Matsu Islands

The Matsu Islands[3][4][5] (Chinese: 馬祖列島; pinyin: Mǎzǔ Lièdǎo; Wade–Giles: Ma³-tsu³ Lieh⁴-tao³; Foochow Romanized: Mā-cū liĕk-dō̤) are an archipelago of 36 islands and islets in the East China Sea officially named Lienchiang County (Chinese: 連江; pinyin: Liánjiāng Xiàn; Wade–Giles: Lien²-chiang¹ Hsien⁴; Foochow Romanized: Lièng-gŏng-gâing) in the Republic of China (Taiwan). It is the smallest county of Taiwan Area.

Lienchiang County


Matsu Islands
Top: Magan Tianhou Temple in Nangan, Bottom left: Matsu display monument in Nangan, Bottom upper left: Lin Moniang Tomb in Mazu Temple, Bottom lower right: Dongyong Lighthouse


Coat of arms
Country Republic of China (Taiwan)
RegionNorthern Fujian
SeatNangan Township
Divisions4 rural townships
22 rural villages
  County MagistrateLiu Cheng-ying (KMT)
  Total29.6055 km2 (11.4307 sq mi)
Area rank22 of 22
 (June 2016)[2]
  Rank22 of 22
  Density430/km2 (1,100/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+8 (Taiwan National Standard Time)
ISO 3166 codeTW-LIE
BirdChinese crested tern (Sterna bernsteini)
FlowerHairy bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)
TreeAustralian laurel (Pittosporum tobira)
Matsu Islands
Traditional Chinese馬祖列島
Lienchiang County
Traditional Chinese連江
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese馬祖群島

The historical Lienchiang County included both the Matsu Islands and today's Lianjiang County of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC claims the three northern townships of the Matsu Islands as Matsu Township (馬祖鄉; Mǎzǔ Xiāng; Mā-cū hiŏng)[6][7][8] and the southernmost islands as part of Changle District[9].


Lienchiang County, Taiwan (R.O.C.)[10] uses the traditional Chinese characters-form name (連江縣) and Wade-Giles-derived romanization (from Lien²-chiang¹)[11] that also refer to Lianjiang County, Fuzhou, Fujian in Mainland China.[12][13] In April 2003, the county government started considering changing the name to Matsu County to avoid confusion with the county of the same name on the mainland. Some local people opposed the name change because they felt it reflected the pro-independence viewpoint of the Democratic Progressive Party.[14]

The Matsu Islands are also known by other names in Chinese including Chinese: 馬祖群島; pinyin: Mǎzǔ Qúndǎo and 馬祖島; Foochow Romanized: Mā-cū dō̤).


Yuan Dynasty

Mainlanders from Fujian and Zhejiang started migrating to the islands during the Yuan Dynasty. Most of the people on Matsu came from Houguan (侯官) (today Changle, Fujian). The popular net fishing industry had established the base for development of Fuao settlement and industrial development of the region over several hundred years.

Ming Dynasty

Some crewmen of Zheng He temporarily stayed on the islands.

Qing Dynasty

During the early Qing Dynasty, pirates gathered here and the residents left temporarily. In contrast with Taiwan and Penghu, the Matsu Islands were not ceded to the Japanese Empire via the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. Neither were they occupied by Japanese troops during World War II because they were not important militarily. Due to its strategic location for the only route for spice road, the British established the Dongyong Lighthouse in Dongyin Island in 1912 to facilitate ships navigation.[15]

Republic of China

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty was toppled after the Xinhai Revolution on 10 October 1911 and the Republic of China (ROC) was established on 1 January 1912. Matsu Islands was subsequently governed under the administration of Fukien Province of the ROC. On 1 August 1927, the Nanchang Uprising broke out between the ruling Nationalist Party of China (KMT) and Communist Party of China (CPC) which marked the beginning of Chinese Civil War. After years of war, the CPC finally managed to take over mainland China from KMT and established the People's Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949 which also covers the Lianjiang County of Fujian. The KMT subsequently retreated from mainland China to Taiwan in end of 1949.

