|Taiwan Provincial Security Command|
A concentration camp on the Island of Fire: “New life” through ideological reform and reform through labor
The New Life Correction Center of the Taiwan Provincial Security Command, or New Life Correction Center for short, is also known as the Zhuangjing Camp. It operated from 1951 to 1965 at No. 20, General Rock, Gongguan Village, Ludao Township (the former address was No. 15, Liuma Ditch, 6th Neighborhood, Gongguan Village, what is now the Green Island White Terror Memorial Park). The center was under the jurisdiction of the Taiwan Provincial Security Command, which was renamed Taiwan Garrison Command in 1958. It was the biggest concentration camp in the White Terror period of the 1950s and 1960s, mainly for the detention and ideological reform of political dissidents, having the dual function of carrying out ideological reform and reform through labor.
The Neihu Freshman Corps was the beginning of the New Life Correction Center, run by the Taiwan Provincial Security Command. Because the Neihu facility had run out of space, it was gradually relocated to the Green Island Freshman Corps (the predecessor of the New Life Correction Center). At first, “freshmen” who were assigned a “new life” referred to “communist suspects” and “communist prisoners of war” (mostly arrested in the 1949 Battle of Guningtou in Kinmen); “dissidents” (convicted political prisoners) were not included under this term. In 1951, however, when the Military Detention Center on Qingdao East Road and its branches had run out of capacity to take in more prisoners, “dissidents” (convicted political prisoners) were transferred to the Green Island New Life Correction Center to join the communist prisoners (a sentence carried out in a substitute prison).
Build your own cell
On May 17, 1951, the first batch of more than 1000 convicted political prisoners arrived on Green Island by boat from Keelung. The ships docked at Zhongliao in the northwest of Green Island, and the prisoners traveled by foot to the New Life Correction Center in the northeast. Here, they began their lives in a concentration camp, where they would spend many long years engaging in physical labor and undergoing ideological reform. Because infrastructure and resources were initially lacking on the island, the prison at the time was more like a “concentration camp.” The prisoners had to chop firewood in the mountains, carry out agricultural work and prepare their own food, thereby achieving self-sufficiency; they even had to break coral stones by the sea to build the cells and quarters that would confine them.
In 1962, after the Taitung Taiyuan Prison was built, prisoners from the New Life Correction Center were gradually transferred. By 1965, there were very few political prisoners on Green Island. Buildings constructed during the period of the New Life Correction Center were torn down over time. In its place was established the Correctional Corps of the Taiwan Garrison Command, which was directly subordinate to the Green Island Command under the Taiwan Garrison Command. This was taken over by the Ministry of Justice in 1991 and renamed Green Island Vocational Training Center. During this time, the coral stone shelters and walls built by the prisoners of the New Life Correction Center were demolished, and the center was dissolved in 2002 when the Council for Cultural Affairs (the current-day Ministry of Culture) took charge of the site. Some parts of the New Life Correction Center, such as the stone walls, gates, sentry posts and commissaries can still be seen today. They have also been partially rebuilt to form part of the “Green Island White Terror Memorial Park.”
▲ The Revolution Gate at the New Life Correction Center. (Source: National Human Rights Museum)
The “Prison Re-rebellion” sparked by ideological reform and reform through labor
At the New Life Correction Center, “freshmen” were divided into 3 brigades, which were then divided into 4 squadrons each, forming a total of 12 squadrons. Victim Li Zhenzhou wrote in his book First Freshmen on the Island of Fire that the 12 squadrons were named “tuan,” “jie,” “xin,” “sheng,” “tong,” “zhi,” “wan,” “cheng,” “ge,” “ming,” “ren” and “wu,” (which, when taken together, means “unite comrades of this new life and accomplish our revolutionary goals”). However, as it was taboo to mention the (Communist) Eighth Route Army, there was no 8th squadron; thus, there were actually only 11 squadrons.
Every squadron comprised 120 to 160 members who shared the same living quarters, which were a long wooden structures shaped like an E with an extra stroke in the middle. From 1951 to 1954, a female squad of close to a hundred members was also detained here, as well as prisoners of war from China’s Nanri Island. Chen Qin wrote in Notes from the Island of Fire that in 1953, the number of prisoners and custodial staff added up to more than 3,000, which was about equal to the number of residents on Green Island then.
▲ Restored building of the 3rd Brigade of the New Life Correction Center. (Source: National Human Rights Museum)
As this concentration camp carried out ideological reform, life in the New Life Correction Center revolved around classes and physical labor. More than ninety percent of the class content was on political thought, involving pep talks, studies of Sun Yat-sen’s teachings, the words and deeds of national leaders, China’s constitution, and so on. As for physical labor, the prisoners had to be self-sufficient, so their tasks including chopping wood, breaking rocks by the sea, learning production methods and transporting supplies on foot. There was also a whistleblower system that encouraged the prisoners to tell on each other; this way, the prisoners were under surveillance around the clock.
▲ The interior of the 3rd Brigade of the New Life Correction Center on public exhibition. (Source: National Human Rights Museum)
The “Prison Re-rebellion” of 1953 (also referred to as the New Life Correction Center Rebellion Case and Green Island Prison Organization Case) resulted in many prisoners being framed, tortured for a confession and executed by firing squad. The incident was triggered by the New Life Correction Center’s initiative of "Saving Our Country – One Person, One Action Movement,” which demanded prisoners to write messages in blood and have political slogans tattooed on their bodies as a show of support for the Nationalist Government. The movement failed due to resistance from the prisoners. Hence, the prison created false charges such as “obstruction of re-education” to frame the prisoners for a rebellion in prison. The framed prisoners were tried in military court, which issued death sentences overruling the original sentences, resulting in 14 prisoners being executed by firing squad.
The 13th Squadron, forgotten by history
There were 12 squadrons for men in the New Life Correction Center, each with 120 to 130 members. The survivors called the fatalities of the prison the “13th Squadron,” which included prisoners who passed away due to sickness, suicide and torture, guards who died of illness, and even the wives of prisoners who could not bear the grief after visiting and threw themselves into the sea. As the family members of the deceased were unable to retrieve the bodies for various reasons, most of the bodies were buried in the “New Life Correction Center Public Graveyard,” located on a sea-facing slope between the “New Life Correction Center” and “Swallow Cave” (today’s No. 60, Huandao Road). Most of the bodies of the Taiwanese deceased have been retrieved by family members and brought home to be buried. However, there are still 30 to 40 graves today belonging to Mainland Chinese who lost their lives on Green Island. Their bodies and tombstones have been left behind by history. Here, they stay for eternity, staring across the ocean.
▲ The public graveyard of the 13th Squadron. (Source: National Human Rights Museum)