Memories of life and death on the Kinmen Islands

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Welcome to Kinmen

The Kinmen Islands are steeped in history. They are a place of beauty but also of poignancy and sorrow. Many people died here in the first and second Straits Crises between Taiwan and Mainland China decades ago.

The islands, commonly known simply as Kinmen, are a small archipelago off the coast of Mainland China administered by Taiwan. They lie just a few kilometres, or short ferry ride, from the Chinese city of Xiamen. Today they are fast becoming a symbol of the increasing harmony between two regimes.

For over four decades from 1949 Kinmen was under military administration, closed off to most of the world. Due to their strategically sensitive location the islands were seen as the Nationalist’s first line of defence against the Communist Party of China. Equally the latter saw Kinmen as a dangerous potential foothold from which a counter attack to recover the Mainland could be mounted.

Mandarin Airlines to Kinmen

[Taking off from Taipei to Kinmen]

With a sustained improvement in relationships between Taiwan and the Mainland, those days are long gone now. But the history of Kinmen is an important element of a tourism industry that is beginning to gather real momentum, and which over the next few years will be given a huge impetus by Ever Rich D.F.S. Corporation.

As I have documented previously, the Taiwanese retailer is building a major shopping mall and hotel on Greater Kinmen, the largest of the islands, on the shores of beautiful man-made Lake Taihu, itself born out of Kinmen’s military past. Critically, Kinmen and Xiamen are located in the centre of the West Coast Economic Zone, embracing a population of over 50 million people. Thanks to its history, its clean environment, its natural beauty and its proximity, Kinmen is a highly attractive tourist destination for mainlanders and Taiwanese.

Ever rich Clare briefs visitors

[Ever Rich delivers a briefing on the new project and tourism prospects for Kinmen]

The potential to develop a major travel retail and hotel business is huge, reckons Ever Rich Chairman Simon Chiang. But in line with his whole philosophy, he doesn’t see the opportunity as simply one of commerce. “Kinmen is important,” he told me. “It has a great history and many memories. It has so many beautiful attractions and special places. We want to show it to the world… to create many jobs and to promote local products.”

Kinmen work in progress

[Work is advancing fast on the Ever Rich development]

Yesterday, I, and many of Ever Rich’s leading suppliers, got a taste (sometimes literally) of the islands’ attractions. Of all the many things we saw – the hotel and retail development, the amazing Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor Distillery, the port and downtown shops, one will live forever in my memory. The Zhaishan Tunnel is one of the most remarkable and enduring testaments to man’s ingenuity and desire for survival that you will ever see. Everywhere there are reminders of Kinmen’s military past. Everywhere there is a sense of history.

The Ever Rich journey

[Outside the Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor distillery]

park image

reminder of military

Five years in construction from 1961, the Zhaishan Tunnel stretches over 101 metres, with a width of 6 metres.

tunnel 9

tunnel 8

A unique feature of these tunnels is the A-shaped waterways. Some 357 metres long by 12 metres wide with a height of about 8 metres, these were used to conceal small naval and supply vessels.

tunnel 4

Today, they are a tourism attraction that is steadily garnering world interest. Visiting them is like entering into a secret world. They are a monumental feat of engineering, a combination of explosives and intensive manual labour on the one hand and a historical landmark on the other.

tunnel deep

As you walk along the sides of the waterways, there’s an eeriness, an eternal serenity, a strange beauty, all interweaved. You’re inside a granite mountain remember, and the stillness is a marvel. Man created this out of hardship not out of the desire to build an attraction and you can’t forget the ghosts of the past as you stare into the deep waters below.

tunnel 3 great

In fact it’s hard to know there are waters, so perfectly is the overhanging rock face ceiling mirrored below (see picture above). The combination offers a remarkable optical illusion that makes you think you’re looking down into the deepest of caves and a sprawl of bare rock face. But there’s water there alright. Water that meant the difference between life and death all those years ago.

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