After their retreat, the KMT retained some of the offshore parts of Lienchiang County (namely, the Matsu Islands), and also most of Kinmen County. In July 1958 the PRC began massing forces opposite the two islands and began bombarding them on 23 August, triggering the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. On 4 September 1958, the PRC announced the extension of its territorial waters by 20 kilometres (12 mi) to include the two islands. However, after talks were held between the USA and PRC in Warsaw, Poland later that month, a ceasefire was agreed and the status quo reaffirmed.[16]

The phrase "Quemoy and Matsu" became part of American political language in the 1960 U.S. presidential election. During the debates, both candidates, Vice-President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy, pledged to use American forces if necessary to protect Taiwan from invasion by the PRC, which the United States did not recognize as a legitimate government. But in the second debate on October 7, 1960, the two candidates presented different opinions about whether to use American forces to protect Taiwan's forward positions, Quemoy and Matsu, also. Senator Kennedy stated that these islands - as little as 9 kilometres (5.5 mi) off the coast of China and as much as 170 kilometres (106 mi) from Taiwan - were strategically indefensible and were not essential to the defense of Taiwan. Vice-President Nixon maintained that since Quemoy and Matsu were in the "area of freedom," they should not be surrendered to the Communists as a matter of principle.[17]

Earlier in the debate, then-Vice President Nixon mentioned:

In the Truman Administration 600 million people went behind the Iron Curtain including the satellite countries of Eastern Europe and Communist China. In this Administration we have stopped them at Quemoy and Matsu, we have stopped them in Indo China, we have stopped them in Lebanon, we have stopped them in other parts of the world.

Later in the debate, Edward P. Morgan asked:[18][19]

Senator, Saturday on television, you said that you had always thought that Quemoy and Matsu were unwise places to draw our defense line in the Far East. Would you comment further on that, and also address to this question: couldn't a pull-back from those islands be interpreted as appeasement?

Then-Senator Kennedy responded to Morgan's question saying:

Well, the United States has on occasion attempted, mostly in the middle '50s to persuade Chiang Kai-shek to pull his troops back to Formosa. I believe strongly in the defense of Formosa. These islands are a few miles, five or six miles[lower-alpha 1] off the coast of Red China within a general harbor area, and more than a hundred miles[lower-alpha 2] from Formosa. We have never said flatly that we will defend Quemoy and Matsu if it is attacked. We say we will defend it if it's part of a general attack on Formosa, but it is extremely difficult to make that judgment.
Now, Mr. Herter, in 1958, when he was Under Secretary of State, said they were strategically indefensible. Admiral Spruance and Collins in 1955 said that we should not attempt to defend these islands in their conference on the Far East. General Ridgway has said the same thing. I believe that when you get into a war, if you're going to get into a war for the defense of Formosa, it ought to be on a clearly defined line. One of the problems, I think, at the time of South Korea was the question of whether the United States would defend it if it were attacked. I believe that we should defend Formosa, we should come to its defense. It leaves this rather in the air that we will defend it under some conditions but not under others, I think it is a mistake.
Secondly, I would not suggest a withdrawal at the point of the Communist guns. It is a decision finally that the Nationalists should make and I believe that we should consult with them and attempt to work out a plan by which the line is drawn at the Island of Formosa. It leaves 100 miles[lower-alpha 3] between the sea. But with General Ridgway, Mr. Herter, General Collins, Admiral Spruance and many others, I think it is unwise to take the chance of being dragged into a war which may lead to a world war over two islands which are not strategically defensible, which are not according to their testimony, essential to the defense of Formosa.
I think that we should protect our commitments. I believe strongly we should do so in Berlin. I believe strongly we should do so in Formosa and I believe we should meet our commitments to every country whose security we've guaranteed. But I do not believe that that line, in case of a war, should be drawn on those islands, but instead on the island of Formosa. And as long as they are not essential to the defense of Formosa, it has been my judgement ever since 1954, at the time of the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Far East, that our line should be drawn in the sea around the island itself.

