The Dark History Of Taiwan's Green Island

The island of Taiwan has been fought over for centuries. According to Britannica, its history of colonization began in the 1600s, when the Netherlands held it as a colony for about four decades. After regaining independence for a couple decades, China came in toward the end of that century and ruled Taiwan until Japan took it as a colony in 1895 as a result of the first Sino-Japanese War. After World War II, Taiwan found itself once again under Chinese control.

The people of the island, however, were not happy with this arrangement. According to The Diplomat, these tensions erupted into violence on February 28, 1947, after agents of the Republic of China's Tobacco Monopoly Bureau beat an old widow selling unlicensed cigarettes in Taipei the day before. An angry crowd formed outside the offices of the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), to protest and were shot down by machine guns. Known as the 228 Incident, the event led the Republic of China to declare martial law on Taiwan, beginning a four-decade reign of authoritarian violence known as the White Terror. And although it is now a tourist attraction, Taiwan's Green Island played a sinister role in the KMT's brutal crackdown. Let's take a look into the dark history of Taiwan's Green Island. 

Green Island was a political prison

The 228 Incident left tens of thousands of people dead, disappeared, or incarcerated in places like Green Island. The Taipei Times notes that new arrivals to Oasis Village, one of several prisons on the island, passed beneath a rock known as "Hell's Gate" as they entered. It earned the nickname because prisoners knew they likely wouldn't make it out alive. Those who didn't have been given the title "The 13th Squadron," and were buried near the village.

The order for martial law was finally lifted in 1987, and since then the Taiwanese government has worked to memorialize the atrocities of the White Terror on Green Island. The Human Rights Memorial Park was built in 1999. It was the first site to erect a Human Rights Monument in Asia. A plaque on the monument features a verse by Taiwanese poet Bo Yang: "In that era, mothers cried night after night over their children imprisoned on this island."

Now Green Island's dark history is a tourist attraction. Visitors can take part in a several-day Prison Experience Camp, in which they stay in the very cells that imprisoned the victims of the White Terror. Some, like camp participant Liu Yueh-shan, had relatives who were sent to Green Island. "I was there to be in prison," Liu said, "to feel and experience the torture and sufferings that my grandfather had been through." Such experiences aim to prevent history from repeating itself on Green Island.