Taiwan's island outpost in the front line

TERESA POOLE

Quemoy

The underground tunnels below Chiunglin Village, in central Quemoy, are well prepared - at least for visitors. For the equivalent of 25p per ticket, one can descend the steps in the village hall and tour the 1,355 yards of passageways, which were built in the Sixties. "We never had the occasion to use it," said a villager. "But maybe we will in the future," he added ruefully.

The village is not, as yet, making any urgent arrangements to have the tunnels ready. Tsai Shui-Cheng, the 36-year-old village head, said; "The situation is stable, there is no special preparation. The old people have prepared themselves by buying extra food, but we have not organised anything for the village."

With China yesterday starting its live-fire exercises in an area just 40 miles south-west of Quemoy, an island belonging to Taiwan, one might be tempted to ask, why not? "Because we are not going to fight, and anyhow we are very strong and we will resist . . . We are safe because the army is here," said Mr Tsai. "We have already lived through times of great tension with the mainland, so people are used to it."

Quemoy has a population of 40,000 civilians and about 50,000 soldiers and nestles less than 2,000 yards from the mainland at its closest point. Until 1991 it remained under military government, but in the past five years had begun to appreciate a sense of normality, including a growing tourism industry. Now Quemoy finds itself once again potentially in the front line. The civilians are putting on a brave face: "We are not frightened," insisted Mr Tsai.

There is nervousness, but no signs of panic. By one exit from the tunnel network, a stone carving of the "hongseye" Chinese idol to peace, stands wearing a new pink cloak, and with incense and candles burning on its base. Tsun Chang-lun said: "People are coming and making a prayer and putting incense. Normally they do this once a year, but they come more often these days."

From yesterday, the state of alert on Quemoy was officially raised from Level 3 to between Levels 3 and 2. There are soldiers everywhere. That is true normally, but now they are busy digging trenches, wheeling out anti-aircraft guns, manning the pill-boxes, and preparing the tanks. Convoys of army vehicles and supplies roll down the mostly empty roads. Soldiers are wearing helmets and carrying small packs, something which locals said only started yesterday.

At the civilian airport, soldiers were arriving back from holiday. But yesterday morning there was also one large group departing for Taipei for their usual one week's leave.

Quemoy's governor, Chen Shui-tsai, said: "The situation is not that tense." But he added: "I estimate there is a 30 per cent probability of conflict with China." He defined this as either an attack or a blockade. Mr Chen said the island had adequate food and water supplies for up to six months, and had prepared electricity supplies and hospital beds.

Quemoy in recent history survived three big assaults from the mainland. At the Kuningtou battle in October 1949, it fought off thousands of mainland invaders. In 1954 and 1958 the island suffered massive bombardments from the mainland, which it returned in kind.

Since then, Quemoy has built, though not tested, not only tunnels, but also the underground Granite Hospital, drilled in 1973 into the side of a rocky outcrop, and protected by thick blue-painted metal doors. It is a working hospital, though the plan at the entrance includes such sections as a "Political Warfare Department" and a "Secret Officers Room".

Over the past few years, however, Quemoy's civilian residents have increasingly seen themselves caught between Taiwan main island and mainland China. "Before 1991, we could go to Taiwan, but they could not come here," said one young man. "Taiwanese people living in Quemoy are more frightened at the moment than Quemoy people."

But this leads to a sense of confusion now as to what is in Quemoy's best interests. At Shin Hwu fishing harbour, on the south coast, the local fishermen were defiant. "We will keep on going out. We will go out tomorrow," said Li Cheng-chen. "Even if they come with more than one million, we are not afraid of them. We are all Chinese. We are not going to fight, we want to live in peace."

Quemoy people feel stuck in the middle of a game in which they have no say. "Those mainlanders are crazy guys," said Tsai Hsu-ling, aged 50. "We will sort them out. We will kick their faces in if they come to attack. But what is the point of all this anyway, all for one election? Further, we do not care about the election. It is just for the ambition of one person. All that we want is to live peacefully, but really those mainland leaders are crazy guys."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz