Walking, Running, Relays, Obstacle Race, Table Tennis, Frisbee, Ball Throwing and a new game called Taspony (rules similar to tennis but using bare hands and a sponge ball): non-stop action all day! All part of the annual ecumenical NCCT Sports Day, held on Saturday November 9 here at St. John’s University (SJU).
The National Council of Churches of Taiwan (NCCT) 台灣教會合作協會 is affiliated with the World Council of Churches, and in Taiwan it consists of 6 member churches – Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Orthodox, Methodist and Lutheran. There’s also 11 member organizations, the Bible Society, Christian AV Association, Mackay Memorial Hospital, Tainan Theological College & Seminary, Taipei Christian Academy, Taiwan Christian Service, Taiwan Theological College & Seminary, The Garden of Hope Foundation, World Vision, YWCA and YMCA.
The Sports Day is organized by the different churches and organizations in turn; this year it was the turn of Taiwan Christian Service 台灣基督教福利會, and they asked to hold the event here at St. John’s University. Taiwan Christian Service is a relief agency, founded in 1954 by the Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief. The short sermon at the opening service of the Sports Day was given by Rev. Liu Ren-Hai of the Lutheran Church, who is also chair of Taiwan Christian Service.
The bishop of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, Bishop David J. H. Lai has always made the ecumenical Sports Day a big priority and he attends every year, competing in the Table Tennis competition, and this year was no exception. Participation by different churches over the years comes and goes ~ this year there were 6 teams in total, from the RC Church, Taiwan Christian Service, YMCA, YWCA, Episcopal Church and a small team of 9 from the Presbyterian Church. Some years, the Roman Catholics and Presbyterians choose to participate in big numbers – their indigenous church members are so strong and always win every tug of war race with one slight jolt on the rope (at least, that’s my impression of the last time the Sports Day was held here at SJU, back in 2012!) The team with the most colourful T-shirts were in bright orange – despite their name, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Organization) had almost equal numbers of men and women, and on inquiry they said that they were all working at the YMCA Hotel in Taipei – I told them we always recommend their hotel to visitors – it’s a good place!
This year the Taiwan Episcopal Church had by far the largest group of participants. St. Stephen’s Church, Keelung sent a bus of 35 church members, the teenagers and children to join the sports, the older ones for cheer-leading and singing. A group of about 20 came from St. John’s Cathedral and a similar group came from Advent Church and our student fellowship at St. John’s University. So we had all ages and all abilities…
And we had a great time! I was in the 400 m walking race, and part of the team of 20 for the relays and the obstacle race (which included a sack race, hopping, jumping through the hoops and running with the sack back to base). Ah, it was all fun!
At lunchtime, we had performances from the cheer-leading teams or songs and dances. St. Stephen’s Church senior group sang some choruses, they were so lovely!
Awards were presented to individual winners as well as to the teams. The Taiwan Episcopal Church came out as overall winners, and Rev. Philip Lin accepted the cup on behalf of the church from Fr. Mbudi Masela (CICM, based at Qidu, Keelung, originally from the Congo), and then the RC Church received the award for the most energetic team, presented to Fr. Masela by Bishop Lai.
Thanks be to God for great weather, great spirit and energy, and lots of fun, fellowship and laughter! The weather was indeed wonderful – this is the SJU campus that afternoon after everyone had gone home, looking splendid in the late afternoon sun…
And so we’re looking forward to seeing everyone again next year!
Well over 200 people gathered at 2:00 pm today, Sunday, at Advent Church to give thanks to God for the life and witness of our close friend and beloved church member, Janet Tan 譚瑾姊妹, who sadly died on June 25. Hers was a life lived to the full, she never wasted one single moment, and all of us who knew her were touched by her kindness, love, self-effacing charm, endless optimism and interest in everything and everyone. All the photos used in this post below bring back many memories, but the top photo above shows Janet with Bishop Lai in 2014 at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and that’s how I remember her, always with a smile on her face!
