For the past 70 years, Da Dan Island (大膽島) has been only open to selected military personnel. However, it recently opened its doors to the public to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 823 Artillery Bombardment. As part of a three-month trial (from July 26 to October 31), up to 100 visitors will be allowed onto the island every day.
To facilitate the trial period, the requirement of having to stay in Lesser Kinmen (小金門 or better known as Lieyu Township) for a night has been abolished.
Despite being merely 0.79 square kilometers, Da Dan Island was previously a strategic location for military confrontation between both sides as it is about 12 kilometers away from Kinmen Island and only 4.4 kilometers from Xiamen Island.
From Da Dan Island, visitors can have a view of Xiamen — thus showing the close proximity between the two locations.
To visit Da Dan Island, visitors have to book a tour 15 days in advance. A timetable of tours will be announced based on daily tide timings, as the jetty has to be accessible for visitors. Most of the tour will be on foot, and only a small portion (600 m) of the island will be by an electric battery car.
The five-hour visit costs NT$1000 (SGD$45.50).
We started off by gathering at the Jetty of Lieyu Township (九宮碼頭) for a briefing session, and then set off on a ship that ferried us to Da Dan Island in less than 30 minutes.
The whole ride was pretty bumpy, which might be due to me sitting in the open area of the boat instead of indoors. As I was the only foreigner in the group, the tour guide asked if I understood Chinese. I proudly replied yes, and that I even understand Taiwanese!
We were then greeted with a slogan [大膽擔大擔, 島孤人不孤], which loosely translates to Da Dan Island (大膽) bears (擔) the old name of Da Dan Island (大擔).
The island may seem lone (島孤), but the people are not (人不孤).
Walking into the island, we were greeted with [自由屏障] (translated to “free barrier”),
inscribed in the 1960s, where the anti-communist party swore loyalty to their motherland. Today, it remains as one of island’s most prominent areas.
At the hall (生明廳), we were shown a video of the history of Kinmen and Da Dan Island. This is also where the tour comes to an end
and the only area that is air-conditioned.
Visitors can also purchase souvenirs here or mail postcards bearing the postal stamps of Da Dan Island to their loved ones. I mailed 4 back to Singapore and 1 to Hongkong.
Although Da Dan Island is opened to the public, some parts of the island remain guarded by the military and is restricted to the public.
The tour guide mentioned that the statue was painted by the Army who is serving on the island.
A few steps further, there is a humongous stone measuring 12m x 17m, with the wordings [島孤人不孤] (The island may seem lone, but the people are not.) The monument in front of the stone is Mr Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國先生), the son of Mr Chiang Kai-shek.
[島孤人不孤] has became the spiritual slogan of military personnels on the island.
Around the island, there are a lot of rocks inscribed with slogans and quotes by famous people.
This post acts as a barrier for the road, but in actual fact, it contains gun powder for use during a war.
Dadan Broadcasting Area (大膽播音站)
This is the broadcasting room, where staffs (along with 2 female broadcasting staffs) are being recruited to broadcast news, which will then be played onto loudspeakers.
The loudspeakers are then placed at the coastal areas, especially facing Xiamen, in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The contents will include some news and songs that will be beneficial for the Republic of China (ROC).
It is also mentioned that every time such broadcasts were made, the PRC’s People’s Liberation Army would try to destroy the speakers by shooting at them. As a result, multiple bullet holes can be found on the speakers, which are currently exhibited in other museums around Kinmen.
In addition, due to the war, there are people who were separated between the two areas.
The broadcasting room also aids as a psychological warfare to fight against the community army. In the era where technology was not advanced, this is one of the ways which voices could be relayed outside the island.
Ming Wei Park (明威公園)
This park is at the peak of Nanshan (南山), and houses the tombstone of General Liu Longchang (劉隆昌將軍), also known as General Ming Wei (明威將軍). He is a general in the Qing Dynasty. During the 46th year of Kangxi Emperor reign (AD 1707), there were a lot of pirates on the island plundering. General Liu was tasked to defend both Da Dan and Er Dan island. After he gained victory against the pirates, he was appointed General Ming Wei.
After his resignation, he retired in Da Dan Island and is buried on Da Gu Shan (大孤山). The cemetery was built in 1992, as a rest and leisure place for the military, also reminding them of the loyalty that General Liu had for his country.
On top of the hill, we are able to look at Er Dan Island (二膽島), which is currently surrounded by military presence.
