Taiwan’s military dependent villages: the lingering homesickness

2016-01-22 03:24:24 GMT2016-01-22 11:24:24(Beijing Time)  Sina English

Li Jing

Militant dependents’ village in Taiwan, a legacy of the war between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Kuomintang (KMT), is also a strong material form of ties between the island and the Chinese mainland. The dwellers here were mostly KMT soldiers and their dependents who fled to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek around the year 1949. The half a century they spent in the villages could be condensed into a poem called Homesickness by Yu Guangzhong, but their stories here are far beyond.  Militant dependents’ village in Taiwan, a legacy of the war between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Kuomintang (KMT), is also a strong material form of ties between the island and the Chinese mainland. The dwellers here were mostly KMT soldiers and their dependents who fled to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek around the year 1949. The half a century they spent in the villages could be condensed into a poem called Homesickness by Yu Guangzhong, but their stories here are far beyond. 
Situated next to the landmark Taipei 101 Building, the Sisinan Village is the oldest militant dependents’ village in the Taipei area. Originally the settlement for the No.44 Armory Factory from Qingdao, Shandong province, the village accommodated the workers and their families since 1948, when they landed in the southern Keelung city and came all the way up to the capital. Situated next to the landmark Taipei 101 Building, the Sisinan Village is the oldest militant dependents’ village in the Taipei area. Originally the settlement for the No.44 Armory Factory from Qingdao, Shandong province, the village accommodated the workers and their families since 1948, when they landed in the southern Keelung city and came all the way up to the capital.
The Sisinan Village had been expected to be demolished by 1999, but was listed on March, 1991 by the municipal government as a historical site. In 1993, it was transformed as the Xinyi Public Assembly Hall, open to both local residents as well as tourists. The Sisinan Village had been expected to be demolished by 1999, but was listed on March, 1991 by the municipal government as a historical site. In 1993, it was transformed as the Xinyi Public Assembly Hall, open to both local residents as well as tourists.
Residents gather to sing Karaoke in the entertainment room of the village around 3 pm almost every day. “I know that people on the mainland love square dances. Here we prefer singing,” says a middle-aged woman. Residents gather to sing Karaoke in the entertainment room of the village around 3 pm almost every day. “I know that people on the mainland love square dances. Here we prefer singing,” says a middle-aged woman.
A man who used to live in the village walks back with his dog. New apartments have been built as the village went through remodeling. Settlement of the militant dependents’ villagers is one of the hot issues during election times. A man who used to live in the village walks back with his dog. New apartments have been built as the village went through remodeling. Settlement of the militant dependents’ villagers is one of the hot issues during election times.
Walking along the Chung-shan Road passing several hot-spring resorts, you’ll see a few dilapidated blocks of buildings. The Beitou Village here is the only militant dependents’ village in Taiwan that still has inhabitants, who are expected to move all out of the place in the near future. Walking along the Chung-shan Road passing several hot-spring resorts, you’ll see a few dilapidated blocks of buildings. The Beitou Village here is the only militant dependents’ village in Taiwan that still has inhabitants, who are expected to move all out of the place in the near future.
Original walls of militant dependents’ villages were usually short. To ward off burglars, residents installed shattered glass on top of the wall. The walls were made of mud and bamboo sticks plus a layer of asbestos tile on the roof, and were thus called “bamboo fences”. Original walls of militant dependents’ villages were usually short. To ward off burglars, residents installed shattered glass on top of the wall. The walls were made of mud and bamboo sticks plus a layer of asbestos tile on the roof, and were thus called “bamboo fences”.
There’s not much difference inside homes of the villagers with their compatriots on the other side of the channel. Taking the village as only a temporary settlement for the strategy of “retaking the mainland in three years”, most households bought simple furniture and cheap daily goods: Plane seats were used as sofas; flour bags were sewn into pants; and artillery shells were made into lunch boxes. Even those who could afford to buy furniture, most would choose the low-priced ones made of rattan, for they could be abandoned once the army returned to the mainland. There’s not much difference inside homes of the villagers with their compatriots on the other side of the channel. Taking the village as only a temporary settlement for the strategy of “retaking the mainland in three years”, most households bought simple furniture and cheap daily goods: Plane seats were used as sofas; flour bags were sewn into pants; and artillery shells were made into lunch boxes. Even those who could afford to buy furniture, most would choose the low-priced ones made of rattan, for they could be abandoned once the army returned to the mainland.
A resident in Beitou village is hanging her washings on the line. The house she lives in has been remolded and enlarged for several times. The first dwellings in militant dependents’ villages were small and simple, with a living space of less than 10 square meters per person. Later, as the militants were allowed to get married, population increased, exceeding housing supplies. Many had to expand their homes by adding more buildings on top of the original architecture. Despite the primitive living conditions, the militant dependents’ villages cradled scores of elites in various fields for the Taiwan island. A resident in Beitou village is hanging her washings on the line. The house she lives in has been remolded and enlarged for several times. The first dwellings in militant dependents’ villages were small and simple, with a living space of less than 10 square meters per person. Later, as the militants were allowed to get married, population increased, exceeding housing supplies. Many had to expand their homes by adding more buildings on top of the original architecture. Despite the primitive living conditions, the militant dependents’ villages cradled scores of elites in various fields for the Taiwan island.