The Tan family have long been the party-family of Advent Church, and until Tan Mama and Tan Baba both passed away last year (see my report of Tan Mama’s funeral here), we regularly gathered at their home to celebrate and enjoy delicious food and great company, whether it was birthdays, Christmas or other festivals, the returning home of one of the grandchildren or welcoming visitors coming – whatever and whenever, it was the Tan family who always knew how to host a great party. Tan Mama was in charge, but somehow it was Janet who made it all happen!
Janet went to high school in Taipei, and after leaving Christ’s College, Guandu, she traveled the world with Cathay Pacific for 10 years or so – she used to tell so many stories of her backpacking adventures! Later she worked in the USA, then at the family T-shirt company in Taipei City, and finally moved with all the Tan family to the coast at Baishawan, just north of Advent Church, where she and her parents took care of the Tan family pets: 7 horses, about 15 famously noisy dogs, a host of cats and a whole gaggle of geese. In their Taipei days, Janet had had a whole pack of Dalmatian dogs, all white with black spots, and she had clothes to match ~ plus the car and the family factory were all painted in white with black spots too ~ ah, she was just so special!
In the countryside at Baishawan, Janet learned how to renovate derelict houses, grow vegetables and live off the land, while also taking care of her beloved parents, and all the pets. Visitors were always welcome! And thus it was that I’ve been to the family home many times for early morning breakfast, other times for lunch, and even more times for late evening parties. Tan Mama was always just getting warmed up at 9:00 pm when most 90-year-olds were well gone to bed!
And when the party was over, often getting on for 11:00 pm, then somehow I had to get home, and that’s when the fun started ~ Janet would offer to drive me the 5 miles or so – only 5 miles but it would take absolutely ages! Tan Mama, fearing that Janet would fall asleep driving, would insist on coming too, and Tan Baba didn’t want to miss out on a car trip, so all 4 of us would then launch forth into the night, pile into the car and head down the hill and along the road in the darkness, going very slowly. The only way to keep Janet awake was to sing loudly and get her to join in too, and so that’s how we got home. Being a kindergarten teacher, I know endless children’s songs, and we sang them all, over and over again ~ ‘Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday, The Wheels on the Bus, Incy-Wincy Spider, If you’re happy and you know it’ every verse, over and over! By this time, Tan Mama and Tan Baba were both fast asleep themselves, and Janet and me were having a great singalong all the way home. It was hilarious. Visitors would join in too, ah such amazing memories!
Janet and her parents also came to every social event in Advent Church. They rarely came on time, and sometimes not even on the right day, but hey, they always came, often right at the end, just in time for the food. One time they called me and asked could they visit. When they arrived, they came with a huge plate of watermelon chunks, enough for about 20 people. The 4 of us munched our way through all that watermelon. It turned out they had thought it was a social evening at Advent Church, and had turned up very late – only to find the church closed. After a quick phone call, they discovered they were a week early, it was on the following week instead. So rather than go home, hey they just brought the watermelon to my house for a watermelon party instead!
When the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori came to visit Advent Church many years ago, she also visited the Tan family and met the horses. Then when the Episcopal Church House of Bishops came to Taiwan in 2014, Janet was on hand to renew her friendship with Presiding Bishop Katharine and her husband, Richard – here they are having lunch!
And only Janet could have pulled off a group photo on the steps of Advent Church with her in the front row with all the bishops!
Today’s service was a fitting tribute to Janet’s life, and also to her witness of her deep and very real Christian faith. She always made the most of every opportunity to share her faith with others, particularly in the context of her simple rural lifestyle, depending on God to supply everything they needed – and over this past year of declining health, she has always remained grateful and appreciative of God’s grace, mercy and love. When Tan Baba died last July, Janet was not able to be at his funeral, she was already receiving treatment for cancer – however she kept as active as she could right to the end and in this last semester, she came along most weeks to my community English class, including the one only a week before she died. We loved having her, she was a real blessing to us all.
