Cijin Island's Cihou Fort Guards Some Interesting History

Cijin Island's Cihou Fort Guards Some Interesting History

By Charles Wetzel

The Front of Cihou Fort — Mt. Cihou

A Modern Fortification Five Minutes Away from Cihou Fort, Still Used as a Bunker by the ROC Military

The Cement and Brick Architecture Is Courtesy of H. W. Harwood, a British Engineer

Cijin Beach, Where the Surfers All Go

A Panorama of Kaohsiung (with the 85 Building on the left and Cijin Beach on the Right)

Inside the Fort (crowded due to the Chinese New Year holiday)

View from the Opposite Side of the Fort

A Wall

A Wall with Purple Flowers

These are some of Cijin's trademark wild dogs. On Cijin Island, dogs frequently enter 7-Eleven, the bank, etc. unaccompanied by any owners. Bank employees simply pet them and fawn over them, as opposed to throwing them out.

Cijin Island is a sausage-shaped island just off the coast of Kaohsiung City, and at the north end, on Mt. Cihou, it holds a historical fort called Cihou Fort. Mt. Cihou is a fascinating place from a historical and strategic perspective, because it has served as a defense against three different threats: the Mudan tribe, the Japanese, and now, ironically enough, the Chinese (despite the first battery built on Mt. Cihou being the creation of the Qing Dynasty in China). It is possible to access Mt. Cihou via a road that starts near Cijin Beach, where swimming is technically forbidden but sometimes tolerated, and where surfers ply the tropical waters even in January and February. From the top of the fort, one can see Cijin Seaside Park (where swimming is strictly prohibited, and where dozens have died due to undercurrents, or, according to the locals, ghosts that pull swimmers under) and near Cihou Fort is Cijin's lighthouse.

Before launching into the history of the fort, it is important to understand the history of Taiwan. The first islands off the shore of China that are currently under the administration of the Taiwanese government, the Penghu Islands, came under Chinese rule in the 1300s when China's navy was a power to be reckoned with. Initially, there were many aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. Currently, these tribes only account for 2% of Taiwan's population, but this was not so when sailors from the Ming Dynasty landed on the island. One of the aboriginal tribes was the Mudan tribe. In 1874, the Mudan Tribe Incident caused the Qing Dynasty (known in Taiwan as the Cing Dynasty) to take an interest in defending the west coast of Taiwan (in an area known as Dagou Harbor). Previously, fortifications had existed on Cijin Island. There had been a battery on Cijin dating back to 1720, which the Chinese constructed in the 59th year of Emperor Kangsi.

The fort's construction is very interesting because of its obvious western style. One of the first things that hit me when I entered the fort was that it was made of concrete and red brick. Was this even the original fort? I soon found the answer upon reading the placard and some tourist literature. The Qing Dynasty began work on building the fort in 1875 in response to the Mudan Tribe Incident of 1874. The Qing Dynasty appointed two men, Tang Ding-Kuei, and Wang Lu-Fu to construct a fortification. These men in turn hired an Englishman named H. W. Harwood (and engineer) to design the fort. Hence it has an English-style design. Although English-style, it had a few Chinese touches, as well, such as a portion that was shaped like the Chinese character for "eight" (ba), and a portion of the gate that reads "double happiness" in Chinese.

Unfortunately for the Qing Dynasty, the modern western technology of the fort could not save it from another technologically-advanced power: the Japanese. The Japanese have often been in conflict with China throughout history, from the days of Japanese pirates (disparagingly called "wokou" by the Chinese, a derogatory term referring to their relatively short stature, but still used today even to refer to Japanese who are not pirates), to Toyotomi Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea (a Chinese tribute state at that time), to the Sino-Japanese War, to World War II, and now to the tensions over Okinawa and the Senkaku Islands. Japan provoked a war with Qing Dynasty China in 1894 — the Sino-Japanese War. Western military experts expected the Qing Dynasty to burn Japan like a moth in a flame, but Japan delivered defeat after defeat, eventually culminating in China ceding Taiwan and the Liaotung Peninsula to Japan (though Japan promptly returned the Liaotung Peninsula to China after three allied powers pressured it to do so in the Triple Intervention). One of the key battles of the Sino-Japanese War was the Battle of Yiwei, which took place right near Kaohsiung. Unfortunately for the Chinese, the commanding officer in charge of the fort had already left, and without a leader, the men only fired a few volleys from the fort's 6.5-ton Armstrong cannons. The Japanese quickly seized control of the fort. During their bombardment of the fort, they destroyed the entrance, including two of the four characters on the entrance proclaiming that the fortress ruled the south.

As previously mentioned, the Chinese gave Taiwan to the Japanese. The treaty that did this was the Treaty of Shimonoseki. After the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the fort went into disrepair. The Japanese took the cannons and melted them down. The place was overgrown.

Fortunately, at some time between 1988 and 1991 (the official date varies depending on which tourist literature one reads), the Kaohsiung City government took it upon themselves to restore the fort. A few years later, it re-opened to the public.

Ironically, Mt. Cihou is now fortified for defense against the very nation that built the first fortifications there in 1720 — the mainland Chinese. The Kuomintang has built many fortifications all around Taiwan, making it the most fortified island on earth, and Cijin, right off the coast of Kaohsiung, also has heavy fortifications. In fact, within a few hundred meters of the historic Cihou Fort is a bunker, awaiting a PRC amphibious invasion. Though Mt. Cihou has passed through the hands of the aborigines, the Qing Dynasty, and is now in the hands of the Republic of China government, one thing has remained the same for the past nearly 300 years — Mt. Cihou is an extremely important strategic point, and a prime choice for a military history buff to visit.

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(C) 2010 Charles Wetzel