Taiwan: Matsu Islands (November 2018)

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The Matsu archipelago consists of 8 main islands and many other islets. The main islands are Nangan, Beigan, Xiju, Dongju, Dongyin, Xiyin, Gaodeng, and Liangdao. Nangan and Beigan are the largest. Gaodeng and Liangdao are not opened to visitors. While Nangan is about 200km away from Taipei, Gaodeng is only 8.5km from the coast of China. Among the islands administered by Taiwan, only the Kinmen islands are closer to the coast of China.


These islands were settled in the 14th century by fishermen from the Fujian province of China. In the 1600s, Manchu invasions from northeastern China led greater number of Fujianese refugees to settle on the islands bringing with them religious beliefs and architecture that can still be observed today. During the 18th and 19th centuries piracy plagued the islands, forcing many settlers to flee elsewhere. In 1949 the retreating Nationalists seized the Kinmen and Matsu archipelagos and were able to hold to them, despite heavy bombardment by the Communist army. While the shelling continued more or less intermittently until 1978, the islands were transformed into amazing fortresses. With tensions cooling down (somewhat), martial law on the Matsu islands was lifted in 1992 and the military presence was progressively scaled back.


I did this trip with my friend Tsai-Yen Li, a computer science professor at the National Chengchi University in Taipei. We only visited Nangan and Beigan. We had planned to visit other islands, but bad weather led to ferry cancellations. Nangan and Beigan, though quite small, boast a great diversity of scenery, beautiful seashore, impressive former military installations, many temples, nice villages, and interesting traditions. Moreover, their ″remote frontier atmosphere″ cannot be missed. Our trip occurred in early November, a low season for Taiwanese tourists. Despite bad weather most of the time, we enjoyed the fact that there were relatively few visitors.








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