Today’s funeral service was led by our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, who was with Janet in the days and hours leading up to her death, and he also led her cremation service on July 1. Her death was a shock and the whole church has been in mourning for weeks; Janet was too young and died too soon, only a year after both her parents, and yet she would not have wanted us to be mournful – but to rejoice with her that she is now with her Lord in heaven, where there is no more suffering and pain, and where she is reunited with her beloved parents. The reading was from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15, most appropriate. The funeral service in a packed Advent Church….
After the service, we had a tea party in the church center, which the family had decorated with flowers, and Dalmatian-style tablecloths! There were gifts of memorial books and T-shirts. On the T-shirts, designed and made by the family in their own factory, were the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1, headlined with the song, ‘Turn, turn, turn’: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” So beautiful.
Janet’s 3 older brothers shook hands and thanked everyone as the service finished. We offer them and all the Tan family our condolences and prayers. The brothers and their families are looking after all Janet’s horses and dogs, cats and geese, and also trying to complete some of her building projects, like the huge cross that she wanted to make on the flat roof of the horses’ stable, so that as the airplanes pass by overhead on their flight-path to the international airport, so they can look down and see the cross outline all lit up. Janet had so many ideas and so much vision, she was brimming with creativity and imagination for what was possible. You can see from her outfits she wore that she always dressed as creatively as she could. Janet really brightened up our lives, and was a great friend to so many of us. I thank God for the privilege of having known her.
Fondly remembered. May Janet rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
Update on Tuesday August 6: the official report on the Episcopal News Service announcing these results is now published here
After many months of prayer and preparation, today was THE big day, when Bishop David J. H. Lai gathered the Diocese of Taiwan clergy and laity representatives at St. James’ Church, Taichung to elect the next Bishop of Taiwan. Thanks be to God that Rev. Dr. Lennon Y. R. Chang 張員榮牧師 was elected on the second ballot ~ many congratulations! Above is the photo of the bishop and bishop-elect with their wives, and below is Bishop-elect Lennon and his wife, Hannah posing in their formal photo!
The day started with a Holy Communion service at 10:00 am, led by Bishop David J. H. Lai. Most of us had had very early starts, for us in the far N. W. of Taiwan at Advent Church, we set off at 6:00 am in a small bus and fortunately got to St. James, Taichung without any trouble well before 9:00 am. We are grateful for the prayers of friends around the world for good weather and safe travels. This month, after all, is actually the height of the typhoon season, so we are glad that our schedule for today was not disrupted by bad weather. Here we are arriving at St. James ready for the big day!
Just so you know, Bishop David J. H. Lai 賴榮信主教 is the 5th diocesan bishop of Taiwan, he was consecrated on November 25, 2000 as coadjutor, and then installed as diocesan bishop in 2001 on the retirement of Bishop John C. T. Chien 簡啟聰主教. Bishop Lai retires in March 2020, so today we have elected our 6th diocesan bishop to be Bishop Lai’s successor.
We are grateful to all 3 nominees who stood for election, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang 張員榮牧師, Rev. Lily L. L. Chang 張玲玲牧師 and Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu 吳明龍牧師.
For most of our clergy it was their first bishop election. For Mr. Yang, our diocesan secretary, it was his second, and we were glad that he was here today to lead the way. He was on hand to check everyone in, helped by diocesan staff, clergy and and his daughter …
First was the Holy Communion Service…
Then the election was held immediately after the service, on the 7th floor of the St. James’ Education Building, with the observers watching from the balcony above, and an overflow group watching it all by video link on the 6th floor.
The rules are that all clergy and elected lay delegates are allowed to vote, and the person elected must receive over 50% from both the house of clergy and house of laity on the same ballot. Of our 18 clergy, 17 voted, and we had 36 lay delegates, all of whom voted. Ballot 1 results as follows…
After the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number in both the house of clergy and house of laity did not then proceed onto ballot 2. In the second ballot, there was a clear result ~ and when it became clear, the whole room erupted in applause! Ballot 2 results as follows….
