Cultural Infrastructure Series VI: Green Island Cultural Park
The villa of no return
Green Island off Taiwan’s east coast has a dark history. Although it is peaceful today, during the White Terror era it was the location of the government’s main prison for political dissidents. Thousands of people were forcibly detained there between 1951 and 1987.
Beginning in 1951, most of Taiwan’s political prisoners were sent to Green Island for imprisonment and political re-education. At one point, the island held over 2,000 prisoners, including Communist Chinese soldiers and female dissidents. There were also 1,000 guards, making the population of the camp equal to the native population of the island.
At first, prisoners had to collect stone from the beach and cut wood in the mountains to build simple houses. They were also forced to build a 1,300-meter-long wall as punitive labor to break their spirits. The prisoners joked that they were so talented that they collected stone just to build a wall to imprison themselves. They also designed and made a water-collection system and rain tanks to collect water, as well as a bathing pool used for swimming competitions.
In 1953, the Ministry of National Defense tried to force political prisoners to tattoo themselves with anti-Russian political slogans. This failed due to lack of support from the prisoners. In July, a rebellion took place which ended in the execution of 14 prisoners. This led to a change in the treatment of prisoners who failed their political aptitude tests. After this time, they were transferred to Liuqiu Island for an additional term of imprisonment.
In 1972, all political prisoners in Taiwan were transferred to a new prison that became known as the Oasis Villa. The “villa” had high walls decorated with slogans such as “accept the hardships” and “repent now,” there was a separate section for isolation cells, and visitors had to cross the “Good Virtues Bridge” to meet their imprisoned relatives.
By the time martial law was lifted in 1987, there were less than 40 prisoners still in the Oasis Villa, who were transferred to a civilian prison. The site was later used to imprison gangsters and mobsters, but its history has not been forgotten.
Green Island Cultural Park
As a negative cultural heritage site, Green Island now stands as testament to that dark page of history in Taiwan’s march for democracy and human rights. The Cultural Park is one part of the upcoming National Human Rights Museum, which has the responsibility of collecting records and artifacts of the martial law period, including oral history, preserving Taiwan’s human rights history, and educating people on the importance of human rights … (read more)