Then-Vice President Nixon retorted:

I disagree completely with Senator Kennedy on this point.
I remember in the period immediately before the Korean War, South Korea was supposed to be indefensible as well. Generals testified to that, and Secretary Acheson made a very famous speech at the Press Club early in the year that the Korean War started, indicating in effect that South Korea was beyond the defense zone of the United States. I suppose it was hoped when he made that speech that we wouldn't get into a war, but it didn't mean that. We had to go in when they came in.
Now I think as far as Quemoy and Matsu are concerned, that the question is not these two little pieces of real estate- they are unimportant. It isn't the few people who live on them- they are not too important. It's the principle involved. These two islands are in the area of freedom. The Nationalists have these two islands. We should not force our Nationalist allies to get off of them and give them to the Communists. If we do that, we start a chain reaction, because the Communists aren't after Quemoy and Matsu, they're after Formosa. In my opinion, this is the same kind of woolly thinking that lead to disaster for America in Korea, I'm against it, I would never tolerate it as President of the United States, and I will hope that Senator Kennedy will change his mind if he should be elected.

Self governance of the county resumed in 1992 after the normalization of the political warfare with the mainland and the abolishment of Battle Field Administration on 7 November 1992.[20] Afterwards, the local constructions progressed tremendously. In 1999, the islands were designated under Matsu National Scenic Area Administration.[15][21] In January 2001, direct cargo and passenger shipping started between Matsu and Fujian Province of the PRC.[22] Since 1 January 2015, tourists from mainland China could directly apply the Exit and Entry Permit upon arrival in Matsu Islands. This privilege also applies to Penghu and Kinmen as means to boost tourism in the outlying islands of Taiwan.[23]


The Matsu Islands comprise 19 islands and islets,[24] which include five major islands, which are Nangan, Dongju and Xiju (both in Juguang Township), Beigan and Dongyin.[5] Minor islands include Liang Island (亮島), Gaodeng Island (高登), Daqiu Island (大坵) and Xiaoqiu (小坵), which are all belong to the Beigan Township.[25]

Dongyin is the northernmost and Dongju is the southernmost.


  • Nangan: 10.43 km2 (4.03 sq mi)
  • Beigan: 8.86 km2 (3.42 sq mi)
  • Dongyin: 4.35 km2 (1.68 sq mi)
  • Juguang islands: see Juguang


Average annual temperature is 18.6 °C, with the average low being at 13 °C and average high at 29 °C. The daily temperature varies greatly during day and night. The region experiences subtropical maritime climate, which is influenced by monsoon and ocean currents and its geographic location. Matsu has four seasons, where during winter it is cold and wet, during summer and spring it is foggy and during autumn the weather is generally stable.[26][27]

Politics and government

Matsu Islands is administered as Lienchiang County under the Fujian Provincial Government. Nangan Township is the county seat which houses the Lienchiang County Government and Lienchiang County Council. The county is headed by a magistrate which is elected every four years in the ROC local elections. The incumbent magistrate is Liu Cheng-ying of Kuomintang.

Administrative divisions

Lienchiang County is divided into four rural townships.[28] It is further divided into 22 villages and 137 neighborhoods (鄰). Lienchiang County is the only county in Taiwan which does not have a city or an urban township.

NameChineseWade–GilesPinyinFoochow Romanized
Rural townships
Beigan Township北竿Pei³-kan¹ Hsiang¹Běigān XiāngBáe̤k-găng Hiŏng
Dongyin Township東引Tung¹-yin³ Hsiang¹Dōngyǐn XiāngDĕ̤ng-īng Hiŏng
Juguang Township莒光Chü³-kuang¹ Hsiang¹Jǔguāng XiāngGṳ̄-guŏng Hiŏng
Nangan Township南竿Nan²-kan¹ Hsiang¹Nángān XiāngNàng-găng Hiŏng

All townships, except Juguang, are named after the largest island in its jurisdictional area, but most townships also include other islets.


