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Matsu Youth Development Association

  • Date:2023-02-24
Matsu Youth Development Association

‧ Chinese Name: 馬祖青年發展協會

‧ Established: 2017

‧ Location: Matsu

Did You Know?

Matsu Islands were originally a simple fishing community. After the Chinese Civil War and the Kuomintang’s decampment to Taiwan, however, the Kinmen and Matsu archipelagos acquired new strategic importance.

Matsu is home to a combination of marine culture, eastern Hokkien culture, and battlefield culture. In Matsu’s early years, most of its residents fished for a living, and their lives were intimately tied to the ocean. While the rest of Taiwan was occupied and colonized by the Japanese around the turn of the 20th century, Matsu escaped that fate, and so its architecture remains largely inherited from the coasts of eastern Fujian, China. With the local yellow granite and bluestone stacked on their outer walls, the buildings are immediately obviously different from the earth brick and red brick southern Fujian-style buildings more commonly seen on Taiwan proper. In the 1950s, the Kuomintang government made the Kinmen and Matsu areas military administrations, as well as establishing a military-civilian integration system. Matsu is also full of many military landmarks, like air-raid shelters and tunnels. In the 1990s, this battlefield island gradually transformed into a tourist attraction.

In 2012, Matsu became the center of heated debate as a referendum on potentially legalizing casinos there was up for vote. Tsao Ya-ping (曹雅評), who resolutely guarded her simple hometown, returned to Matsu from Taiwan and served as the initiator of the anti-casino movement. Although more than half of the people voted for it in the end, fortunately, the issue of building a casino in Matsu faded away because the relevant legislation was never passed. However, Tsao found that there are still more aspects to be explored in her hometown, so in 2017, she ran to become the first chair of the Matsu Youth Development Association, picking up the responsibility to lead the younger generation to explore this outlying island anew and reconstruct the distinctively Matsu local culture.

Chiu Yun (邱筠) and Liu Hao-chen (劉浩晨), also from Matsu, are fellow members of the Matsu Youth Development Association. Chiu decided to return home after graduating from the National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Journalism in 2018. The casino issue is what initially sparked her renewed concern for her hometown. Seeing that there were many young people in Matsu who had the same ideals and goals as her, Chiu returned to work in Matsu as soon as she graduated, convinced there was still much to create there. Liu Hao-chen similarly returned after graduating from college, taking over the homestay run by his parents for almost 20 years. He admits that while he grew up in Matsu, he was not especially familiar with the place. He came back to get to really know his hometown again after living so far from home.

Huang Kai-yang (黃開洋), another member of the association, was born and raised in Taipei, growing up with absolutely no connection to Matsu in his background. His grandparents are from China’s Fuzhou, says Huang, and so he has been familiar with the Eastern Min Fuzhou dialect since he was a child. When he was studying at the Institute of Geography of National Taiwan University, he wanted to take the Fuzhou dialect as his research subject. Eventually, he found that people in Matsu used to speak the dialect, however over time, it has evolved into a distinctive Matsu dialect that differs from the modern Fuzhou dialect. Before starting his research, Huang knew nothing about Matsu, and he never expected to develop an interest in the place, but ultimately, he decided to make the place home.

Huang is working to establish a "memory bank" of Matsu culture, preserving the rapidly departing precious memories of the Matsu community by getting local elders to dictate to him their past experiences. "The life history of the elders is the epitome of Matsu culture," says Huang, "but these experiences only exist in their heads." As the elderly gradually shuffle off, the pace of preservation work must pick up as these volunteers are in a race against time. During his time in Matsu, Huang has also found that the locals share a common characteristic: "They're all very independently minded." Most people from Matsu will spend some time away from the islands studying and/or working in Taiwan proper. This is a time during which they are able to explore and discover themselves, and it is an experience that tends to make them resilient and strong. However, when confronted with their shared hometown culture, many of them find they lack a sense of recognition, that the roots connecting them to their heritage have been broken.

Compared with re-understanding the history of Matsu, reversing the loss of the language is struggling to keep pace. From the end of World War II to the end of 1980s, the government had in place a "Mandarin-only" language policy, banning the use of Taiwanese, Hakka, indigenous languages, and the Matsu dialect. Liu Hao-chen notes that his parents’ mother tongue was banned, which led to conversations between their parents and grandparents using the local dialect, but those with the next generation having to be done in Mandarin. And so, the Association began to focus on promoting the "Cultural Mother Tongue Courses." On February 21, 2020, International Mother Language Day, the Matsu Youth Development Association held an activity entitled “I want to speak Matsu dialect," inviting local people to participate, learning the language of Matsu through daily life and rediscovering their own cultural identity through it.

In addition, the association used the abandoned Zhuluo Elementary School (珠螺國小) for environmental transformation, repairing their base a little more each year and turning the old school into a place that not only preserves the historical texture of the community, but also serves as a useful open space. Moreover, the Matsu Youth Development Association also applied for funds from government agencies including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture to promote youth culture guided tours, providing insight into the history of the school and then going into the defense landscape of the surrounding military scenery, helping everyone get a deeper understanding of the culture in Matsu.

(Photo courtesy of Matsu Youth Development Association)