Lennon gave a short acceptance speech in which he thanked all the clergy and lay delegates for their support…
And then we had photos, of course! Group photos and individual ones. And we were so pleased to welcome Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock, representing the Episcopal Church, and here he is!
And other friends and church groups…
A bit of background: Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, 張員榮牧師, 64, is the rector of Advent Church on the campus of St. John’s University, Taipei, where the church serves as both the university chapel and as a parish church. Among many projects and ministries over the years, Lennon has also raised huge amounts of money to install the most beautiful stained glass artwork in the Advent Church ceiling, and to build the Advent Church Centre. He is also very involved in leading short-term mission trips within Taiwan and overseas, most recently in a mission program working together with our companion diocese of Osaka. Later this month he will lead an 8-day mission trip with about 20 mostly young people from Osaka and Taiwan to the Diocese of West Malaysia. Do pray for them!
Lennon is married to Hannah, they have 2 adult daughters and 2 young grandchildren. He was born and brought up in Taipei in a military family, with parents from a Baptist background who moved to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949. As a student at St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology SJSMIT (predecessor of St. John’s University SJU) Lennon was baptized aged 15 in 1970 by Rev. Charles C. T. Chen in Advent Church, and then confirmed in 1971 by Bishop James Pong. Hannah is a former kindergarten teacher, she grew up in Keelung, where she and her older sister, Rev. Elizabeth F. J. Wei, were members of Trinity Church. Elizabeth and her husband, Rev. Peter D. P. Chen were both there today at the election as observers, they have retired to Tamsui, and now worship each week at Advent Church. Lennon studied theology through the diocesan Trinity Hall Theological Program, and was ordained deacon on December 21, 1995 and ordained priest on January 25, 1999. Lennon has devoted virtually his whole life and ministry to St. John’s University, first as a student, then in succession as Associate Professor of Mathematics (he has a PhD in Algebra), SJU chaplain and now as full-time rector of Advent Church.
So, please do pray for Lennon and his family, for Advent Church and St. John’s University, and for Bishop Lai and the Diocese of Taiwan. We give thanks to Almighty God for his many blessings and for the smooth election process today. A lot of the hard work and responsibility rests with Mr. Richard B. S. Hu, chair of the diocesan Standing Committee. Today’s result still needs to receive consent from the bishops and standing committees of the Episcopal Church; but provisionally the date of consecration, ordination and installation is set as February 22, 2020.
Much respected and well-loved by all in the Taiwan Episcopal Church, the Rev. Dr. Peyton G. Craighill (who sadly died on June 4, 2019 at the age of 89) served in Taiwan for many years along with his wife Mary, based at Tainan Theological College from 1961-1978, and then in their retirement, they came back for 2 years to serve at St. James’ Church, Taichung. In June 2012, Peyton came to Taiwan to lead workshops on Member Mission, his last visit to the country and people he loved so much. At the end of his visit then, he shared with me how he thought that the next bishop of Taiwan would be Rev. Lennon Chang – Peyton thought Lennon to be eminently suitable to be bishop. Sadly Peyton is no longer here to see today’s election result, but we know he would be thanking God!
Bishop Dick Chang sadly died 2 years ago, but during his time as Bishop of Hawaii, he and his wife Dee were good friends and wonderful supporters of us all in Taiwan, and Dee continues to support us today. Bishop Dick would be pleased that another Bishop Chang has been elected in the Episcopal Church!
Lennon is 64 years old and in the diocesan public forum meetings leading up to this election, he emphasized that, if elected, he has a clearly defined 7-year plan to embark upon immediately, as his time as bishop would be limited (mandatory retirement age of bishops in the Episcopal Church is 72). He assured everyone that he is prepared to work very hard to respond to God’s calling. His inspiration and role model is Bishop James C. L. Wong (Bishop of Taiwan 1965-70 and founder of SJSMIT / SJU) whose motto was always, “Transforming Lives Through the Life of Christ.” Bishop Wong was 65 at his consecration, and achieved so much in those 5 years. Lennon hopes to do the same – certainly his determination and dedication are legendary – and we pray for God’s blessing upon his ministry, his health and his family. Thank you!
