The proxy wars in the Pacific stemming from the Cold War left a tiny island heavily bombarded and severely battered, physically and psychologically. Wounded, stranded, and straddling a narrow strait separating the remnants of the Communist upheaval and the remaining vestige of the nationalist movement, Kinmen Island is mostly ignored now by every hawk entrenched among former belligerents, and left to its own devices by a government not invested on resuscitating the island’s dying ipseity.
“I started to be interested in Taiwan’s history and how [the] Taiwanese build their identity. The first impression was ‘I’ve no idea what I will find, so let’s walk around,” mused French photographer Nicolas Datiche.
Nicolas soon gravitated towards the shared sentiments that connect the present-day psyche with the island’s unsparing past. It provided a context in explaining how the monuments built during the war era stand defiant, refusing to be forgotten with the cessation of hostilities despite the ironic, ill-fitting juxtaposition vis-a-vis the select semblance of modernity and forward motion found here, like malls and items of luxury for sale primarily to visiting tourists. This is part of what Nicolas was able to capture in his photo collection entitled Kinmen, Chinese’s Cold War Front Line.
The end of the era of forceful polar binary revealed to the world the survivors – in Kinmen, they are the ordinary people who found themselves bereft of kinship – consanguineal, political, and economic – and, to some extent, a sense of identity as well. “It’s kind of a weird island. They don’t really speak Taiwanese, the Mandarin they use is closer to Chinese, but they don’t want to be ‘mainlander Chinese.’ They are not really Taiwanese. You can see why the Taiwanese identity process is a difficult issue here,” Nicolas observed.
What was left for visitors in search of the dramatic and historical are steel and concrete; some in its original shape, many in its broken form protruding from the earth like a sliver left on a body skewered and left to die from its wounds. They form a collection of idle, lifeless sentinels that watch over people many of which have long forsaken any notion of hope to be fully reconnected with the rest of the world and enjoy the benefits of this re-integration to a community that has forgotten the small island with a big role to play when the big guns were exhaling death and destruction.