Until 1992

Elke Scholiers

2020 - Ongoing

Kinmen County, a small group of Taiwan-controlled islands perched a few miles away from the Chinese coast, is scarred by the vestiges of civil conflict: the sleepy islands are still marked by beach barricades, bomb shelters and bullet-ridden buildings even though it has been decades since the Chinese artillery last barraged the island.

Today, a new Cold War is brewing between China and Taiwan and the United States, with Kinmen again on the frontline. The renewed tensions have sharpened questions of identity for today’s young Kinmenese, who often say they feel neither Taiwanese nor Chinese, but are stuck in the middle of a great power struggle.

The fate of Kinmen depends on sweeping world politics, but this project aims to go deeper and asks personal questions about how lives on Kinmen are lived, memories are recalled, and identities are formed. It’s a microcosm for Taiwan, which is also facing generational shifts in identity and politics 70 years after a civil war with China.

The answers to those questions are complicated. Despite decades of fighting, Kinmen’s slumping economy depends more than ever on Chinese tourists, but also on drinking water from China. Many older Kinmenese don’t want a return to fighting, they favor making money with China, and distrust Taiwan’s political leaders. But the young generation feels deeply torn. They fear unification with China and losing their freedom, but also struggle to identify with Taiwan.

PHmuseum 2020 Women Photographers Grant will help to give generations of Kinmenese a voice and explore how a tiny community wrestles with how to deal with China. On a broader scale, this project is set in the context of a historic and tense moment in China’s rise. Interviews by Taiwanese pollsters and journalists have indicated that because of Kinmen’s very remote location and politics, the majority of Taiwanese people are not concerned about the fate of Kinmen. The Kinmenese deserve to be heared.

This long-form documentary photo project is ongoing. As a fluent Chinese speaker, I have made a two week-long trip, interviewed locals and intend to make additional trips to build deeper connections with subjects. I will focus on making portraits of subjects in various historical and military settings, as well as seeking out and photographing historical artefacts and propaganda materials. Furthermore, the geographical location of Kinmen will be photographed with the use of a drone, which marks the start of decades long conflict.

The images will be created with the goal of publication in magazines in Asia and beyond. Other media could include audio recordings of propaganda broadcasts, such as the ones that Communist China would blare at Kinmen from a seaside tower: “Dear Kinmen brothers, we’re the motherland. Come back to us across the sea. Blood is thicker than water.” Conversation about an exhibition at Viva villages goods, Kinmen with founder Wang Ling are happening.

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  • Plants and trees overgrow a bunker on Kinmen Island, through which soldiers would have watched the enemies and fired their rifles, show the signs of age and disuse. Today, locals use bunkers as gardens or storage rooms.

  • An overgrown piece of land on Kinmen island. After Kinmen’s demilitarization in 1992, the country lacked water, electricity and roads. Despite decaded of fighting, Kinmen’s econony today depends on drinking water from a pipeline from China.

  • A military tank, partly buried in the sand on a beach. The island was managed as a military base occupied by Kuomintang (KMT) from 1949 until 1992, when martial law was lifted.

  • An abandoned car park in Kinmen Island. Kinmen’s China-dependent economy is depending on cross-strait policies between Taiwan Central Government and Beijing Government.

  • The father of Qu Fuhua, born in 1927 in Hunan fought with the Nationalist Army for 3 years and retreated on 1949 in 70 boats full of soldiers and civilians as the US Navy’s 7th Fleet provided cover fire. He served in Taiwan and arrived in March, 1960 on Kinmen where he was a colonel in charge of civilian life.

  • An eldery Kinmenese sits outside of his store. Although, the old residents of Kinmen experienced war with China, they share the same culture as the Fujianese of southeast China. Over time, many feel a deep yearning for China and a bond to the mainland rather than Taiwan.

  • A Kinmenese tourist takes a 10-min ferry ride from Shuitou port to Lieyu island, also known as Little Kinmen. Lieyu Island now functions as a tourism destination.

  • The Taiwanese flag riffles on the Beishan Broadcasting Wall, built in 1967 as a physiological Cross-Strait warfare broadcast directed towards Mainland China. "The PRC would disperse psychological warfare messages at us, Dear Kinmen brothers, we’re the motherland. Come back to us across the sea. Blood is thicker than water. We called them Communist bandits and they called us the Chiang (Kai Shek) clique." says Qu Fuhua, a KMT member.

  • "In Kinmen, we struggle with identity. We carry a sense of destiny on our backs. But what is it, that’s hard to say.", says Wang Ling, a Kinmenese, who has several businesses on Kinmen Island.

  • Yang Jiaxin stands in front of anti-landing spikes near Guningtou. Cihu Lake’s secluded beach was part of the Battle of Guningtou in October 1949 that Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist troops defeated the Communists, halting the advance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) towards Taiwan.

  • A coffee store located near Ci Lake. Locals look at the skyline of Xiamen, China at night for entertainment. Before Covid-19, Kinmenese and Chinese from the PRC would take the 30-minute ferry ride from Xiamen’s Wutong ferry terminal to Kinmen for shopping and family visits.

  • Chen Jiawei and her classmate after a sports summer course at Wufu Elementary School in August. Before Covid-19, they would go by ferry to China for tourism, which was launched as part of the ‘Mini-Three-Links’ between China and Taiwan in 2001. More than 1.5 million passengers traveled by ferry in 2014 between Fujian, in China, and Kinmen.

  • 823 Artillery Bombardment Victory Memorial roundabout welcomes tourists on Little Kinmen Island; which is the only offshore township under Kinmen County. In January 2001; direct cross-strait links were opened between Kinmen and Xiamen; mainland China; marking the start of the island's emergence as a tourism destination.

  • A dog barks in front of a dysfunctional warehouse on Kinmen Island.

  • A military tank near Ci lake faces Mainland China was installed to attract tourism. The island was a military base from 1949 until 1992 when martial law was lifted. In 1949, KMT leader Chiang-Kai-shek led an army of more than 100,000 soldiers to defend the island from invasions organised by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

  • An empty basketball field at Wufu Elementary School in Kinmen Island. The Taiwanese central government halted cross-strait transportation to prevent the virus from entering Kinmen. Local schools organise summer sport course for students in Kinmen who can not visit family in China.

  • An overgrown piece of land on Kinmen island. Kinmen was a highly militarized islands, part of Taiwan and only three miles off the coast of China. It was the front line and sporadic battlefield between the Communists, controlling China and the Nationalists, who fled to Taiwan in 1949.