The official report announcing these election results is published here on the Episcopal News Service website. The report in Chinese on the Christian Tribune website is here. Thanks to Rev. Antony F. W. Liang for some of the photos used above, to St. James’ Church for hosting the election and lunch, and to you all for your support, prayers and concern for us ~ and thanks be again to Almighty God!
Happening this very weekend, on Saturday August 3 is the election of the new diocesan bishop of Taiwan. Prayers requested please!
The mandatory retirement age for bishops in the Episcopal Church is 72, so our current diocesan bishop, Bishop David J. H. Lai 賴榮信主教 must retire before March 3, 2020. Bishop Lai is the 5th diocesan bishop of Taiwan, he was consecrated on November 25, 2000 as coadjutor, and then installed as diocesan bishop in 2001 on the retirement of Bishop John C. T. Chien 簡啟聰主教. So we are electing our 6th diocesan bishop as Bishop Lai’s successor. The date of consecration, ordination and installation is provisionally set as February 22, 2020.
We have 3 official nominees, seen in the photo below with Bishop Lai, all are from within the Diocese of Taiwan. From left: Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang 張員榮牧師, rector of Advent Church, Taipei, Bishop David J. H. Lai, Rev. Lily L. L. Chang 張玲玲牧師, rector of St. James’ Church, Taichung, and Rev. Joseph M. L. Wu 吳明龍牧師, vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung.
The 3 nominees were confirmed at our diocesan convention in March, then in April, May and June, there were 3 very well-attended public forums, one each in the north, central and south Taiwan. It was a chance for the nominees to share about themselves, their vision for the diocese, and an opportunity to ask and answer questions.
We are pleased to welcome Rev. Canon Bruce Woodcock, coming to Taiwan for the election on behalf of the US-based Episcopal Church, of which Taiwan is an overseas diocese, part of Province VIII.
The election of the new bishop takes place this coming Saturday, August 3 at St. James’ Church, Taichung, starting at 10:00 am with a service, followed by the actual election. Most people are traveling there for the day from our various churches throughout Taiwan. We pray for safe travels and good weather, a smooth election and a clear result. Please join us in prayer!
Congratulations to all 900 students who graduated this past Saturday from St. John’s University (SJU)! And what a great occasion it was, with so many parents, relatives, friends, alumni, faculty and staff to celebrate with them. Some were accompanied by lots of family members, and some of the families from overseas were making a holiday of it all, and traveling on elsewhere. The photo below is of Yee Theng and her family from Sabah, Malaysia, she’s one of our most mature and very lovely student fellowship leaders, and her family were all here to join the graduation celebrations -YES!
And here I am with Calvin, one of our hardest-working, most successful and friendliest Malaysian students and his family…
Most of the students I know are those associated with the SJU Student Fellowship ~ and yes, quite a few of them are from Malaysia; lots more are from Taiwan of course. Bishop David J. H. Lai, chair of the SJU Trustees, and SJU President Ay Herchang led the celebrations, graduated the students, gave speeches, presented awards and shared their congratulations with all the students. There were many other VIP guests too, including a number of very distinguished alumni who received awards. A selection of photos below ~ and if it looks like a student is holding their ears in the photo, it’s because their mortar boards kept falling off!
Actually the day had started at 9:00 am with a gathering of alumni of the former St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT) (original name of SJU) for the dedication by Bishop Lai of the newly-installed SJSMIT logo on the slope below Advent Church. For many years that logo was located in the floor of the main entrance to the central building. When the old buildings were demolished to make way for the new ones, the logo was moved to the SJSMIT archives and museum centre. Now it has been brought back once again into a more central place where it can be seen more easily by everyone.
About midday, after the graduation ceremony, our students came along to Advent Church for photos with their families – such fun!
