Historical background

What is referred to as the “White Terror” today, are the systematic searches, oppression, and killing of political dissidents by the state. “Historical Sites of Injustice” refers to historical sites where the state used violent means to carry out various acts of injustice that violated human rights during the period of martial law.

The White Terror

A White Terror political case. Picture of Su Dong-chi (left) and Su Hong Yueh-jiao (middle) taken in 1956 at Beitou in Taipei. One of the children carried by them should be their second daughter Su Chih-fen (born in 1953).

The White Terror

What we refer to as the “White Terror” today, are the systematic searches, oppression, and killing of political dissidents by the state.

The concept of White Terror has its origins in the French Revolution. During the struggle for political power by the armies of the French Third Republic and the Paris Commune, the Commune was represented by red, the government armies by white (this was due to the fact that the Royal Coat of Arms of the House of Bourbon contained images of white lilies). Thus, the term “White Terror” came to be used to refer to direct and violent means of oppression by rulers in power using state mechanisms. These acts target revolutionary or reformatory forces that resist the status quo, and their destructive powers go beyond the normal system.

According to statistics from the “Report on Investigations into Trials on Charges of Sedition and Espionage during the Martial Law Period” drafted by the Ministry of National Defense in 2005, after World War II, Taiwan had a total of 16,132 cases of political trials conducted via military proceedings. The figure of 16,132 is the lower end of the estimate of direct victims during the White Terror period; the White Terror clearly claimed more victims than these statistics reveal. The political cases that victims during the White Terror period were involved in are divided into four kinds:

1. Communism-related cases: These were political cases that were directly related to the Chinese Civil War and the Cold War. Communism-related cases mostly had to do with the “Chinese Communist Party Taiwan Provincial Task Committee” led by Tsai Hsiao-chien or its peripheral “Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League.” The leftist/communist groups involved in these political cases were virtually eradicated in the early 1950s.

2. Taiwan independence cases: Well-known cases include the Su Dong-chi case, the Declaration of Formosan Self-salvation case, and the Taiwan Independence Association case. This type of case can be said to have spanned the longest time period; the Taiwan Independence Association case, in particular, was a political incident that took place after the lifting of the martial law.

3. Democratic movement cases: These cases were not really related to the previous two types, but because the democratic ideas that were promoted threatened the one-party rule of the Kuomintang (KMT), people involved in these cases were persecuted. The most well-known cases of this kind include the Lei Chen case, the Yu Teng-fa case, and the Kaohsiung Incident.

4. Speech-related cases: These were typical cases of people persecuted for their writings, such as the “Popeye the Sailor Case” involving renowned writer Bo Yang.

On the site of the former Detention Center of the Military Law Office stands today’s Taipei Sheraton Grand Hotel
▲ On the site of the former Detention Center of the Military Law Office stands today’s Taipei Sheraton Grand Hotel. 

Historical Sites of Injustice   

Historical sites where the state used illegitimate means and institutes to carry out various acts of injustice to systematically violate human rights during the period of martial law are now referred to as “Historical Sites of Injustice.” In other countries, such sites are commonly known as “Negative Heritage.” These historical sites include places where the state formulated and implemented such policies, as well as where commands were issued. They also include the operation bases of special units of the military and police forces, places where political prisoners were arrested, and also sites involved in follow-up actions such as interrogation, trials, and the execution of sentences.

Historical Sites of Injustice concern the collective societal trauma caused by the state’s past use of violence on individuals, and such sites can be found all over Taiwan. Today, as society changes, these sites and their historical significance are fading away, some to the point of oblivion. We hope that this website can help in sorting out and discovering the history behind these spaces, by marking out important sites related to human rights’ issues, so that the power of memory can overcome the force of forgetting.

Procedures for handling political prisoners

During the period of martial law, the army, police and intelligence agencies could all arrest political dissidents from among the common people, but such operations were typically directed by intelligence agencies, and the army and police played a complementary role. If detainees were arrested outside Taipei, the preliminary “proximate interrogation” would usually be conducted at places such as schools, police stations, warehouses, sanheyuan (traditional residential buildings) and temples in the vicinity. The prisoners would then be sent to Taipei after these initial interrogations. Taipei was the center for the interrogation, trial and execution of political prisoners. However, a large number of political detainees were also sent directly to Taipei and handed over to the Security Office, Secrets Bureau, Investigation Bureau, Military Police Command, or the Criminal Investigation Corps for interrogation. 

The detainees’ first stop in Taipei was usually the Secrets Bureau South Branch or the Higashi Hongan-ji (Eastern Hongan Buddhist Temple). Some of the detainees would then be transferred to the North Branch. The constitution states that detainees have to be tried in a court of law within 24 hours of their arrest, but this law was disregarded during the White Terror. What usually happened was that a detainee would be imprisoned for a long time by the intelligence agencies. The law states that, during the investigation period, the period of detention shall be no longer than four months. However, many detainees were held for half a year, sometimes even longer, before they were sent to a prison to await their trial.


During the period of martial law, after the intelligence agencies had made arrests, conducted interrogations, got a more complete picture of “sedition” cases, and obtained confessions from political prisoners, all prisoners were tried according to military law, regardless of whether or not they were military personnel. Civilian political prisoners were sent to the Detention Center of the Military Law Office under the Taiwan Provincial Security Command (Taiwan Garrison Command) for their trials. As for offenders who were military personnel, some of them were sent to the detention centers of their respective units to await trial, while others were sent to the Detention Center of the Military Law Office under the Taiwan Provincial Security Command (Taiwan Garrison Command). Even though both civilians and military personnel were tried by the Law Office, military personnel were tried by a judicial panel, whereas verdicts for civilians were commonly passed by just one judge.


After the sentence had been passed, prisoners sentenced to death would be sent to Machangding or Ankeng to be executed by firing squad; prisoners sentenced to imprisonment would be sent to various prisons across the island to serve their sentence. There were several different types of prisons, including concentration camps focused on reform through labor (the New Life Correction Center), isolation prisons (Xindian Military Camp and Oasis Village), brainwashing facilities for ideological reform (Taiwan Provincial Institute of Production Education), and general prisons (Taiyuan Prison). Military detention centers (Qingdao East Road and Jingmei) that were meant to be holding cells for prisoners awaiting trial were also used as “substitute prisons” for prisoners to serve their sentence. In the interest of secrecy, political prisons were given names such as villas, guest houses, reception houses, correction centers, detention centers, and education institutes to conceal their true purposes.