A Brief History of Kinmen

This island has been inhabited since the Tang Dynasty, but it wasn't called Kinmen (金門) until the Ming Dynasty when a local official named it "Golden Gate" for its strategic importance. During the nineteenth century, many Kinmenese men emigrated to Japan and Southeast Asia and sent money back to family members in Kinmen to build many of the large "western-style houses" scattered throughout the island.


On October 24, 1949, some 8,000 troops from the People's Liberation Army were defeated by 40,000 troops of Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist army in the Battle of Guningtou (古寧頭), which effectively halted the Communists' advance. In the following decades, Kinmen became increasingly wrapped into the larger global politics of the Cold War era. Because Kinmen was located on both a military and ideological border, it was often referred to as the "West Berlin" of Asia. In 1955, U.S. President Eisenhower and Congress passed the "Formosa Resolution," authorizing U.S. forces to defend Taiwan, Penghu and any other territories controlled by the R.O.C. (including Kinmen). During the two Taiwan Strait Crises (1954-5 and 1958), Mao and the People's Liberation Army shelled Kinmen; during the 1954-5 period alone, nearly 60,000 shells were fired on Kinmen leaving 61 civilians dead and 2,000 homes destroyed. Kinmen came to the forefront of American politics when it was a source of topic in the second Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate of 1960.

In 1960, after shelling had stopped, the R.O.C. restructured Kinmen as a "Three Principles of the People Model County," and the local military shifted their policies to focus more on civilian social and economic development. It wasn't until 1992 when the island was finally demilitarized, a civilian government restored, and the island opened to trade with neighboring Xiamen.

Many remnants of Kinmen's pivotal role in the Taiwan Strait Crises and cross-strait relations can be found all over the island. We highly recommend reading Michael Szonyi's Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Western Front as one of the best English resources for learning more about Kinmen's history.