YUNLIN, TAIWAN/HSINCHU TAIWAN – Dotted around Taiwan lie the remains of abandoned bunkers originally built to repel an invasion from China. They date from a period in the island’s history when it was under martial law and fear of a Chinese attack was a part of daily life.
The threat from China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own to be brought under Beijing’s rule, by force if needed, has not gone away but the aging bunkers are no longer needed for defense purposes.
Today, some farmers use retired bunkers as storage rooms for tools. Other bunkers have become part of parks; some along the coast are sought-after spots for photo opportunities by Instagrammers seeking “likes” for their sunset views.
“I find it very bizarre — across Taiwan there are numerous bunkers, a mark of war, but if you ask residents what is it, when was it built and for what purpose, no one knows now,” said Chen Kuo-ming, 49, a military-site enthusiast who has been searching and mapping the old bunkers since 2002.
Some of the bunkers actually date back to when Taiwan was a Japanese colony, before and during World War II, and were upgraded when the Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists, Chen said.
Clam farmer Ding Long-kai, who would not reveal his age other than to say he is in his mid-60s, remembers as a child the pillboxes along the beaches of Yunlin on Taiwan’s western coast, which lies on the Taiwan Strait facing China.
“It was restricted to go to the beach and get close to the pillboxes,” Ding said.
But as the coastline has changed and maintenance lapsed, many of the old pillboxes are merging back into the sand or being encircled by clam farms.
“I remember seeing slogans such as ‘Kill the communists’ and ‘Reclaim the mainland’ on the pillboxes. But this is the only one left; the rest have been removed by other farmers,” Ding added, pointing to the one remaining in his clam farm.
Up the coast from Yunlin in Hsinchu, local official Lin Zi-xing, 72, is trying to protect the bunkers that remain near his home.
Recalling how he used to try to sneak into the bunkers as a child to play, Lin said it would be a shame to lose this part of Taiwan’s history.
He has turned one of the bunkers into a climbing frame for children and another into an exhibition hall for tourists to learn about the history of the area.
“I got into a lot of trouble with the residents because of this, partly because of land issues but also because it reminds the older generation of war, which no one wants to talk about,” Lin said.
Military enthusiast Chen said the bunkers also serve as a reminder that tensions between China and Taiwan still exist.
“Let’s not forget, Taiwan and China are still in a hostile state,” he said.