Although it is sad to say goodbye, we have many happy memories! Last Thursday, our student fellowship (along with some fellowship alumni and chaplaincy staff) gathered to say goodbye to our 9 graduating fellowship members. The evening started with a formal meal, then we moved onto a celebration party, and this year’s theme was a pyjama party – ah, what a laugh! By tradition the graduating students prepare something special to present to the student fellowship, so here they all are with our current fellowship leader….
At the party, there was a catwalk for each one to model their pyjama costume, there were informal speeches, dancing, songs, presentations, hugs, gifts, tears, laughter and lots of photos!
Ah yes, many congratulations to all our SJU graduates of 2019! May God bless them as they leave us to pursue further studies or military service, find a job, return to their own countries or continue to stay on in Taiwan, whatever and wherever, we pray for them all and give thanks for the privilege of knowing them all for these past 4 years!
Kinmen 金門 (aka Quemoy / Chinmen / Chin-men), one of Taiwan’s farthest-flung islands, is where the 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment 八二三炮戰 happened in 1958 as part of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, when an estimated 450,000 artillery shells were fired at the Kinmen Islands. It’s also where the Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai had his vision in 2016 to transform some of those artillery shells into crosses, a symbol of hatred and war now transformed into a symbol of love and peace. The Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Workshop 金合利, founded in 1963 in Kinmen, uses the discarded artillery shells to make high-quality steel blades for both kitchen and ornamental use. Maestro Wu, grandson of the founder, now runs the company, and he kindly offered his expertise to work with Bishop Lai on the design and production of the prototype crosses. To produce lighter-weight crosses, he suggested using moulds, and this was done by sending the artillery shell steel to another factory elsewhere. This project of the Taiwan Episcopal Church has now been fully realized, and while I was in the UK on home leave this past year, I presented Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses to many church leaders. This included acting on behalf of Bishop Lai to present one to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop Lai himself led a delegation from the National Council of Churches of Taiwan to the Vatican in December 2017, where he was able to present one to Pope Francis. This is Maestro Wu’s workshop in Kinmen – the smell of the smelters in the workshop is really strong!
But y’know, until now, I had never actually visited Kinmen. So you can imagine how excited I was when Bishop Lai invited me to join this church visit to Kinmen for 29 members and friends of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, from May 20-22, 2019! His purpose on this visit was firstly to visit Maestro Wu to thank him for his help…
Secondly to visit the Zhaishan Tunnel翟山坑道 in Kinmen to sing our specially-composed Artillery Shell Cross hymn, and thirdly to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, open to the public only since March 2019. This is everyone in the Zhaishan Tunnel….
Thanks be to God that, through His mercy and grace, we accomplished all that we wanted to do in Kinmen! But as we arrived at Songshan Airport in Taipei City on Monday May 20 at 7:00 am to check in for the 8:00 am hour-long flight to Kinmen, we wondered whether we would even get off the ground. The Plum Rains were here in full force; outside was torrential rain (in fact we learned later that flash-flooding caused St. John’s University to cancel classes that day), while we also heard that Kinmen Airport was closed and over 1,000 people had been stranded in Kinmen overnight waiting for the weather to improve. The 7:00 am flight to Kinmen was first delayed, then cancelled, and we feared ours would be next. Down south in Kaohsiung, 7 of our group were already stranded at the airport there as their flight to Kinmen really was cancelled, so all they could do was wait on standby for a spare seat. Our group at Taipei was 22 people, far too many to all get to Kinmen on standby if our flight was to be cancelled too. Aaaah! Then suddenly at about 8:30 am, the announcement came that we could proceed to check in our luggage and onwards to boarding. YES!
