Martial Law and the 1950s

In 1949, having lost the civil war on the mainland, the Nationalist regime proceeded to consolidate its position of control over Taiwan. In the name of “opposing [Chinese] communism and resisting Russia,” it began purging dissent, extending its extermination campaign to nab both Taiwanese and mainlanders within Taiwan. In the 1950s, “bandit spy” cases involving the Provincial Work Committees from every province and the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League numbered over 400, on top of which there were many left-wing activists, Taiwan independence partisans, fervent youth, and survivors of the February 28 Incident who were arrested and murdered. The movement for indigenous people’s self-rule was wiped out, while a purge was carried out among mainlanders in the army, navy, air force, and intelligence agencies, not to mention public officials. Overseas Chinese, too, were secretly brought back to Taiwan for trial and sentencing; on Kinmen and Matsu military personnel and private citizens alike met with calamity; while in the Taiwan Strait ships were seized. “Spy” cases like these took every shape and form. The 50s was the peak time frame for White Terror campaign of arrests and executions that went by the name of the “Great Extermination Era.” 

 

   Yet the 1950s pogrom proved unable to stop the will of the people to seek a way out of this suffering. In November 1949 Lei Chen launched his Free China, which came to have a tremendous influence in the late 1950s. Lei Chen was able to rally mainlander and Taiwanese young people of talent to join forces; and they were just about to establish a political party when, in September 1960, he was arrested. The political cases of the 1960s presented the phenomenon of the simultaneous advance of both those advocating unificationist and independence political positions. 

The number of political prisoners held at the Green Island New Life Correction Center in the 1950s normally exceeded two thousand. The other main centers for incarcerating political prisoners in that era were the sentencing agency, the Martial Law Section on Chingtao East Road in Taipei, and, after sentencing, the Ankeng Military Prison in Hsintien.

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