Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Kinmen highlights its heritage

While the outlying islands is often thought of as a strategic military post, its architecture displays the unique blend of cultures and influences its residents have brought home

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two residents walk by the Teyueh and Yang Towers in Shuitou on Kinmen.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Kinmen Island strikes most people as an armored military fortress situated in the frontline of the Taiwan Strait against China's military threat. Its military legacy is well known, but what lies underneath is a land rich in cultural diversity and architectural beauty.

Lying along the southeast coast of China's Fukien Province, Kinmen is of strategic importance for Taiwan's defense against China.

It first opened to tourism in 1994, which led to a rediscovery of Kinmen's unique mixture of Minnan culture and western influence. Kinmen is a major hometown of many overseas Chinese.

Singapore has the largest overseas Kinmen population. Today, the overseas Kinmen population outnumbers the locals.

Growing awareness of the island's vast Minnan heritage, western architecture and defunct military sites has prompted Kinmen locals and the central government to preserve and renovate the island's precious historical and cultural assets.

The Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) has funds for a series of projects for these historical sites. The projects include cultural education programs and a Kinmen cultural park project. Subsidies available to Kinmen for cultural development totaled NT$428 million last year.

Under these initiatives, the renovation of western style buildings or Yang-lo (洋樓) began, as many of the deserted buildings were urgently in need of repair.

Professor Chiang Bo-wei (江柏煒), an architecture expert from the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences at Kinmen's campus, said "Western styles were absorbed into the hometowns of overseas Chinese in Kinmen.

"They introduced western values, lifestyles and `novel' concepts of sanitation and hygiene to their hometowns. With funds channeled back to Kinmen from abroad, their families were usually better off than other locals," Chiang said.

The western style houses are hybrids of Chinese and western cultures, Chiang said.

Chiang who devoted his academic research to Kinmen's native Minnan Chinese and western style architecture, moved from Taiwan to Kinmen a decade ago.

"They [the structures] were built by successful Kinmen overseas businessmen upon their return from Southeast Asia," Chiang said.

The architectural style peaked in Kinmen between the 1920s and 1930s when there was a surge of funds coming into Kinmen.

The 131 western style buildings are located in some 50 villages and towns in the Greater Kinmen Island area and the Lieh-yu islet on the western side.

Shui-tou (水頭) Village has more of these houses than the rest of Kinmen.

The western style architecture resembles colonial style buildings in Southeast Asia in both the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, Chiang said.

The "five-foot way" verandas, adopted from the British urban planning in Singapore during its colonization period in 1882, is a vivid representation of foreign cultural influence.

The "five-foot-way" refers to a clear passage measuring five feet wide in front of the store along with an attached overhanging roof to keep out rain and bright sunshine.

In Kinmen's Mofan Street (模範街), which gets its name from the uniform hybrid architecture of Chinese and western styles, the shops all have the characteristic "five-foot way" arcades at the front.

The western style can be seen in the one-story "barbarian houses," the two-story "five-foot-way" buildings and the houses with overhangs.

This story has been viewed 5830 times.
TOP top