Taiwan Travel + History: Green Island

Since I’ve begun to talk more about my history research, here’s a story of where travel and history combine: on Green Island.

The other day, I was talking to some friends about cool places to go on vacation in Taiwan, and mentioned that I went to Green Island earlier in the month over a long weekend with some fellow Fulbrighters. I was listing off fun things to do and see there, and came to the infamous Green Island Prison, which now stands in ruins (with one wing fixed up as a museum) and has a Memorial built on the nearby cliffs. My uncle Suho, who currently lives in Taipei, also spent time there, and I found his name on the Memorial–they list all of the prisoners’ names and dates spent there. It was there that I learned that he was imprisoned on Green Island– for his political actions supporting the Taiwan Independence Movement– for 8 years in the 1950s.

I actually can’t imagine doing ANY single thing for 8 years, let alone being in an incredibly brutal, hard labor camp on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

At hearing this, my friend commented, “Man, your family has been everywhere! All of your vacations in Taiwan always have history research component to them!”

This is, actually, primarily true.

So on that note: here’s a tourist guide to Green Island plus some prison photos. I have to say, the island is INCREDIBLY beautiful– it is mountainous and volcanic and full of dramatic vistas and beautiful areas to hike, snorkel, swim, or just lay out in the sun and enjoy the peaceful scenery. And the prison itself is situated in a very beautiful, very dramatic set of cliffs on the north side of the island. It is a strange paradox– all of that beauty and the scar of history in the same place.

Because of all of these reasons, I’m hoping to get back to Green Island for a long weekend– maybe at the end of the summer, to see all of the sweeping beauty and also face some of the ghosts of the martial law period that have been haunting me this whole year. I’ve found that happen many times during my research process: I go somewhere, come back to Taipei and read about it, try to make sense of it, and then go back, armed with a more informed perspective, to try to explain and reconcile my initial visceral gut reaction.

You could say that this year has been retracing paths upon paths upon paths.

Our first two days were fraught with rain and wind, but the rocky cliffs were almost more spectacular. (Photo by Veronica Wong)

The former "Green Island Prison" has been left abandoned, to stand as a marker of the many political prisoners during the White Terror Period. Now the old barracks, empty and abandoned, sit on the cliffs facing the water and erode at the mercy of the salt water spray.

One of the former prison wings has been set up as a memorial museum to the prisoners from the White Terror Period.

At the Green Island Prison Museum, former inmates were depicted in ghostly translucence.



I have never seen another statue of Chiang Kai-Shek like this one, in all of Taiwan. The particular nature of erosion, the chipping away red paint, and the bleak surroundings give it a presence and frame it in a completely different perspective than the usual shining bronze ones.

The Green Island Prison Memorial bears witness to every prisoner's name on this spiral stone wall and walkway, not just people who have died. The vast majority of cases were due to political reasons, like "suspected treason," "suspected Communist activities" or attempts to promote Taiwanese Independence and freedom of speech.

L is for Liao, Shi is for Shihao, my father's oldest first cousin. Now Uncle Shihao (Suho in Taiwanese) and his wife Margaret are the de facto Liao family elders, and live in Taipei.

After all that history, time to eat! All of the fish we had on the island was amazingly fresh, and the food was quite light, traditional and delicious.

Later that second day, I rode our scooter around the whole island-- maybe a 45 minute to hour-long ride. I went slowly though, because of the wind, rain, and steep cliffs.

Between the salt water hot springs-- the best hot springs any of us had EVER experienced!-- and the "Mini-Great-Wall" gazebos, an old fishing boat found a beached home.

A view of the "Mini Great Wall" (Xiao Chang Cheng, 小長城) from the next cliff over. This is one of the highest points on the island, with some of the most beautiful views of the craggy coastline. (Top picture in this post taken from up here)

Finally, on our 3rd and last day, the sun came out! We spent most of the peak of sunlight at the beach, and got roasted brown (and red)...

Downtown Nanliao village in the lovely sunlight!

Look at the color of that water! A snorkeling/scuba-diving point of entry.... is the technical term for that dock? Marina?



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6 responses to “Taiwan Travel + History: Green Island

  1. sunnymouse

    so…green island prison is like graduate school? i kid – i think.

  2. Not *just* like graduate school. I hear you have beds there!

  3. Since you’ve actually been there, maybe this song will be have more meaning for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHQaUCsq0YM

  4. Thanks, Alice! What a beautiful song, and quite a nice video slide show too. I didn’t know Vienna Teng was Taiwanese!

  5. Pingback: Pop Goes My Heart: Taiwanese Songs for Every Occasion | Girl Meets Formosa

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