Pictured here is a bronze bust of generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in front of the faded emblem of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Xìnyì New Village 信義新村, a military dependents’ village in Hsinchu City 新竹市. Chiang and the KMT retreated to Taiwan with more than a million Chinese soldiers and their dependents in 1949, bolstering an existing population of seven million Taiwanese. This instantly created a massive housing crisis—all those people needed places to live! The new regime attempted to address this through the development of hundreds of military dependents’ villages, gated enclaves of KMT soldiers and their families, but those were chaotic, desperate, and uncertain times, and many more ended up in informal and often illegal settlements all around Taiwan.
This particular military village has a somewhat different history and composition than most others. The expulsion of KMT soldiers from the Chinese mainland in 1949 was not the end of the Chinese Civil War. The communists made additional territorial gains in 1950, capturing several offshore islands, including Hainan, before the outbreak of the Korean War, which greatly exacerbated American fears of a communist takeover of Asia. The Seventh Fleet was deployed to discourage either side from crossing the Taiwan Strait for the next several years, allowing both the KMT and the communists to consolidate their positions and prepare for the resumption of open hostilities.
What is now known as the First Taiwan Strait Crisis began in late 1954 and escalated with the Battle of Yijiangshan Islands in early 1955. Communist forces successfully invaded two rocky islets off the eastern coast, threatening the KMT garrison in the Dàchén Islands 大陳群島, provisional capital of Chekiang Province, more than 300 kilometers north of Taiwan. Rather than stay and fight against overwhelming odds the KMT reluctantly agreed to evacuate the islands, encouraged by American military strategists to focus on defending a smaller number of offshore islands1. Thus the Battle of Dachen Archipelago ended in retreat, with the US Seventh Fleet using “132 boats and 400 aircraft to move 14,500 civilians, 10,000 Nationalist troops and 4,000 guerrillas, along with 40,000 tons of military equipment and supplies” to the port of Keelung 基隆 in early February 19552.
The ROC government was far more organized in accommodating the influx of retreating soldiers and civilian refugees in 1955 than it had been in 1949. After staying in temporary housing in the Keelung area for some period of time the soldiers and refugees were resettled in approximately 35 areas that became known as Dachen New Villages 大陳新村, mostly in eastern and southern Taiwan. Several of these villages were former Japanese immigrant settlements 移民村, some accreted around existing Japanese military housing, and others were built from scratch. Nowadays only a handful of these villages remain, and many of those have been completely rebuilt and bear no resemblance to what you would have seen in the late 1950s3.
This particular Dachen Village is the only one of its kind in Hsinchu 新竹, a city known for its many military settlements. Located along the riverside not far from the sea in Nánliáo Village 南寮里, it was completely devastated by floodwaters from Typhoon Gloria 颱風葛樂禮 (中文; a few photos from the event) in 1963, and many residents lost their lives4. After the disaster the entire village was rebuilt at its present location some distance away from the embankment now lining the river. Decades ago many residents of this village were employed in a seafood processing plant built to provide jobs for the community but those days are long gone. By some accounts only a third of the remaining residents can trace their histories back to the Dachen Islands.
I knew none of this when I stopped to shoot a few photos of this village for my records sometime in early 2016. I was riding along the northern perimeter of Hsinchu in search of the ruins of some defensive fortifications I had heard about and was naturally curious after noticing the distinctive archway from the road. It looked like any other military village at a glance, with grim concrete homes and a smattering of standard-issue KMT paraphernalia scattered around, so I didn’t end up taking many pictures. Initially this write-up wasn’t going to be more than a simple description of the first photo—but here we are again, delving deep into obscure and neglected histories. Since drafting this post months ago I have visited several other Dachen Villages and will hopefully have a few more posts along these lines in the future, but I figure this is a good place to start.
- The ROC still controls Matsu and Kinmen so perhaps this retreat was not in vain. ↩
- This information is sourced from the BBC. ↩
- Wǔhé New Village 五和新村 in Yǒnghé 永和 is readily accessible from Taipei but apart from some historic plaques it would be difficult to distinguish from the rest of this part of the city. ↩
- Incidentally, this typhoon was also caused one of the worst disasters of the 20th century: the collapse of Banqiao Reservoir Dam 板橋水庫大壩 in China. ↩