National Geographic : 1969 Jan
water to avoid Communist radar. The Pescadores, a group of islands named by the Portuguese nearly four centuries ago and now part of Nationalist China, passed under us in a sweep of flat brown earth ringed with wave-rumpled blue. Thirty min utes later the big transport landed gently on Quemoy. Quemoy has been a thorny issue ever since the Communists suffered 10,000 casualties when they attempted to capture the island in 1949. Later they subjected the 8-by-13-mile island to intensive shelling.* On odd-numbered days since 1958 the Communists have lobbed in shells, most of them filled with propaganda leaflets, as a reminder that they are still there and waiting. The Nationalists are waiting too. We found Quemoy on a wartime regime. Guns were loaded. Gas-masked sentries with fixed bayonets patrolled classified storage depots. Tanks were deployed in strategic areas. And yet over the whole island we found the serene air of a national park. "Years ago Quemoy was a barren rock," said Commander Cheng. "There was little water, few trees. Food was shipped in. Look at it now. Our motto here is to beautify above ground and fortify beneath." Beautified it is. Some 40 million trees have been planted. Colorful pagodas grace hilltops and roadside groves. Dams, reservoirs, and deep wells provide abundant water. Vegetable and sorghum fields produce enough to feed Que moy's 58,000 civilians and a large garrison of troops. The fortifications were less obvious, but everywhere signs advocated "Counterattack to the Mainland." Deep in the gran ite hills we saw a maze of tunnels, barracks, radio stations, even a theater. Military experts claim that Quemoy's subter ranean fortifications could withstand even a nuclear assault. Quemoy Has Eyes and Ears-and a Ready Tongue I asked Commander Cheng why Quemoy is so important to Nationalist China-and to the Communists. He answered by taking us to the peninsula closest to the mainland. From a bunker we saw the Communist port of Amoy, the black sails of Communist junks like bats' wings against the glittering water. Through binoculars we watched Communist soldiers on a rocky island only a mile and a half away. "For us, Quemoy is a listening post, and a vantage point to speak back. The prevailing winds here are in our favor. They carry our balloons filled with propaganda leaflets to many *See "Life Under Shellfire on Quemoy," by Franc Shor, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC, March 1959. Chiang's leathernecks attack behind the scorching lick of a flame thrower in a practice landing. Live machine gun fire and simulated mortar blasts add battlefield realism to the Marines' infantry drill. Muscle-building backbends toughen frogmen trained to clear away underwater mines and hit the beach first during amphibious assaults. Troop indoctrination stresses retaking the mainland. But Chiang's 600,000-strong army, built with more than two billion dollars' worth of American aid, is primar ily defensive. It lacks the ships and planes needed for invasion. Defense takes half the national budget.