due to the low degree of modernization and urbanization, Kinmen still retains a large number of tangible and intangible “Southern Fujian culture,” “overseas Chinese hometown culture,” and “battlefield culture,” with cultures such as traditional villages and buildings, traditional clan culture, the Han clan groups, traditional beliefs, and the rite of passage interwoven with each other. It is also an important base for the field study of Southern Fujian language, literature and folk art, the hometown of overseas Chinese, and the history of the Cold War. With the unique cultural landscape, the island is highly valued by academia and cultural circles at home and abroad. Compared with the destruction caused by mainland China's Cultural Revolution and reform and opening-up policy, and culture disappearance in Taiwan in the process of modernization, Kinmen serving as a “reservoir of Southern Fujian culture” is of great value and worthy of preservation efforts.

As one of the carriers of culture, Kinmen's traditional architecture is a symbol of familism, which embodies the philosophy of harmonious coexistence between heaven, earth, and human beings. It is where real life, production, and reproduction take place. Its architectural aesthetics and artistic expression are also an important aspect of regional culture. One of the key factors in the formation of these material civilizations is the building artisans and their skills. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the intangible cultural heritage (non-material cultural heritage) is defined as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith - that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” Therefore, the knowledge and practices of the craftsmen and their architectural craftsmanship is an intangible cultural heritage that deserves attention.

Artisans are the creators and builders of traditional buildings. They shoulder the responsibility of choosing sites, measuring, designing, drawing materials and constructing. Before the advent of modern engineering technology and construction systems, the completion of a building required the concerted efforts of artisans with different proficiency. Southern Fujian architecture, for example, is generally composed of carpentry, joinery (woodworking), stonework, plasterwork, color painting, clay sculpture, etc.

The main work of an artisan is to place building materials such as soil, wood, stone, bricks, and tiles in a cultural space and order, to create a traditional space for people to produce and live in. Kinmen, due to its proximity to Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, and other Chinese regions, coupled with the limited population, in history, many artisans came from across the strait, where there was not a pool of local artisans for construction. Their business focused mainly on carpentry, joinery, stonework, plasterwork, color painting, and clay sculpture. After 1949, due to the severance of cross-strait ties, the construction system in Kinmen developed independently, and some artisans also needed to involve themselves in different skills. After the lifting of the military administration in 1992, some projects of traditional buildings, especially temples, were influenced by the construction industry in Taiwan proper.

According to Articles 15 and 16 of the Enforcement Rules of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, and the Regulations Governing the Review of the Registration, Accreditation, or Revocation of Cultural Heritage Preservation Techniques and Preservers, the protection of craftsmen and their craftsmanship shall be examined by the competent authorities for “cultural heritage or cultural heritage preservation techniques and preservers deserving protection” before proceeding to review procedures of designation or registration or to be recorded and traced. At present, there are four cultural heritage preservation techniques and 15 preservers, and two folk custom and cultural relic preservation techniques and four preservers registered and recorded and tracked in the Kinmen region. The preservers of skills directly related to traditional architecture include Jhuang Si-Shih, Li Cing-Hai, and Cai Neng-Jian for plastering and building and repairing; Wong Shuei-Cian, Hong Shuei-Lai, Hu Cing-Nian, and Cai Shuei-Jheng for carpentry work. Their craftsmanship is the driving force behind the preservation of traditional settlements and buildings in Kinmen. Among them, only Wong Shuei-Cian and Jhuang Si-Shih are officially registered and alive. Chen Cing-Shun and Dong Tian-Bu have passed away, which shows the urgency of research. These basic studies are the most important foundation for impartation or inheritance of craftsmanship.

Admittedly, the traditional craftsmanship in Kinmen has been facing with a huge crisis with the change of the modern construction system. Fortunately, the incentive and subsidy policy introduced by the Kinmen County Government Economic Affairs Department, Kinmen County Cultural Affairs Bureau, and Kinmen National Park Headquarters, or their attention paid to the restoration of historic sites and buildings have finally averted the cultural catastrophe of “creative destruction.” But to be fair, the social and economic status of artisans is still low, and their job opportunities are not stable. Therefore, the social effects of craftsmanship impartation and inheritance are revitalizing traditional industries and adding value to techniques and talents, expanding the working population of the building preservation and restoration industry while forming a healthy competition system, and improving the quality of restoration of traditional buildings in Kinmen. The revitalization of the cultural industry is one of the strategies for Kinmen's development, and is also the continuation of the vitality of Kinmen's culture, which deserves the attention of the government.

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