This is the area where vehicles were being maintained and repaired. It bears the words [保養重於修護丶修護重於購置] which means “Maintenance is more important than repairing. Repairing is more important than purchase”. Especially where resources were not easily available, it is important for maintenance, as repairing and replacing will be costly.
Shengming Road (生明路)
This 600-meters long road was initially named as the Central Road (中央公路). It was later renamed after commander Lai Shengming (賴生明), who displayed heroic deeds during the battle on the 26 July, 1950. It connects Beishan (北山) and Nanshan (南山), with a total of 636 male and female stone lions. It is also the only area that we were ferried by a battery-operated car.
There was actually a tunnel at the bottom of the road.
Tomb of the God Chicken (神雞之墓)
This tomb is to commemorate a chicken that once resided in Beishan. Folklore has it that, the night before the artillery attacks, the chicken would run around the camp shouting and flapping its wings, warning the people of the incoming attacks.
This helped the people to avoid the August 23rd artillery battle, where Da Dan Island had nearly 120,000 rounds of bombing – the highest in Kinmen. Upon the death of the chicken, a tomb was built in remembrance of its efforts.
Bei’an Temple (北安寺)
This temple was initially built by soldiers who found a burnt God statue floating in the sea. Upon inspection, it was Xuanwu (玄天上帝), one of the higher-ranking deities in Taoism. It was then used as a spiritual centre for the soldiers on the island, and the temple was then rebuilt in 1979.
It was rumoured that during the cultural revolution in PRC, a radical policy of anti-religion and anti-tradition was instituted. Items such as deities were either destroyed or thrown into the sea, resulting in them float to neighbouring islands – the nearest of which is Kinmen County.
Thus, there are many temples in townships worshipping the deities.
We finally reached to the destination of a popular wall that was established in 1986. Standing 40 m x 3 m, bearing big red characters [三國主義統一中國] (Three People’s Principles Unify China). The three principles championed by Chinese Nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen are: Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism.
It has became an attraction for people in mainland China to take a cruise ship costing around RMB$150 (SGD$30) to get closer to the wall. On a clear day, visitors will be able to see through a telescope the other side of the wall that bears the inscription, [一国两制统一中国] “One country, Two Systems unify China”.
Beishan Flag Podium (北山國旗台)
The top of the steps lies the flag of the Republic of China. It gives a scenic view of Er Dan Island
There are also multiple quotes and poems engraved on the rocks that was left multiple decades ago.
Shengquan well (神泉井)
There are many stories of this well, which dates as far back as 350 years ago. Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功), better known as Koxinga, was a Chinese Ming loyalist who resisted the Qing conquest in China in the 17th century. When he was defending then Jinsha (金廈), now known as Kinmen (金門) and Xiamen (廈門), the water supply of Shenquan well was limited. Zheng Chenggong then held a sword and prayed, which resulted in an increase in water flow, quenching the thirst of the soldiers.
Another rumour is that the well is able to distinguish the good from the evil, and thus supply water according to the number of people on the island. Legend has it that pirates used to be on the land, relying on the spring, which dried up immediately, causing them to leave.
Lastly, this spring has a superstition that females should not get close to it (女宾止步). This came about due to a legend that the water source became dry after a singer working on the island approached the spring water. Water only continued to flow after officers and men prayed, thus resulting in the superstitious that women should not go near the spring. (I used zoom to capture the spring😂)
Shenquan Tea House (神泉茶坊)
This tea house is the longest serving on the island. It used to serve tea and cakes made of water obtained from the spring. Now, it is a place for leisure and entertainment for the soldiers. We had our meal there, together with tea that was made from the spring.
Beishan Cliff (北山絕壁)
Da and Er Dan Memorial Statue (大二膽戰役紀念碑)
This is in memory of the bombardment held on 26 – 27 July 1950, on both Da Dan and Er Dan Islands.
Despite it being a hot and tiring 5-hour journey, it was overall an enriching day trip to Da Dan Island — made especially memorable since my visit was a few days before the 60th Anniversary of the 823 Artillery Bombardment.
Although I am not from Taiwan, those relics did indeed gave me a deeper insight and understand of what the people of the Republic of China had been through to protect what is theirs. Indeed, history brings us to where we are now. However it is up to us to determine the future. It definitely taught me the unity and resilience the people then had, to overcome challenges. Also how they worked around adversities.
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left”
As a Singaporean youth who is able to live day-to-day in a country that is peaceful without war or conflicts, I am indeed honoured to be able to step foot on Da Dan island after its closure for 70 years.