Taiwan: Great Kinmen (April 2017)

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The Kinmen archipelago is located a few kilometers off China′s southern coast, south of Quanzhou and east of the port city of Xiamen. It consists of 15 islands and islets, twelve controlled by Taiwan and three by China. The largest of these islands is Great Kinmen (approximatively 145sq.km), more commonly called Kinmen (formerly known as Quemoy). During its retreat to Taiwan in 1949, the Nationalist Army of Chiang Kai-shek occupied Kinmen, which has since remained part of Taiwan (Republic of China). The island was heavily bombarded by the communist regime of China in 1954 and again between 1958 and 1978. After being a military reserve for more than four decades, the island was returned to the civilian government in the mid-1990s. Travel to the island was then allowed. In addition to former military fortifications (tunnels, underground harbor, barricades on beaches...), the island offers beautiful examples of Fujianese houses and old ancestral temples.

 

Jincheng:

Located in the southwestern part of the island, Jincheng is Kinmen′s busiest town. Its picturesque center is filled with narrow streets and lanes, colorful shops, old houses, and small temples.

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Western-influenced Mofan Street, built in the 1920s with funds from overseas Chinese. The street is now the hippest in town.

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Jincheng has a rapidly dwindling number of old Fujianese-style house surrounded by modern buildings.

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Noodle shop.

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Traditional pharmacy.

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Shop selling one-in-a-kind knives made from artillery shells fired by China between 1958 and 1978.

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Kinmen is reputed for its Kaoliang, a strong liquor (up to 63% in alcohol) made from local fermented sorghum. Many shops sell this liquor all over the island.

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Jincheng at night.

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Kui Pavilion, originally built in the 1830s to worship the God of Literature.

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Fujianese-style house at night.

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Wu Jiang Academy founded in 1780 (renovated a decade ago). It honors the neo-Confucian scholar Chu Hsi (1130-1200).

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In the Qing Dynasty Military Headquarters dating back to the late 1600s. Representation of scenes from the Qing Dynasty period with wax figures:

- Meeting of military officers.

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- A military officer with his wife.

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Statues of deities in a temple.

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Shuitou Village:

The village of Shuitou is located in the southwestern part of the island, west of Jincheng. An old fishing community, it has a large number of traditional Fujianese houses. Some have been tastefully renovated, others are in decay.

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Intricate decoration above the door of the house shown in the previous photo.

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Entrance and interior of a house.

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Roof decorations.

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Deyue tower surrounded by the Huang residence built in the 1930s. Their architecture, which combines Fujianese and Western styles, is a not-very-subtle display of wealth by a Chinese businessman who made his fortune overseas.

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House in need of renovation.

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Statues in a nearby field. They represent generals enshrined in a local temple with their horses.

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Shanhou Village:

Another beautiful ensemble of Fujianese houses is found in the village of Shanhou in the northeastern part of the island. It was built between 1876 and 1900 by a wealthy Chinese merchant.

 

Temple in the ensemble.

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As can be seen on the left and on the right of the previous picture, there are two main types of roofs: saddleback-shaped and swallow-tail-shaped:

- Saddleback-shaped roofs.

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- Swallow-tail-shaped roofs.

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House facades.

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Courtyards. Note the four dragon heads in the first picture below collecting rainwater into the courtyard.

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Shrines inside houses.

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Ornamental details.

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Qionglin Village:

The village of Qionglin in central Kinmen is famous for its ancestral temples (and a long tunnel dug out by villagers in the 1970s).

 

The largest ancestral temple is the Tsai (or Cai) Family Temple built in 1770:

- Entrance.

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- Paintings on both sides of the entrance.

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- In one of the temple′s halls.

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- Another entrance.

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Another temple.

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Guningtou:

Located at the northwestern tip of Kinmen, Guningtou was the site of a major battle between the Nationalists and the Communists in 1949. The failure of the Communists to capture Kinmen halted their advance toward Taiwan. So, the battle is highly significant in Taiwan.

 

General Li Guang-qian Temple. This temple commemorates Colonel Li Guang-qian, who died at the Guningtou battle. He was promoted to general posthumously.

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Arch marking the entrance of the site of the Guningtou battle.

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Paintings in the Guningtou Battle Museum depicting (from the Nationalists′ viewpoint) the battle and the surrender of the Communist troops.

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Lines of spiked steel rail anchored into concrete bases designed to slice through enemy landing boats on the Guningtou beach

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Military fortifications:

As one can suspect, after the retreat of the Nationalist Army to Taiwan, Kinmen has been heavily fortified against bombardments and invasion. A number of former fortifications (mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s) are now open to the public.

 

Located at the northeastern tip of Kinmen, the Mashan Observatory is only a couple of kilometers away from the coast of China. It is reached via a long concrete tunnel.

- Entrance of the tunnel and inside the tunnel.

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- View toward China from the observatory.

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Artillery demonstration (pointing toward China) at Shishan Howitzer Front in northeastern Kinmen. The construction of the facility was ordered in 1969 by Chiang Kai-shek to accommodate four eight-inch howitzers (guns). It is the only fully tunneled artillery position in Kinmen, with a total length of tunnels of 778m.

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Jhaishan underground waterway used to conceal small vessels. Completed in March 1966 this A-shaped waterway is 357m in length, 11.5m in width, and 8m in height. It was abandoned in 1986 and opened to the public in 1998. Now, annually in mid-October, it is the site of the two-day Kinmen Tunnel Music Festival.

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Other sights:

Wind Lion God. These are a few of the many statues of the Wind Lion God that are erected around Kinmen, some very old (like the ones in the two rightmost pictures below). These guardians are believed to protect the villagers against devastating winds that sometimes blow over the island, as well as against demons, spirits, and even termites. They are often placed at village entrances facing the northeast, the direction from which the strongest wind blows. The rightmost photo shows a statue inserted in a wall of the Cai Family Temple in Qionglin Village (see above).

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Juguang Tower, built in 1953 in the style of a classic Chinese palace tower to honor Nationalist soldiers. By erecting this tower the Nationalist government was showing its determination to eventually recover mainland China.

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Wentai Pagoda. It was originally built in 1387 to serve a as landmark for ships.

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Fujianese houses lined along the northern shore of the Ci lake.

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Flowers of the kapok tree (left) and the golden trumpet tree (right) blooming in April in many places around Kinmen.

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