Green Island Penal Colony

Earlier in the year (before moving to Tokyo) I visited Taiwan for the third time and spent a very enjoyable week travelling down the east cost by train. Along the way I stopped off at Taitung (台東市) – a rather unremarkable small city but the gateway to my intended destination of Green Island (綠島).

Getting there is no mean feat as your choices are either a scary flight in a small plane or a stomach-churning ferry journey (cheaper). I choose the latter, and while I managed to hold on to the contents of my stomach over the 1-hour trip, many others didn’t fare so well (see the video above to know what to expect).

Green Island Shore

Upon arrival on dry land things rapidly improved, even if the weather wasn’t much to get excited about. While you would normally require a license to rent a scooter in Taiwan the rules are pretty much ignored on the island so after dumping my bags at a run-down holiday chalet I did just that and hit the road to see what I could find.

Prison Steel Gate

Bearing in mind that I knew practically nothing about the island at that time, halfway around the 6-square mile island I was surprised to come across what turned out to be an enormous derelict prison camp. Seeing as there didn’t seem to be anyone around I literally drove straight up to the enormous steel gates and wandered inside.

Prison Entrance/Exit

As it turned out there were actually two prisons built to accommodate political prisoners during the time of White Terror (白色恐怖) when martial law was declared by the Kuomitang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) regime between 1949-1987. During this period around 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned with many others losing their lives, property and freedom.

Prison Lookout

Separately titled the “New Life Correction Center” (1951 ~ 1965) and “Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison” (1972 ~ 1987) today they are collectively known as “Green Island Human Rights Memorial Park”. There is a small and rather tatty museum area within the park commemorating the suffering of the people who were interred there but other than this the prisons have been left open to slowly rot.

KMT Prison on Green Island

Creepily known as “Oasis Villa”, the “Green Island Reform and Reeducation Prison” contained four cell blocks and a separate solitary confinement building as well as a visitation centre.

Wall Painting

On the high prison walls, mottled political propaganda slogans from the time can still be seen saying things like “Be firm against communism and ready to win”.

Prison Cell Block

Inmates were only allowed out for 20-30 minutes each day to exercise in the yard.

Prison Ceiling
Prison Cells

It was extremely eery to walk through an empty prison with all the cell doors hanging open as if their inhabitants had only recently fled.

"Take back the mainland"

More slogans on the external wall declare “Take back the mainland”.

Green Island Lodge Entrance

Outside the gate of the older “New Life Correction Center” things looked even grimmer.

Abandoned KMT Prison

The warped palm trees outside the windowless concrete buildings made me feel as if I was in some sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare as I slowly drove around the enormous compound.

Rotting Prison

Here up to 2000 prisoners at a time spent years doing hard labour with some being forced to show their “loyalty” by having themselves tattooed with the slogan “Oppose the Communists, Resist the Russians”.

Abandoned Offices

Exposed to the elements the buildings are rapidly falling apart.

Oasis Village Prison Camp

Nearby a vocational centre used to rehabilitate prisoners with new skills is also falling into disrepair.

Green Island Coast Road

Luckily the island isn’t all doom and gloom and after the sun finally came out the coast road made for a fantastic drive (I went circled the whole island twice!).

Green Island Shore

It’s also popular with local tourists and scuba divers during the summer. Since I was visiting off-season not many of the shops or restaurants were open so there wasn’t much choice in what to eat.

Green Island Coast

For some visitors, the main attraction of the island is a visit to one of only 3 saltwater hot springs in the world. I gave it a try and wasn’t sure it quite lived up to the hype but was quite relaxing all the same.

"Kill the CCP, take back the homeland"

Back near the prison, I spotted another slogan carved directly into the cliff face – “Exterminate the Communists, Restore the Country”.

Crab Crossing

I’ve seen road signs warning of deer and other livestock before, but never crabs!

Green Island Lighthouse

There’s a small lighthouse in the northwest corner of the island but it isn’t open to visitors.

Lyudao Airport Runway

It overlooks where you land if you decide on the flying option.

Blue Horizons

As far as beaten tracks are concerned Green Island is well and truly off it which is probably why it made such a great location to hide away all the people the KMT didn’t like. While this aspect of the island’s history is a bit grim it’s still a beautiful spot to visit if you can afford the time it takes to get here and don’t mind cutting yourself off from modern amenities for a couple of days.

David avatar

2 responses

  1. […] known as the White Terror. This news report suggests one member of the Hong family was sent to the penal colony on Green Island 綠島. Many other members of the family emigrated to America in the subsequent […]

  2. Stephen Szuster avatar
    Stephen Szuster

    Many thanks for putting this article together. It was fantastic to learn about and the photos are excellent. I may visit this island on an upcoming trip now that I’ve read this. Very best, Steve.


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