Political figures, international activists and more than 100 youths from 20 countries yesterday gathered on the outlying island of Kinmen for a bell-ringing ceremony to pray for world peace.
At the ceremony to mark the 53rd anniversary of the 823 Artillery Bombardment, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九); former South African president F.W. de Klerk; Song Kosal, a youth ambassador from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines; and a veteran of the 1958 battle struck the “peace bell” at 11am.
The bell, which is 2m high and weighs 5.3 tonnes, was designed by Taiwanese architect Kris Yao (姚仁喜) and is inscribed with the word “peace” in more than 100 languages. It was cast from copper and metal from cannon shells fired during the battle. Along the sides of the bell are small ridges, symbolizing the obstacles that are likely to arise in the pursuit of peace.
The bell-ringing ceremony on Kinmen was held simultaneously with the ringing of peace bells at 200 temples nationwide and 19 temples or churches in 13 countries, including Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Australia and Switzerland.
Ma said after the ceremony that Kinmen has become the most symbolic site between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
“Fifty-three years ago, almost half a million cannon shells fell on this tiny island, injuring and -killing 2,600 soldiers and civilians,” he said. “Fifty-three years later, Kinmen has been transformed into a peace boulevard, drawing 1.3 million visitors every year.”
The 823 Artillery Bombardment refers to a battle in which China fired more than 470,000 shells at Kinmen over a period of 44 days in 1958.
Ma said creating a peace bell out of the cannon shells shows the world Taiwan’s determination to pursue peace, as evidenced by the more stable relationship between Taiwan and China over the past three years.
De Klerk, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his contribution to ending racial segregation in South Africa, said human beings created the most terrible wars in the 20th century, but also made the most remarkable progress in science and technology in the same period. The 20th century wars were rooted in ideology, imperialism and consumerism, he said. He called for greater tolerance among different ethnic groups.
De Klerk said that Taiwan has led the way in terms of economic and political freedom and has transformed itself into a prosperous place.
“The challenge for all humankind during the coming years remains the fight for peace,” he said, adding that living together in tolerance and striking peaceful cooperation, rather than dwelling on war and conflicts, will bring peace.
The government has designated the 53rd anniversary of the 823 Artillery Bombardment as “Republic of China Centennial Peace Day.”
The National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group, Meimage Dance and Menahem Pressler, a famed Jewish pianist who survived the Holocaust, were invited to perform at the bell-ringing ceremony.