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Yong’an Temple of Baihe District: The Trusty Ministering Angel

Yong’an Temple in Baihe District is home to the celebrated art pieces created by Phuann Lē-tsuí, a noted artist hailed from the City of Tainan, who specializing in making the “door god” paintings. This particular collection contains six pieces, featuring “Yuchih Gong,” “Qin Shubao,” and the eunuchs and ladies-in-waiting in the wings. Tainan City houses quite an impressive collection of works by Phuann; yet what makes this specific batch unique is that it was created by the master in his prime: the faces of the characters are expressive; the whiskers and costumes they wear are sophisticatedly and lively depicted, rendering the collection a career landmark for Phuann. That being said, the Tainan City Government has declared this collection “general antiquities,” on July 24, 2017, according to the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act.

However, due to the east-facing layout of the temple, the collection has suffered excessive sun exposure; worse, environmental conditions and extensive weathering have caused the surface of the works to yellow, buckle and flake, requiring urgent restorative attention.

The management of the temple is well-aware that the preservation and upkeeps of antiques cannot be achieved in a rush, as Phuann’s unrivaled handiwork deserves utmost care. The project has to be executed in stages, beginning with a preliminary “health check” on the status of the artwork for the correct “remedial solution.” To that end, temple management partnered with Tainan National University of the Arts in 2018 to put forth a “Survey on the Door God Artwork of Yong’an Temple in Tainan City’s Baihe District and Urgent Maintenance Solution.”

The proposal was awarded subsidies from Tainan Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, for conducting a comprehensive study, and the cataloging of the deterioration of the artwork. The examiners administered the survey with a handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence).

Despite its smallish and humble appearance, XRF is actually quite a marvel. Comparable to a stethoscope, XRF is able to enable elemental analysis within a short period of time and limited resources, allowing restorers to identify the mediums used in the painting to facilitate assessment for follow-up restoration. In addition, the team of restorers also applied emergency reinforcement agent to places in the painting with the worst deterioration. The last step involves a general assessment measure, where a restoration and upkeeps plan are outlined systematically. Tainan Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage would continue to seek subsidies from the Ministry of Culture for Yong’an Temple.

In 2015, the City of Tainan formulated “Guidelines on Subsidies from Tainan Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage for the Preservation and Maintenance of Private Antiques.” Since then, applications from owners and managers of private antiques throughout Tainan started to flood in; many applicants have put forward detailed proposals on the preservation of antiques, suggesting that there is a growing mindfulness among citizens on protecting their common cultural wealth.

Stop by Yong’an Temple in Baihe District during the Lunar New Year holidays and bear witness to the dedication of the community to protecting the legacy and heirlooms that mark Tainan’s rich history.