Kinmen’s Changing Architecture


2018 / April

Chuang Kung-ju /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

If you want to examine the history of a place, often that place’s architecture provides the best evidence.


Kinmen is a group of islands large and small that lie off the southeastern coast of the Chinese mainland, forming a barrier across the mouth of Xia­men Bay opposite the Jiu­long River and the city of Xia­men. Historical records about Kinmen date back to the Jin Dynasty (265‡420), and settlement is recorded from the Tang (618‡907). With its unique educational ethos, Kin­men produced over 39 jin­shi (successful candidates in the highest grade of the imperial examinations) from the Song Dynasty (960‡1279) onward. According to convention, each time an examinee from Kin­men became a jin­shi, an ancestral hall was constructed. This is part of the story behind the many traditional Southern-­Fu­jian­ese­-style buildings on Kinmen.

From the 1840s to the 1940s, many people from Kinmen went to Southeast Asia to do business, and some of those who made their fortune there returned home and built “Western­-style” houses to show off their success. Some 161 such Western-style homes were built before 1949. With the passage of time, most of those that remain have become mottled and old. Only a few larger buildings, such as the De­yue Tower, have been able to maintain the glories of yesteryear, thanks to conservation by the Kin­men County Government.

In 1949, after the ROC government decamped to Taiwan, Kin­men changed dramatically. It became an indomitable military fortress, and its special features became artillery pieces, bunkers, loudspeakers blaring out slogans of psychological warfare, and large military tunnels.

During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958, nearly a million artillery shells landed on tiny Kinmen. Many private houses were destroyed, and the scars of war are still visible on surviving structures.

Since the start of the 21st century, the military flavor has receded somewhat, the fortresses of the past have been gradually abandoned, and new-style buildings and seaside coffee shops have become the new attractions for visiting tourists. Construction of the Kinmen Bridge, linking Kinmen Island with Little Kinmen, is busily underway. The history of the past several centuries is quietly evoked through each brick and tile of Kinmen’s architecture.

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