New Life Correction Center in August, 1956 (photo by V. S. de Beausset , provided by Lin Pin-yen)
In the various political prisons of the early 1950s, conditions were crowded, and the prisoners had to take turns sleeping, on their sides. Aside from the Martial Law Section Military Personnel Prison in Ankeng, Hsintien, the Green Island New Life Correction Center became the largest labor concentration camp for political prisoners.
The prison population at New Life Correction Center reached some 2,000 at its peak, and was divided into twelve squadrons, each comprising from 120 to 160 persons. From 1951 to 1954 there were nearly a hundred women, as well as prisoners taken at Nanjih Island, off China’s coast. With prisoners and prison staff together totaling nearly 3,000, there were only cells for the prisoners, nothing more, and labor reform facilities were totally lacking, so the prisoners were sent into the mountains to cut wood, or to the shore to break up reef rock, and the erecting of the Kenan “Roughing It” Shed became an important job.
In its fifteen years of operation quite a number of groups came and left Green Island. At first control methods were quite harsh. When the Korean War ended, the New Life Correction Center authorities launched their “one-person-one-task conscientious national rescue movement,” and forced the political prisoners to get tattoos with such political slogans as “oppose the communists, resist Russia.” But the campaign ended in failure. Several groups of political prisoners were imprisoned again by the authorities, like in the July 1953 Green Island New Life Correction Center Recidivist Rebellion Case. Under conditions like these there were shocking cases, such as one where 14 people were executed. If the authorities did not give a prisoner passing grades on inspection, or felt that the political prisoner’s “thoughts still needed reforming,” the person was sent to the Siao Liuciou Training Detachment to do hard labor. During those fifteen years, the majority of the visiting family members of the political prisoners would board a train in Kaohsiung bound for Taitung, where they would stay the night, and then have to wait for a fishing boat or freighter going to Green Island. So for those going, the whole trip, by train and boat, could take a week or more.
The New Life Correction Center, located on a far-off island in the midst of the Cold War, was a concentration camp representative of anti-communist thought reform in Asia in the face-off between East and West.