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A modern History of Green Island - Prisons and the White Terror


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 photography department.

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 be forgotten.

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 Green Islanders.

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.




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Green Island Adventures will help you organize the perfect vacation on Taiwan's exquisite and untouched tropical Green Island. Although it is small, Green Island offers so much including beautiful beaches, snorkeling and some great scuba diving. Let us introduce you to this little-known paradise off the south east coast of Taiwan.