A modern History of Green Island - Prisons and the White Terror
SEASIDE PARADISE, PRISON ISLAND
Green Island presents a prospect made in heaven, with colonies of coral
lining its coast. Archeologists having turned up evidence of early aboriginal
residence, according to aboriginal lore the island went by the name of
Sanasai. Two hundred years ago Han people gradually began immigrating
here from Hsiao Liuchiu, and set up permanent residence. But while it
was a beautiful island paradise in the sea, for a long time its good name
had been sullied by the epithet “Dark Prison”, as it had been
inextricably linked with the fortunes of Taiwan history, and behind that
dirty name one can hear the moving stories of many a political prisoner
and Green Island.
In the Japanese period (1895-1945) Green Island, then called “Burnt
Island”, had been a “loafer’s jail”. In 1949,
when the Nationalists government retreated to Taiwan and with the people
still reeling from the shock of the February 28 (1947) Incident, Taiwan
was beset with another epochal upheaval, which slammed it like a typhoon
coming in off the Pacific, as she was caught up in the storm of the struggle
between the Nationalists and the Communists.
In the early 1950s, the Nationalist government sent its military, police
and security agents throughout the far reaches of the island in the name
of “exterminating the bandits”, with mass arrests of young
students and those of the best and the brightests who had been fortunate
enough to escape the calamity of the February 28 Incident. And so began
the White Terror, where victims without number, both native Taiwanese
and mainlanders and from all classes were swept up, and where the policy
was one of “better to kill one by mistake than to let one go in
error”. Just in the years 1949 to 1954, there were several hundred
red spy cases implicating people both at home and abroad. Fear reigned
supreme as people were scared of their own shadows and of the knock on
the door that would take them away in the middle of the night.
On May 17, 1951, after nearly a year of being taken from place to place,
and of being interrogated, tortured and sentenced, a group of victims
boarded a ship in Keelung bound for an unknown fate. The terror of the
February 28 Incident led them to suspect that they were to be thrown into
the sea, but soon this first lot of nearly one thousand landed at Jhongliao
on Green Island, after which their column of bodies, pale and emaciated
from not having seen the light of day for so long, arrived at Liuma Ditch
on the northeast corner of the island. Eying the arrival of these thin
and weak “new students” suspiciously, the islanders had no
way of imagining what was to transpire between them and the new arrivals
in the days to come.
Political Prisoners’ Second Home
That was the beginning of the arrival at Green Island of group after group
of prisoners, while some of them were returned to Taiwan for retrial and
even execution. Between 1952 and 1954 a unit was established for nearly
one hundred female prisoners, which included the famous dancer Tsai Jui-yueh.
Every day the sun would rise over Niutou Mountain in the east, and set
over the mountains along Taiwan’s east coast in the west, while
the homesickness of the prisoners would lap in time with the rising and
falling of the tides of the Pacific, never to expire.
New Life Camp, known by the Green Islanders as “New Life Camp”,
a labor concentration camp for political prisoners, at times held up to
nearly 2000 people divided into twelve companies organized into three
battalions, with each of the companies comprising about 150 individuals,
each of whom had a sleeping space of only about 60 centimeters wide. The
daily work regimen consisted of smashing rocks for the walls, building
of sheds, going to the mountain to cut fire-wood, clearing of weeds, roof
repair, making of rope, and black-smithing. Whatever their needs, they
had to devise methods of their own making. They had to overcome hardships
of winter on their own, prepare their own meals, grown their vegetables,
and raise their chickens, ducks, pigs, cows and goats.
One day of hard labor, one day of attending classes. They conducted their
own recreational activities, dramatic presentations and athletic meets,
enjoying them together with the Green Islanders as they entertained others
while entertaining themselves. Young islander students were given free
tutoring on their days off from school during summer and winter breaks.
The islanders were especially delighted by the Taiwanese operas that were
put on in the New Year season, while from the New Lifers they learned
how to plant peanuts as well as many types of vegetables, and how to raise
pigs to resplendent corpulence. The millstones in many a household were
fashioned for them by New Lifers.
The Green Islanders knew that these political prisoners were fond of
books, and that they were good people. Their name for them, “New
Lifers”, suggested that they had brought to the island, from the
first topographical map, Green Island’s first magazine, the first
guitar, the first violin, the first star chart, the first shell painting.
A large legacy of photo images was also left behind by New Life Camp’s
From 1965 New Lifers who had completed their sentences began returning
to Taiwan, while those serving sentences of lifetime imprisonment or fifteen
years were transferred to Taiyuan Prison in Tungho Township in Taitong.
Never again would the Green Islanders enjoy their Taiwanese operas, the
shell paintings and millstones, to be treasured thereafter in their hearts,
while for the New Lifers the heaven-sent mountains and ocean of Green
Island were thereafter to be remembered as their second home, never to
After the New Lifers left the island, the New Life Camp became the Taiwan
Garrison Command’s Third Professional Training Corps for the correctional
incarceration of gang members. Now under the control of the military police,
gone forever was the interaction between the political prisoners and the
Historical Retrospective, Human Rights Fixation
In the spring of 1972 some three or four hundred political prisoners
were transferred from Taiyuan and other prisons throughout Taiwan to be
enclosed within the newly-built high walls at the western extremity of
the New Life Camp, the Ministry of Defense Green Island Prison (Oasis
Villa), better known as the Oasis Villa. During the relocation, the military
mobilized the army, navy and air force in a joint military exercise, prompted
by the failed attempt at “revolution” by six prisoners at
Taiyuan on February 8, 1970.
From 1972 to 1987, aside from the off-limits area on the northeast corner
of the island, where criminal law offenders serving long sentences were
incarcerated in the Taiwan Green Island Prison in Jhongliao, the Third
Professional Training Corp still remained, while the Oasis Villa came
to hold several hundred political prisoners. Aside from Po Yang, Shih
Ming-the, Chen Ying-chen, Huang Hua, Hsu Tsao-the, Lin Shui-chuen, and
Yang Pi-chuan, New Lifers “sent back to the cage” of Green
Island included Lin Shu-yang, Li Chin-mu, Lu Chao-lin, Chu Wei-huang,
Hsieh Chiu-lin and Huang Kuang-hai. So near and yet so far, the Green
Islanders had no way of knowing the true state of affairs in Oasis Villa
(the place they called the “Pakua Building”), where the only
glimpse of the mountains and the sky that the prisoners got was when they
were allowed out for exercise. Shih Ming-the, who was incarcerated at
Green Island twice, never knew what the island looked like. And Wang Hsing-nan,
who was the last political prisoner to be released from Green Island,
hired a taxi and did a tour to say goodbye to the island that had become
his second home.
From 1949 to the end of martial law, the May 1992 scrapping of the Statutes
for Punishment of the Rebellion, and the subsequent revision of Article
100, the White Terror lasted for forty years. During that time there were
political cases too many to count, with at least several thousand people
going before the firing, and still more tens of thousands implicated.
The whole of Taiwan had become a veritable prison island, silenced for
forty years, a situation well described by the poet Tu Pan Fang-ko in
his 1967 “Sound”.
I don’t know when it was
That that tiny little voice that only the self could hear
was stubbornly locked away.
From that time on
Language had lost its exit route.
During those years of silence Green Island itself had become for the
political prisoners the “whip-scarred island”.
© Published by East Coast Scenic Area Management Center.