Before 1993, county magistrates were appointed.

  • Elected magistrates
  1. Tsao Chang-Shun (曹常順) (1993-1997) (KMT)
  2. Liu Li-Chun (劉立群) (1997-2001) (KMT)
  3. Chen Hsueh-sheng (2001-2009) (PFP, later KMT)
  4. Yang Sui-sheng (2009-2014) (KMT)
  5. Liu Cheng-ying (2014-present) (KMT)


Lienchang County voted one Kuomintang legislator out of one seat to be in the Legislative Yuan during the 2016 Republic of China legislative election.[29]

Cross-Strait Relations

Since March 2019, the Lienchiang Cross-Strait Matters Forum started as an official forum between Lianchiang County of the Republic of China and Lianjiang County of the People's Republic of China to discuss matters regarding the two sides.[30]

Demographics and culture


The majority of native Matsu Islands residents originated from Northern Fujian. Several of the islands of Matsu are not inhabited permanently. Some of these are garrisoned by soldiers from the Republic of China Armed Forces stationed in the county since the end of Chinese Civil War in 1949 and during the First and Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954 and 1958 respectively. Due to that high military demand large numbers of military personnel stationed on the islands produced unprecedented population growth in the county. The population reached its peak in 1971 with a total of 17,088 people. After those period of high growth the population decreased year after year due to the poor economic growth which resulted in mass youth emigration due to lack of employment opportunities. In recent years the population in the county has gradually increased because of immigration. The population has stabilized and become stable due to the improved transportation between Taiwan Island and Matsu Islands as well as mass construction projects.[15]


The native language spoken by Matsu residents is Matsu dialect, a subdialect of Fuzhou dialect, which is one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements in the Matsu Islands.[31][24] Mandarin Chinese is one of the official languages of Lienchiang County.


Chen (陳) is the most common surname, then Lin (林), Wang (王), Tsao (曹) and Liu (劉).


Matsu, though named after the goddess Matsu, is written with a different character that has a different tone. But the Matsu Islands are not the birthplace of the goddess as the human Lin Muoniang - Meizhou Island is — but her death place (on a seaport named after her on Nangan Island).[32]

The Matsu Nangan Tianhou Temple (馬祖南竿天后宮), a temple dedicated to the goddess, contains the sarcophagus of Lin Muoniang. It is, however, not as popular as the Meizhou temple.

Most Taiwanese pilgrims to Meizhou start off their journey in the Matsu Islands because they are the closest ROC-controlled territory to Meizhou, which is controlled by the PRC.


Due to its geographically remote location, the manufacturing business of Matsu has never been fully developed. Among them, the wine making industry of Matsu Distillery is the most distinguished feature. Tourism and service businesses are still not prominent.

However, most of its commercial tradings focus on retail businesses and restaurants for stationed military consumption. Farm products of Matsu include rice, sugar cane, tea plant, orange. Sea animals, such as fish, clams, and jellyfish, are also popular exports due to its nature as the major traditional industry in Matsu. However, the flourish of fishing ground is almost exhausted by arbitrary fish bombing by Mainland China fishing boats, while the population of fishes is decreasing as well.[15]

In July 2012, Matsu residents voted in favor for the establishment of casinos, which led the path of the prospect gaming industries in the county and the passing on of Gaming Act (Chinese: 觀光賭場管理條例).[33]

Energy and environment

Power generation

The islands are powered up by their fuel-fired (diesel) Zhushan Power Plant located in Cingshuei Village of Nangan Township with a capacity of 15.4 MW commissioned on 22 March 2010. The other power plant is Xiju Power Plant in Xiju Island of Juguang Township.


Generally, the environment of Matsu Islands is still good. The major source of pollution is from family and military households waste. There are however concerns that the continued lack of modern sewage facilities results in household waste seeping into groundwater.[15]


One of the most promising resources for local economy is tourism. Lienchiang County Government is making an effort to attract more visitors to the Matsu Islands, especially among foreigners.[34][35]

Nangan is the capital of Matsu and it is noted for its granite tunnel and the Iron Fort. It has two interconnected main roads.