The skies were dark as we started to fly west over the Taiwan Strait towards Kinmen. But as we got closer, blue sky emerged up above, and by the time we arrived, the rain had stopped. But it did continue to rain on and off all day, mostly heavily. Fortunately our group from Kaohsiung also all managed to get there in the end, although it took until about 2:00 pm before the last 2 arrived. Here we all are, united at the ceramics factory – possibly our only group photo of 28/29 of us (taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu, one of our group) …
Like many islands in this part of the world, Kinmen has a complicated history. “Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) under Chiang Kai-shek began withdrawing its forces from mainland China to Taiwan. However, ROC garrisons remained stationed on the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, located off the coast in Fujian Province.” In fact, the Kinmen Islands were so heavily militarized that, at its peak, an estimated 100,000 troops were stationed there. Many hundreds of thousands of Taiwan men have done their military service in Kinmen, including our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang. For years, military service was 2 years, so Kinmen made a deep impression on those serving there. These days, the total number of military personnel in the whole of the Kinmen Islands numbers less than 5,000. What a difference! But there are the remnants of army bases, equipment, museums, guard posts and military memorials all over Kinmen. Many of these more obvious memorials are standing right in the middle of roundabouts – guess it makes moving military equipment easier if there’s a roundabout rather than a sharp corner, anyway Kinmen has more roundabouts on that one single island than I have ever seen in the whole of the rest of Taiwan.
Kinmen is located in Xiamen Bay, at the mouth of the Jiulong River, 227 km west of Taiwan, but only 10 km east of Xiamen. Xiamen is a huge port city in China, population 3,500,000 (census of 2010), and formerly known as Amoy – it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912. The main Greater Kinmen Island is shaped like a dumbbell or a butterfly (depending on your imagination); the narrowest part is 3 km wide, and at the widest part, east-west, it is 20 km. There’s also the neigbouring island of Small / Lesser Kinmen 小金門, and the much smaller islands of Dadan, Erdan and more.
Sadly Kinmen has been very badly deforested by all the political chaos, civil wars and centuries of pirate attacks, so instead of being protected by its forests, it is now famous for its northeast monsoon winds that roar around all autumn and winter and make cultivation very difficult. All over Kinmen are Wind Lion God statues, originally installed to protect against wind damage, and now also believed to protect against evil spirits…
And then there’s the cows – like roundabouts, it seems as if there’s more cows in tiny Kinmen than in the whole of Taiwan. They’re on every grassy bit of field, all individually tied up and with their own bucket of water, and all with their own personality!
For me, the most interesting things in Kinmen are the old houses. There’s old houses all over Taiwan, but nothing like the ones in Kinmen. I expected to see a few, but there are thousands. Most of them are well-preserved and still inhabited, others have been converted to guest houses and holiday cottages. Their style is traditional Fujian, with swallowtail or horseback-shaped ridges on their roofs. They are stunning – and I couldn’t get enough of ‘em!
Tourism is now a major source of income for Kinmen people, and being so close to Xiamen means that trade with China is booming. The water supply even comes from there, via a pipeline, installed in 2018. The Kinmen government has invested a lot of money in developing the islands for tourism and trying to attract their people to move back from Taiwan and China. Business is good, and there are supermarkets and department stores, big houses and luxury developments. Kinmen is also famous for the production of Kaoliang wine, made from sorghum, and at this time of year the fields of sorghum have just been harvested. Food production also includes oysters, and out on the beach at low tide are vast oyster farms – the sky was hazy, but in the distance we could just see the skyscrapers of Xiamen.
On our arrival on Monday May 20, we went to the visitor centre, to the Zhaishan Tunnel (constructed between 1961-66 to keep military boats safe from attack), where we sang our artillery shell hymn, to the ceramics factory and then to Shishan (Mt. Lion) Howitzer Front獅山砲陣地 where we had a demo of artillery shells being fired from the Howitzer, which has a firing range of 17 km, and was used in the 823 Artillery Bombardment. In the torrential rain, we also visited the cultural park. Most of these places were inside – so fortunate – seeing as the rain kept on pouring down!