Each village was revolved around a military unit. As the Sisinan Village accommodated workers of the No.44 Munition Factory, the Beitou Village served a military hospital. The photo shows a woman who worked in the hospital next to the Beitou Village, where she met her husband. She is a local while her husband is a doctor from the mainland. He passed away on April 22, 2014, just before they were expected to move out from the village to a new building. The calendar on the wall was also left on that date. Each village was revolved around a military unit. As the Sisinan Village accommodated workers of the No.44 Munition Factory, the Beitou Village served a military hospital. The photo shows a woman who worked in the hospital next to the Beitou Village, where she met her husband. She is a local while her husband is a doctor from the mainland. He passed away on April 22, 2014, just before they were expected to move out from the village to a new building. The calendar on the wall was also left on that date.
Many village heads in Taiwan used to dwell in militant dependents’ villages. “As the village head you should always be ready to work for the residents,” said a village leader. Photo shows the office of a village head. Many village heads in Taiwan used to dwell in militant dependents’ villages. “As the village head you should always be ready to work for the residents,” said a village leader. Photo shows the office of a village head.
Mr. Chen watches TV programs about Chinese local operas at the office of a village head. He is from central China’s Henan province, and came to the island with his family at the age of five. Mr. Chen said he visited his hometown back on the mainland frequently in the early 1990s, but as his peers in the family gradually passed away, he stayed in Taiwan these years. Mr. Chen watches TV programs about Chinese local operas at the office of a village head. He is from central China’s Henan province, and came to the island with his family at the age of five. Mr. Chen said he visited his hometown back on the mainland frequently in the early 1990s, but as his peers in the family gradually passed away, he stayed in Taiwan these years.
Early residents in Beitou village had to go to public restrooms and bath houses. The public bath house in the Beitou Village had been considered the best for its natural hot springs. Early residents in Beitou village had to go to public restrooms and bath houses. The public bath house in the Beitou Village had been considered the best for its natural hot springs.
Gu Huangsheng, 90, was born in Changshu city, Jiangsu province. He used to fight the anti-Japanese war as a KMT soldier on the Chinese mainland. Gu came to Taipei 70 years ago and was arranged to live in the Beitou village. “We were allowed to get married in 1960,” said Gu, “I knew since then that we couldn’t retake the mainland.” Gu Huangsheng, 90, was born in Changshu city, Jiangsu province. He used to fight the anti-Japanese war as a KMT soldier on the Chinese mainland. Gu came to Taipei 70 years ago and was arranged to live in the Beitou village. “We were allowed to get married in 1960,” said Gu, “I knew since then that we couldn’t retake the mainland.”
Gu visited his hometown in Changshu in 1988, the year after Chiang Ching-kuo lifted the ban on visiting the mainland. Gu found that the eight fellows in his village who went together to join the army with him decades ago had all died in the war. He didn’t go back to the mainland after his sister and brother passed away. Gu was awarded the highest honor in Taipei on the 70th anniversary of Anti-Fascists War by the local government this summer. Gu visited his hometown in Changshu in 1988, the year after Chiang Ching-kuo lifted the ban on visiting the mainland. Gu found that the eight fellows in his village who went together to join the army with him decades ago had all died in the war. He didn’t go back to the mainland after his sister and brother passed away. Gu was awarded the highest honor in Taipei on the 70th anniversary of Anti-Fascists War by the local government this summer.
62-year-old cab driver Li grew up in a militant dependents’ village. He visited the mainland several times after the policy was relaxed, but his children were not always willing to accompany him back to his hometown. “The locals called us mainlanders, but when I went back to the mainland, my relatives called us ‘Daiwan (Taiwan) compatriots’,” he said. 62-year-old cab driver Li grew up in a militant dependents’ village. He visited the mainland several times after the policy was relaxed, but his children were not always willing to accompany him back to his hometown. “The locals called us mainlanders, but when I went back to the mainland, my relatives called us ‘Daiwan (Taiwan) compatriots’,” he said.
A formally-dressed lady walks in the Zhufuli market in Taipei. The market was originally a militant dependents’ village. It was conversed into a residential building, and then turned into a market. A formally-dressed lady walks in the Zhufuli market in Taipei. The market was originally a militant dependents’ village. It was conversed into a residential building, and then turned into a market.
The ground is tidy and clear after villagers dismiss from an assembly. The ground is tidy and clear after villagers dismiss from an assembly.
A child comes back to the Beitou village after school. He is among the fifth generation villagers here. The “bamboo fences” have long disappeared in the militant dependents’ villages. Mainland snacks such as Shandong Steamed Bun and Beef Noodles are no longer specialties of the villages. A child comes back to the Beitou village after school. He is among the fifth generation villagers here. The “bamboo fences” have long disappeared in the militant dependents’ villages. Mainland snacks such as Shandong Steamed Bun and Beef Noodles are no longer specialties of the villages.
The Beitou village is also supposed to be reconstructed in June, 2016. The Beitou village is also supposed to be reconstructed in June, 2016.

