Exploring the Unknown Kinmen
By Trista di Genova, The China Post
December 20, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
What is known about Kinmen (金門) is that there is much unknown about Kinmen. But only an hour flight away from Songshan Airport, tourists and history buffs alike — and 1,000 Chinese tourists a day thanks to the opening of the "three mini links" — can have the amazing experience of visiting Taiwan's most mysterious, lush outcrop.
Kinmen has so much to offer that it's highly recommended to spend at least two to three days there, so as to pack in a multitude of cultural and historical sites and attractions: traditional villages, marketplaces, war museums, fishing, bird watching and, for fitness freaks, the Kinmen marathon.
Kinmen, or "Quemoy" as it is known to the West, is literally The Golden Gate ("jin men") to the East. Based on the existence of shell mounds, its known history goes back 6,000 years.
For a millennium, it served as an important administrative center. In the ninth century, an imperial official was dispatched there to develop its farming, fishing and saltworks. In the 13th century, it was a place where would-be Mandarins studied for civil service exams.
Since the 12th century, Kinmen—rich in raw materials needed to make porcelain—played a pivotal role as a trade and production center on the Marine Silk Road. In fact, broken pottery still lines the shores of its Ho River Gulf.
In 1633, an army of pirates led by Cheng Cheng-geng, better known as Koxinga to the West, drove out the Dutch Navy. He spent 12 years on the island, denuding it of timber to build ships to take on the Dutch in Penghu and Tainan (since 1949, reforestation has been undertaken).
Cheng was first buried in Fujian Province, then exhumed and reburied on Kinmen during the Ching Dynasty. Today, his shrine in Jincheng district is popular among Chinese and Taiwanese tourists alike.
The beach where Koxinga once landed and trained his army is currently being turned into the Ho Hu Recreational Area. The long stretch of sandy beach will have surfing, sailing and ATV rentals by next summer.
From the 17th to 19th centuries, Kinmen developed into a bustling regional hub—what Kinmen Institute of Technology Professor Chiang Bo-wei termed "a non-state empire," a place where merchants made their fortunes in trade throughout Southeast Asia, building fine houses that were a unique architectural hybrid of East and West. Most notable are the Deyue Tower ("Moon-catching") in Shuitou, built as fortification against pirates, and the nearby Jinshui School, built in 1932. Next to the tower is the Stories of Overseas Chinese Hall and a former postal agency. Photos and sketches from this era show men dressed in a markedly Western fashion and women dressed in chipao.
Kinmen has six villages with particularly well-preserved Fujian architecture—"swallowtail" style roofs for gentry and "saddleback" style for commoners. Kinmen has taken great care to renovate these cultural landmarks, even implementing a forward-looking system involving "homestays"—co-management combined with renovation efforts.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Kinmen was first occupied by the Japanese in 1937, then for decades it was a battlefront between Chinese Communist forces and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army, which fled China in 1949.