National Geographic : 1956 Feb
Pescadores, Wind-swept Outposts of Formosa United States Ships and Planes Help Protect These Fishermen's Isles, Traditional Way Stop of Invaders in Formosa Strait 265 BY HORACE BRISTOL, SR. With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author IKE a flock of drab ducklings adrift in a big windy pond, the low, flat Pescadores Islands cluster in Formosa Strait two thirds of the way from the Communist-held Chinese mainland to Nationalist Formosa. Tension between the two Chinas has brought these barren bits of land into the world's spotlight as possible steppingstones to invasion of the big rich island called For mosa by the West and Taiwan by the Chinese. The Pescadores are closely guarded by Na tionalist forces and patrolled by ships and planes of the United States, bent on preserv ing peace in Formosa Strait.* Fishermen's Islands (Ilhas dos Pescadores), 16th-century Portuguese seamen labeled them, for fishing is the chief occupation. The Chi nese name for them, Penghu, may be trans lated loosely as "A Surging Lake." It alludes to the reach of water bracketed by the three largest islands (map, page 268). The group has 64 islands, most of them little more than tiny basaltic land lumps or rocky reefs flecking the sea. Not quite 50 square miles in land area, they are scantily watered and so wind-swept that gardens must be protected by high coral walls. Planes Booked Weeks Ahead Eager to see what life is like today in the Pescadores, I asked about plane passage at the Civil Air Transport office in Formosa's capital, Taipei. "We have a daily flight," petite Sally Chen told me. "But it is always booked up solid by the military for weeks in advance." I showed her my impressively stamped and sealed permission to visit the islands and take photographs there. She smiled and agreed that I should have the first two available seats, one for myself and the other for my interpreter-guide, Maj. Hsu Piao, of the Government Spokesman's office. Then, as if in consolation for this pros pect, she added, "There's absolutely nothing to do on the islands, anyway!" A few mornings later, we-Major Hsu and I, with overseas correspondent Richard Kall sen and TV cameraman Wade Bingham, both of Columbia Broadcasting System-boarded a DC-3 for the flight to Makung, capital town of the Pescadores. Crowded aboard also were trussed-up chick ens, baskets of fruit, piles of newspapers, and mail, together with sundry other passengers. These included nursing babies in arms, wives and children of military men on the island, black-robed Chinese grandmothers hobbling on bound feet, and military officials return ing from conferences in Formosa. Trouble at the Airport When we landed on Makung's unpaved air field, I understood what Sally Chen had meant. The place seemed empty except for a line of people impatiently waiting to board the plane for the return trip to Formosa. Two jeeps and an open weapons carrier appeared on the plain, trailing a plume of light-gray dust. Unfortunately the cars were not for us. Our faithful major, however, did not fail us. His seat companion had been a colonel in charge of the political section of the army garrison. Since the vehicles were for the colonel and two other officers, they generously offered us one of the jeeps and the use of the truck for our baggage. We thankfully accepted and elected to ride in the back of the truck with our cameras. Thus we started out, Major Hsu in the lead jeep, which bore the flag of the island command. The colonel followed in the sec ond jeep, and our vehicle brought up the rear. At the entrance to the airfield we ran into difficulties. Coming abreast the sentry, Major Hsu's driver stopped dutifully, although the command flag would have permitted his pass ing. The colonel, however, drove on, and the sentry took after him, shouting and wav ing his automatic pistol. The colonel's aide, who was riding with us, * See "Patrolling Troubled Formosa Strait," NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1955.