Kinmen is close enough to China that the residents of this small group of islands have been able to watch with the naked eye the ascendance of an economic giant next door.

"Have you seen the buildings in Xiamen?” asks Li Wen-liang, Kinmen’s deputy county commissioner as he waves a hand toward the Chinese metropolis sitting across a sliver of water that is at its narrowest less than two kilometers wide. "They weren’t there a decade ago.”

Kinmen is Taiwan's closest outpost to China. As the front line in the civil war between the Chinese Communists and the retreating Nationalists, it endured decades of bombardment from the People’s Liberation Army. It was largely cut off from the rest of the world from the 1950s until the early 1990s, administered under strict military protocol, making it off limits to pretty much everyone except residents and the military. Any Chinese coming ashore, even fishermen who accidentally ran aground, were shot on sight.