More than 100 people from Matsu and Kinmen yesterday demonstrated on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, calling on the government to return land that was occupied by the military during the Cold War era.
“The land is no longer in use, why couldn’t they give it back to me?” 83-year-old Chen Shui-kuan (陳水官), said as, with trembling hands, he showed photographs and documents he says prove his ownership of a plot of land in the island county of Matsu.
“The land was taken away by the government in the 1950s for military use, but after military rule in Matsu ended in 1992, the land was not given back to me. Instead, the county government took it and now it’s been turned into a parking lot for Matsu Senior High School,” Chen said.
“What happened was that in the 1950s, when the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] government retreated to Kinmen, Matsu and Taiwan after they lost the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], it took land from people of Matsu and Kinmen by force for military use and promised it would give it back to us after the KMT retook mainland China,” said Wang Chang-ming (王長明), a village warden from Matsu who co-organized the demonstration. “Well, it turned out it was not possible for the KMT to retake mainland China and military rule in Matsu ended in 1992. Yet, most of us are still unable to get our land back now, and the government is not willing to help.”
Matsu Association for Culture and Education president Chen Yi-yu (陳儀宇) said the county government in 1992 made an announcement calling on Matsu residents with land taken by the military to register to get their land back.
“The county government posted the announcement at the Matsu Land Administration Office and in the local Matsu Daily,” he said. “But many Matsu people, including myself, worked in Taiwan proper because it was difficult to make a living under military rule at the time. How were we supposed to know about it? Why didn’t it announce the news in nationwide newspapers?”
Chen Yi-yu said the tomb of his grandfather still sits on the plot of land that his family owned for generations, but which is now considered national property.
Even for those who knew about it, it was not easy to register because at that time, the only means of transportation for civilians to Matsu was a ferry that operated only twice a month, he added.
“The county government gave us only a two-month registration period. For those who could not make it, either because they didn’t know or because they couldn’t manage to travel back to register, their lands automatically became national property,” Chen Yi-yu said.
Over the past 20 years, a number of Matsu residents have filed administrative lawsuits against the county government over the case, but no one has succeeded, because the county government had completed all required administrative and legal procedures to turn private property into state property.
It could be difficult even for those who knew about the announcement and could register in time to reclaim their land, the protesters said.
“Before the retreat of KMT troops, Matsu was more or less in an anarchic state — it was just a few islands scattered along the coast of Fujian Province inhabited by fishermen, with no government authority present,” protester Lin Chin-kuan (林金官) said. “Before the arrival of the military administration, there was no official measuring or investigation of lands in Matsu — so a lot of people were unable to provide modern official documents proving their land ownership.”
Chen Shui-kuan’s case is one example.
Although having a contract signed in 1941 showing his family had purchased a plot of land that is now government property, the document is hand-written with a calligraphy brush with only a rough location of the land in question.