The Beihai Tunnels are manmade granite tunnels. Both tunnels were remarkable for their time, and they took great effort to construct. The tunnel in Nangan was built in 1968. The completion of Beihai Tunnel took the effort of thousands of men. The 700 metre tunnel has a width of 10 metres and a height of 16 metres. It was completed in 820 days with shovels, spades and explosives; the tunnel also took the life of a platoon of soldiers. The tunnel was considered a military location and was not opened to the public until 1990.

The Iron Fort is located on the Southwest side of Nangan island. Located by a small cliff, it is a vulnerable spot for outside attacks or illegal smuggling of materials. With that in mind, the fort was built for defence. It is equipped with multiple machinegun rooms and rudimentary living facilities. It is now open to the public, and although most of the equipment has been removed from the site, the site itself brings back a vivid image of what it was like for soldiers at that time.

Museums in Matsu including the Matsu Folk Culture Museum, Ching-Kuo Memorial Hall and War and Peace Memorial Park Exhibition Center.


Since 1990, the county controls the Matsu Islands Bird Sanctuary, which spreads across eight islands and islets in Nangan, Beigan and Tongyin Townships. It contains 30 species in 15 orders, mostly gulls and terns. In 2000, four pairs of the critically endangered Chinese crested tern, previously thought to be extinct, were discovered nesting on the Matsu Islands, giving them global conservation importance.

There are also mosses and ferns rare or absent elsewhere in the ROC.[36]

Cetacean species that have become rare along Chinese coasts are still present here such as false killer whales and finless porpoises,[37] providing opportunistic observations at times.[38] Finless porpoises in this areas are generally smaller than other subspecies,[39] and it is unique that two subspecies inhabit in this region where Matsu region is the northern limit for one of these.



Both Nangan and Beigan have airports which are the Matsu Nangan Airport and Matsu Beigan Airport respectively. Dongyin and Juguang (in Xiju Island) house heliports which only operates during winter time and priority is given to local residents to travel to Nangan.[40]


Due to the fact that the main airport is located in Nangan, boats are the main form of transportation between the islands in the county.

There are two ferry rides to Mainland China. One arrives at Mawei District of Fuzhou and departs from Fuao Harbor at Nangan Township in which the journey normally takes 90 minutes while in Nangan.[41] Another arrives at Huangqi (黄岐镇) of Lianjiang and departs from Beigan Township in which the journey takes only 20 minutes.[42] Dongyin Township houses the Zhongzhu Harbor.


Due to their size, travelling by motorized scooter is an ideal way to get around the main islands such as Nangan and Beigan. Both Islands have regular buses and taxis are also economical. In October 2019, Mainland China announced 'initial plans' to build a bridge linking Fuzhou to Matsu Islands. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said that the plans were made unilaterally by China as part of its schemes to absorb Taiwan and divide Taiwanese society.[43]

See also


  1. Gaodeng Island is 5.75 miles from the Beijiao Peninsula. In Kinmen County, the northern coast of Greater Kinmen (Quemoy) is about five or six miles from the nearest point on mainland Asia in places. Some ROC-controlled areas are closer than five miles from PRC-controlled areas. For instance, Jiaoyu in Dadeng Subdistrict is a little more than one mile from the tip of Greater Kinmen in Jinsha Township.
  2. Juguang, Lienchiang and Dongyin, Lienchiang are a little more than ninety miles from the closest point on the main island of Taiwan (Formosa), and Wuqiu, Kinmen is about eighty miles from the closest point. The main islands Nangan (Matsu) and Greater Kinmen (Quemoy) are over one hundred miles from Taiwan Island.
  3. The island of Taiwan is separated from the southeast coast of China by the Taiwan Strait, which ranges from 220 km (140 mi) at its widest point to 130 km (81 mi) at its narrowest.


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