I instantly fell in love with Kinmen, the peace and tranquillity and the incredibly warm welcome of the inhabitants.
It is a place steeped in a rich history, a reminder of the bitter civil war between Communist and Nationalist forces and an absolute must location to visit for anyone with an interest in military history.
Kinmen lies only 2km off the coast of mainland China on the edge of the Taiwan Strait. It is, without a doubt, one of the key locations in modern Chinese history. Even though it is so close to the Peoples Republic of China it is controlled by the Republic of China on Taiwan.
Although there is evidence to suggest that Kinmen was inhabited more than 6500 years ago, it is not until the early 7th century that we find some hard data that dates back to the Tang dynasty.
In the 1640s, the Ming loyalist General Koxinga occupied the island and used it while preparing his navy to fight against the Qing forces that had overrun China.
Kinmen was once known in the West as Quemoy. When the Allies declared war on Japan in 1941, the Chinese Civil War between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) was put on hold. The Nationalist military and political leader Chiang Kai-shek deployed his forces together with Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill to fight this war against Japan. Even though Japan signed an unconditional surrender in 1945 a year later this Civil War recommenced.
Above- Chiang Kai-shek with his wife Soong May-ling 1943. Photo courtesy of The China Times.
In 1948, the Nationalists lost their fight in China to the Communists led by Mao Zedong (commonly referred to as Chairman Mao) and retreated to Kinmen. Mao, who at this point had numerous victories to his name - including the capture of Shanghai and Beijing, had his sights firmly set on Taiwan with Kinmen, as it was directly en route, being his first target. In Kinmen, the Nationalist forces “dug in” building vast fortifications, still very much apparent today, with the plan that the Island would one day be the staging post for a take back of mainland China. As Chiang Kai-shek had once apparently quoted "As long as we have Taiwan, the Communists can never win."
Above-Chairman Mao. Photo courtesy of The Washington Times.
The Nationalist forces prevented an invasion attempt in 1949 when the Communist Party gravely underestimated the preparation and determination of those on the Island.
Photo courtesy of Kinmen National Park Headquarters
On August 23, 1958, the Communists launched an intense artillery attack on Kinmen, firing somewhere in the region of 480,000 shells in 44 consecutive days of bombing. Mao then called a brief ceasefire but when the US decided to deploy aircraft carriers to the region, he ordered the barrage to start once again. Finally Mao proposed that if the US warships kept away from the Chinese coastline, the Communists would only bombard the island on odd-numbered days. The US agreed, and by mutual agreement Taiwan fired artillery shells on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the Communists fired on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sunday was a holiday. This incredible arrangement continued for 20 years with not only artillery but propaganda material being exchanged between both sides.
Above: A small model boat used to sail propaganda leaflets between China and Kinmen. Photo courtesy of psywar.org
Above: A Communist Chinese leaflet asking whose economy is prospering in Taiwan? Photo courtesy of psywar.org
Two decades later, when President Richard Nixon recognised the Government in Beijing, China finally gave up and Kinmen remained part of Taiwan. No wonder it is referred to as the “Battlefield Island”.
In 1995, much of the Island became Taiwan’s sixth National Park dedicated to battlefield memorials and historic monuments.
Troops can still be found in Kinmen but the garrison is now considerably smaller than that of 1958 when around 100,000 were stationed here.
Our time in Kinmen was much too short, there was so much more I wished to see, in particular the multitude of tunnels that were dug, which allowed Kinmen to safeguard its combat power during the shelling.
In the video we concentrate on the major conflicts that occurred on the Island, narrating the story from Kinmen National Park. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to get on the vehicles in the Park, let alone inside them and the years of them being monuments outside have taken their toll, but nevertheless, we hope you enjoy this very brief tour.
My thanks to all involved in this trip, our friends from Wargaming Asia, our guide who put up with endless questions but, in particular, my thanks to the wonderful people of Kinmen the Island that Chairman Mao couldn’t capture.
Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line-Michael Szonvi.
Consultation with Kinmen National Park Headquarters
The Islands of Taiwan-Richard Saunders
Defence Sites II: Heritage and Future- C.A. Brebbia, C. Clark