Cases of mistaken identity perplexing Lienchiang County

MIRROR IMAGE: China and Taiwan both have their own Lienchiang counties, a confusing situation residents on this side may soon end

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 1

Letters mailed to Lienchiang County, which includes the island of Matsu, often go astray. The reason: China also has a Lienchiang County, which is just a few kilometers from Taiwan's.

The "small three links," initiated in January 2001, allow trade, mail and people to cross the small stretch of water between Taiwan's Kinmen and Lienchiang counties and China's Fujian Province.

The new links between the two government agencies with the name Lienchiang County sometimes leave the mailmen baffled.

To end to the confusion, the Lienchiang County Government under Taiwan's control recently proposed surveying its residents on whether the county's name should be changed to Matsu, a name more familiar to the public.

"Ever since we started implementing the `small three links,' cases of mail being misdelivered -- because of confusion between my county and that of China's -- are frequent," said Lienchiang County Commissioner Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生).

The confusion is a legacy of the Chinese civil war. In 1949, the retreating KMT forces took control of the province of Taiwan and also of Kinmen and Matsu, which are part of Fujian Province.

All of Kinmen County came under the KMT's control, but only part of Lienchiang County.

The opening of direct mail links between the two sides has now brought the situation to a head, Chen said.

"I personally have no specific preference as to whether the county's name should stay as Lienchiang or be changed to Matsu," said Chen, who is a member of the PFP. "The proposal is suggested purely to put an end to all the arguments over the county's name."

Aside from problems of missing mail, Chen said that many locals advocated the name change because Matsu is a more commonly used name.

Most of people in Taiwan know the 19 islets that make up Taiwan-controlled Lienchiang County as Matsu rather than by its official name.

"People who wish to have the county's name changed to Matsu said that Matsu was a name that's more well-known and recognizable to outsiders and has a higher profile in the international community," Chen said.

Chen, however, also noted that there were some locals who opposed the name change because it smacked of the independence stance held by the DPP government.

"Some people are concerned that to change the county's name would seem to support former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) recent call for the nation's name to be changed," Chen said.

Chen was referring to comments by Lee that called on Taiwanese to forge a new Constitution and change the nation's name from the Republic of China to Taiwan.

"Some, who want to uphold the historical name of Lienchiang, regard any change to the county's name as a precursor to Taiwan's independence," Chen said.

The commissioner also said that because the county has only 9,000 residents, some feared that pushing for the name change would give central government politicians an excuse to abrogate Lienchiang's status as a county.

"Given all these various opinions on whether the county should change its name, we hope a majority stance can be ascertained through a survey, thereby ending the arguments," Chen said.

The county government has hired a polling company to carry out the survey, he said.

"The firm has just finished a series of explanatory meetings around the islands on this matter," Chen said. "The survey is likely to be held no later than June."

He said the survey would then be distributed to all households.

"If 70 to 80 percent of the people agree to have the county's name changed, then the county government will go ahead and submit the proposal to the county council," Chen said.

"If the county council passes the proposal, then it will take the issue to the Ministry of the Interior to begin the procedure to change the name," he said.

While this procedure is mandated in the Law on Local Government Systems (地方制度法), Lienchiang's move would set a precedent.

"So far, no local government has made such a request," said Lin Mei-chu (林美珠), director of Civil Affairs Department at the ministry.