A military dependents' village (眷村) is a community in Taiwan built between the late 1940s and the 1960s under the original purpose of housing temporarily soldiers of the Republic of China Armed Forces and their dependents from mainland China after the Government of the Republic of China (ROC) and the Kuomintang (KMT) retreated to Taiwan in 1949. They ended up becoming permanent settlements, forming distinct cultures as mainlanders mingled with natives on the island.

As of late 2006, there were around 170 left out of an original number of 879, and there are efforts to preserve some as historical sites. Over the years, many military dependents' villages have suffered from urban problems such as housing dereliction, abandonment, urban decay, and urban slum. The villages have already seen four or five generations of the mainland immigrants, many grown into the elite class, including renowned singer Teresa Teng, movie director Ang Lee, politician James Chu-yul Soong, author Lung Ying-tai and entrepreneur Terry Guo.

The first residents in the villages had been always looking forward to going back to their hometowns on the mainland. “The first year we’ll make preparation; the second year we’ll launch a counter-attack; the third year we’ll retake the mainland; and the fifth year we’ll have a thorough success,” was the schedule for many KMT militants during the 1950s. However, they hadn’t been allowed to return until 1987, when Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek and the then KMT leader, relaxed political control and allowed militants to visit the mainland. What could not be solved by war was eventually solved by peace.

In the 1980s, most militant dependents’ villages face demolition due to shabbiness. As part of a cultural and historical heritage, the villages were also planned for protection. There are 13 protection zones of KMT veteran villages in Taiwan. It is the remains of a special period of time for the islanders. It is also the umbilical cord that connects the people on both sides across the strait.

Descendants of the KMT militants have now been assimilated into the local communities. But the hardships over the past decades stay in their memories just like the perpetual homesickness.

How far is the distance across the Taiwan straits? It could be as far as an ocean, that it takes fifty years to go back to your loved ones; it could also be as close as an instant, that a soft whisper is enough to bring on all the grief of partings. President Xi Jinping says people of the two banks are brothers that are connected by blood. Even the bones may be broken, the tendons are still there. Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou says people of the two sides are both Chinese, descendants of the Yan and Huang Emperors. The Poet Yu Guangzhong says, what’s between the Taiwan channel is nothing but a shallow strait of homesickness.

Homesickness

(By Yu Guangzhong with English translation from online)

When I was young,

My homesickness was a small stamp,

I was here,

My mother was there.

After growing up,

My homesickness was a narrow ticket,

I was here,

My bride was there.

Later,

My homesickness was a little tomb,

I was outside,

My mother was inside.

And now,

My homesickness is a shallow strait,

I am here,

The mainland is there.

 

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