The Shadow of War

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GREAT KINMEN ISLAND, Taiwan — From here, China feels palpably close. So does the memory of war. Anti-landing barricades and rusting tanks on the beach stare down a Chinese metropolis hovering on the horizon. Soldiers from the Taiwanese garrison thunder down the road, still on guard for another attack. In rural villages dotted with bomb shelters, older residents speak of Chinese artillery regularly piercing the quiet evenings on their sleepy island and reciting a four-character declaration of loyalties: “Kill pigs, root out Maoists!”

From 1949 — when China’s civil war officially ended — until the 1970s, the strategic cluster of the Kinmen Islands, controlled by Taiwan but nestled just three miles off China’s coastline, was the site of three amphibious assaults and repeated shelling in the Cold War that pitted Communists against Nationalists, Chairman Mao Zedong against Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Today, as tensions soar in the Taiwan Strait and relations plummet between China and Taiwan’s military backer, the United States, talk is again stirring in Taipei, Washington and Beijing of the possibility of China attacking Taiwan, which it claims as its territory, or seizing one of its vulnerable outlying islands while the world is occupied by the coronavirus pandemic.

But a half-century after the Chinese guns fell silent, the prevailing sentiment of Kinmen residents toward their massive neighbor isn’t historical enmity or fear. It’s fraternity, said Xu Jicai, a 45-year-old lion dancer and village chief.ed just three miles off China’s coastline, was the site of three amphibious assaults and repeated shelling in the Cold War that pitted Communists against Nationalists, Chairman Mao Zedong against Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Today, as tensions soar in the Taiwan Strait and relations plummet between China and Taiwan’s military backer, the United States, talk is again stirring in Taipei, W

Sitting outside his office, Xu marveled at the twist of history that turned his war-scarred island into the most pro-Beijing constituency in Taiwan. In many ways, Kinmen is a geographic and political outlier in Taiwan, a vibrant democracy that has generally voted to shift away from China’s orbit. In other ways, it’s a microcosm of Taiwan’s existential and generational debates over China — and all the insoluble questions of politics and commerce, of culture and shared blood. — Gerry Shih

First Published in Washington Post.

Complied and Curated by Humra Kidwai

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