“Who in their right mind would dress up as a…mussel?!”
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I realized that one candidate, who seems to be having a lot of fun campaigning, is someone I’ve met. Earlier in the year, he was in a suit, all serious, serving as DPP Chairman Cho Jung-tai’s interpreter during their delegation visit to Washington D.C.
A few months later, I would decide to make a trip to the remote islands of Matsu to see Lii Wen’s campaign. Matsu is a group of islands off the coast of China and often confused with the more populous Kinmen.
Matsu is in an interesting geographic location. We’re now on the small island on Nangan (南竿), Matsu. Why is Matsu a part of the ROC and not a part of the PRC?
There are actually a lot of complicated historical nuances. It all boiled down to whether an island was successfully kept from the Communists during the Chinese Civil War–a lot of tactical and strategic concerns. Originally, the ROC army also defended Dachen Island off the coast of Zhejiang. But they retreated in 1956. Some also came to Dongyin Island.
For a long time, the “Anti-Communist Salvation Army” (反共救國軍) was stationed on Dongyin. That army was for a long time a loose collection of local armed maritime guerillas. It was later integrated into the ROC armed forces. Then in the 90s, it was reorganized into a brigade under the ROC armed forces. Now it is called the Dongyin Command.
Back then, whether to “take back the mainland” or deter a Communist attack, these islands have different purposes. The Dongyin armed forces for a long time until around the 1960s was conducting “Activities Behind Enemy Line” (敵後工作). So putting people in China to infiltrate, disrupt, or conduct guerilla attacks. Back then, there was a lot of secrecy with these activities.
So there were a lot of reasons to defend Kinmen and Matsu. They were crucial in several battles, and the course of history has its own way of unfolding…to where we are now.
Matsu is so far from Mainland Taiwan, and the culture, languages, and way of life must be a little different. In what ways are they different and how have they provided unique challenges for you?
Certainly the culture is different. The Southern Min language and culture is different from Taiwan’s Eastern Min culture. “Matsunese” (馬祖話) is very similar to Fuzhounese (福州話). The two are a little different but are mutually intelligible. Matsunese are very different from Taiwanese though. Taiwanese is more similar to the dialects in Kinmen, Xiamen, Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou. The people of Matsu would be able to get around speaking their language in Fuzhou, but not in Xiamen.
I’ve only started living here on a permanent basis in 2019, and every newcomer has his or her own struggle. I think what is more significant than its unique culture is its small size. It’s only got around 10,000 people. The people-to-people ties are a lot tighter. Everyone’s got some sort of family, school, or neighbouring ties. Everyone is tightly knitted and knows each other. This can make it hard for a newcomer such as myself to connect. You just don’t have the preexisting ties and layers of interpersonal connection.
I think creativity is an important part of our campaign. We carry the balloon around the islands, so that voters can know that what we are doing here immediately. And we want to help brand Matsu’s product and uniqueness by dressing up as mussels. On one hand we can help advertise Matsu’s tourism industry, and on the other hand show that we understand how to sell Matsu to a bigger crowd. We also want to give politics a lighter-hearted take and close the gaps with the everyday people.