​​​​​​​Chinese shrine removal delayed by bureaucratic red tape

The Office of Property Management of Chulalongkorn University (PMCU) has delayed the demolition and relocation of the Chao Mae Thap Thim Saphan Lueang Shrine amidst active opposition and legal scrutiny. The District authorities say that the University has not obtained permission for the removal and construction of new property.

A man worshipping Chao Mae Tub Tim figurine.

 

As of 2 July, the Chao Mae Thap Thim Saphan Lueang shrine still remains fully intact despite its relocation being scheduled for 16 June by its de jure land owner, the PMCU. The caretakers of the shrine were notified and asked to move out of the area by 15 June.

However, students and residents of the Samyan area gathered at the shrine on 15 June to protest the demolition. They said the shrine is not only a place of worship, but also has a long history and is important for Chinese descendants in the area. Netizens also showed their interest in the case. A petition to the PMCU was created online and the hashtag #SaveChaoMaeTubTimShrine (#saveศาลเจ้าแม่ทับทิม) trended on Twitter on the same day.

The demolition of the shrine is a part of the University’s plan to build a 972-unit student dormitory ty, according to a PMCU statement released on 23 June. The PMCU also will relocate the shrine to a new site near the Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park.

Masawan Pinsuwan, Director of Pathumwan District Office, said on 25 June in a letter to the shrine’s caretakers that the University has not obtained permission for construction at the new location or for workers’ accommodation at the current location. Masawan said the accommodation is already built and the District Office will start proceedings against the PMCU.

The PMCU released a statement on 23 June stating that the plan to relocate the shrine has been developed over two years, while always keeping the caretakers informed of the process, but the shrine’s Executive Committee also issued a statement stating that the University started to listen to their voice only after the protest on 15 June, not since the beginning of the plan as the PMCU claimed.

The 15 June protest against the shrine demolition.

While the PMCU said the shrine would not be demolished, the committee said the university planned to demolish and recreate the shrine as a team of Thai architects have been prepared. The Committee said the PMCU changed the plan after the shrine became controversial.

The PMCU said people can expect to visit the newly-located shrine in December.

The current Chao Mae Thap Thim Shrine was built in 1970 after it was relocated. One often cited piece of evidence of its antiquity was the trip to worship at the shrine made by King Chulalongkorn and a joss stick pot that was given by King Vajiravudh from the funeral of King Chulalongkorn in 1911. (Source: The People)

This shrine also displays unique Cantonese architectural values.

Besides the reasons of architecture and age, people are concerned that if the shrine is relocated to the park, the forms of worship, which include lighting incense sticks and burning offerings, would be troublesome.