Taiwan’s oyster farmers on frontline of China war games

Published May 28, 2024
AN OYSTER farmer pulls a cart near Taiwan’s Guningtou village. The Chinese city 
of Xiamen is seen in the background.—AFP
AN OYSTER farmer pulls a cart near Taiwan’s Guningtou village. The Chinese city of Xiamen is seen in the background.—AFP

KINMEN: On an island separated from China by a narrow strip of sea, oyster farmer Li Kai-chen collects molluscs on a shore known for its bloody battle over control of Taiwan.

While the 66-year-old has worked to keep tradition alive in Kinmen, the island administered by Taiwan has found itself on the frontline of Chinese war games.

“These centuries-old oyster beds not only produce food, they represent a culture and a history,” he said. Kinmen’s oyster farmers said they were accustomed to the shows of Chinese might and would focus instead on collecting as many molluscs as they could.

“I’m more afraid of the tide than of China,” said a woman also surnamed Li, who declined to provide her full name. “Kinmen is very safe,” said the 64-year-old.

Their historic oyster farm stands less than five kilometres (three miles) from Xiamen, a Chinese megacity filled with imposing skyscrapers.

Li Kai-chen stood among rows of granite blocks brought from China more than 400 years ago where the oysters grow. He used a metal staff to scrape them off — a farming method unique from shuckers typically taken off reef rocks. The blocks are also embedded on the site of the defining clashes decades ago, when the nationalist army of Chiang Kai-shek after his forces fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Known as the Battle of Guningtou, they fended off the communist troops under Mao Zedong on those beaches, successfully retaining Kinmen under the nationalists’ control. “During the war, people fled to survive and the oyster beds were abandoned,” said Li, who is also head of Guningtou village on Kinmen.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2024

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