We were staying at a guest house called 璞真民宿, located in Jinning Township, in the NW of Kinmen and owned by Mr. Kao, a relative of one of our church members in Taipei. He arranged all our itinerary for us, and we also very much enjoyed his wife’s home-cooked breakfasts – and the chance to use his main room for evening worship. Here he is with Bishop Lai, drinking tea…
Early on Tuesday morning, I was up early to walk around the area. Fields of peanuts, tractors, temples and so many old houses to take photos of – oh yes, and a deer ranch!
On our third day in Kinmen, I was up early again for sunrise over the fish farms, and walked along to the nearby villages of Nanshan and Beishan…
And the very nearby Li Guang-Qian General Temple 李光前將軍廟. General Li Guang-Qian was the highest ranking officer in the Battle of Guningtou, and his statue is now installed as the main deity….
“The Battle of Guningtou 古寧頭之役, also known as the Battle of Kinmen 金門戰役, was a battle fought over Kinmen in the Taiwan Strait during the Chinese Civil War in October 1949. Commanders of the PRC People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believed that Kinmen and Matsu had to be taken before a final assault on Taiwan. The PLA planned to attack Kinmen by launching a first attack with 9,000 troops to establish a beachhead, before landing a second force of roughly 10,000 on Greater Kinmen Island, expecting to take the entire island in three days”. But the PLA completely underestimated the number of Nationalist ROC troops on Kinmen, and they landed at high tide so their vessels were beached and they couldn’t return for reinforcements. By the third day they had run out of food and ammunition. “The failure of the Communists to take the island left it in the hands of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and crushed their chances of taking Taiwan to destroy the Nationalists completely in the war”.
Just near the village of Beishan, where much of the fighting
took place, is the marker for the Battle of Guningtou, in front of one of the
houses badly damaged in the battle…
Nearby is the Guningtou Museum and its famous Peace Bell…
We also visited the oyster farm at low tide and the nearby beach…
And also on our trip, we visited the Deyue Tower, and the old houses belonging to the overseas Chinese community…
Also the Juguang Tower, Kinmen’s iconic landmark, built in 1953 as a memorial for Kinmen’s fallen soldiers in the Battle of Guningtou 4 years earlier – seen as a token of Kinmen’s spirit, and for many years used as an image on Taiwan’s postage stamps. And I just love the Kinmen telephone boxes, with the Chinese characters for Kinmen 金門 above…
We visited Rushan Visitor Centre and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Memorial Hall 蔣經國先生紀念 (ROC president 1978-1988) where there were displays of military might, and quite surprisingly a lovely pine forest to walk around in.
One of our main purposes in going to Kinmen was to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, located right in the middle of Xiamen Bay, only 4,400 metres from Xiamen – the red dot marks the spot….
If Kinmen has had a tragic past, then Dadan Island’s past is possibly even more tragic. The 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment in 1958 hit Dadan Island hard (over 100,000 artillery shells landed), and ever since then it’s been even more of a major hub of military activity. It was only demilitarized and handed over to the civilian government in 2014, and now it’s open for guided tours (though not as yet for citizens of China, Hong Kong or Macau). This is the place where patriotic recordings were broadcast daily across the Xiamen Bay, and the place where the Dadan Psychological Warfare Wall was built in 1986 – the 3.2-meter-tall, 20-meter-long wall labeled with military slogans is a top-rated tourist attraction among mainland tourists. We even saw the tourist boats coming near to check it out. Dadan is also the place where homesick young military conscripts installed 1,473 cement lion statues, shrines and temples to help them survive the rigours of military life amid the uncertainties of not knowing whether they would ever be able to return home alive.
We had the chance to visit Dadan Island on Tuesday, though our group divided into several mini-groups for the occasion, and we had to go on different days; the tours have to be booked in advance, and numbers are very limited, and it takes 2 boat trips to get there. Actually it was a fascinating tour, with a very knowledgeable guide, who took us walking up and down on the steep road that winds round the island – fortunately the weather was kind and the breeze was pleasant, in summer it would be really hot, and hard work. The road is marked by artillery shell casings, used as fence-posts. This was the morning part of the tour…