Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Gun battery sheds light on history, Chinese attitudes

By Ko Shu-ling  /  Staff Reporter

Many visitors to Penghu know that the Hsiyu Hsitai (西嶼西臺), or Hsiyu Western Battery (西嶼西砲臺), is one of its principal tourist attractions. However, very few know the history behind it, or the relationship between the site and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Hsiyu (西嶼), or Fisher Island (漁翁島), is the second-biggest atoll of the Penghu Island chain. Hsiyu Island belongs to Hsiyu Township, which makes up 14.3 percent of Penghu County. The Hsiyu Hsitai was designated a class-one historic relic in 1983 and was opened to the public in 1990 after four years of renovation.

Yang Jen-chian (楊仁江), a professor of the Graduate Institute of Architecture and Historic Preservation at the Taipei National University of the Arts, said Pengu had strategic importance during the Ming Dynasty.

During that period, general Chen Kuo-hsuan (陳國軒) built 15 batteries in Penghu to guard against Shih Lang (施琅), a military strategist. Many of the batteries were destroyed during the Sino-French War of 1884 and 1885, when northern Taiwan and Penghu were the main battlefields.

A Qing Dynasty governor of Taiwan, Liu Ming-chuan (劉銘傳), began to build and repair 10 batteries in Penghu, Keelung, Huwei (滬尾, the old name for Tamsui) and Anping (a port in Tainan) in 1886. Four batteries were built in Penghu in 1887, including the Hsiyu Western Battery and Hsiyu Eastern Battery. However, the guns did not arrive until 1888, Yang said.

The batteries played an important role in holding back the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese war of 1894 and 1895. However, the Qing Dynasty lost the battle and they dismantled the guns at Hsiyu Western Battery and buried them.

The batteries were abandoned during the Japanese colonial era, which lasted for half a century after the Japanese Imperial Army built a garrison on Penghu.

As there were only batteries, but no guns or ammunition, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was minister without portfolio at the time (1996-1997), asked the Ministry of the Interior whether they could purchase guns — a request that was turned down.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” he would say years later.

Ma did not get his wish until 2008, when the Penghu County Government obtained NT$20 million (US$681,000) in government funding to purchase guns from British manufacturer Armstrong Gun. They were installed in November last year under Yang’s supervision.

Ma, who visited the Hsiyu Western Battery on Dec. 12, said he was happy to see the restoration of the guns, adding that he did not think the Republic of China military had ever had such heavy-caliber cannons.

Ma said he paid great importance to restoration of the gun batteries because he wanted future generations to know their history. His eyes sparkled when he talked about his role in the project. He was eager to share his understanding of history with others — an understanding that places Taiwan as a province of China long ago.

When Liu built the batteries in Taiwan and Penghu, Ma said, the guns were used to fend off the Japanese rather than the French. The Japanese had desired Taiwan since 1870 and sent troops to Mutan (牡丹) in 1874, an operation that eventually came to be known as the Mutanse Incident (牡丹事件), he said. During the incident, which occurred before the Japanese colonization of -Taiwan in 1895, Japan took punitive action against Aborigines over the murder of Okinawan sailors.

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