Li Ao's Cell

Above is Li Ao's Cell, I think maybe from the early 1980s

We went to visit the Calaboose Jail for political prisoners in Jing Mei (or, depending on who you're talking to, Hsin Tien), Taiwan last week. Originally a school for military law, Calaboose was taken over by the Taiwan Garrison Command (Taiwan's secret police during martial law) in the 1960s.

The jail has housed many well-known political prisoners, including writers such as Bo Yang (柏楊), The Ugly Chinaman (醜陋的中國人), and Li Ao (李敖). It had two courthouses, an execution ground and profitable laundry. (Political prisoners were rewarded for their hard work in the laundry by being allowed to watch a communal TV at dinner. They washed everything from police uniforms to Chiang Ching-kuo's underwear.)

Calaboose - My daughter's down the hall checking it out

The sign above reads "fair and not corrupt" and was on the side of the Military Court, established by the Garrison Command in 1967. The courthouse was built by the Garrison's engineering unit, which was made up of political prisoners, and financed by the sale of property confiscated from these same individuals. Trials at the Military Court were said to have been conducted swiftly, with verdicts that were often based on the word of the accuser. Appeals were possible, but also risky as lighter sentences could be stiffened or even turned into the death penalty at the whim of a single judge. Before-and-after shots of the political prisoners executed by order of this court are now shown inside as part of a video display. Needless to say, it just goes on and on.

The First Court, built in 1977, is parallel to the Military Court. The eight individuals blamed for Kaohsiung Incident (高雄事件), when Taiwanese took to the streets to protest martial law, were also tried and convicted inside. They were Huang Hsin-chien (黃信介), Shih Ming-teh (施明德), Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文), Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄), Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Chen Chu (陳菊) and Lin Hung-shen (李勝雄). These guys, and their lawyers, including Chen Shui-bien (陳水扁), Su tseng-cheng (蘇貞昌) and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), became the who's who for the democratization movement in Taiwan and later the DPP government, the first non-KMT government in 55 years.

BTW, the jail also housed Wang Shi-ling (汪希苓), the person Taiwan pinned the murder of the writer Henry Liu on. The museum claims Liu was an American, but I remember reading that he had a green card. Anyway, this was enough for the US to put some heat on the Chiang. Liu, who lived in Sacramento, California, was just finishing off a book on Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). When Liu couldn't be enticed by bribery, Chiang's youngest son Alex ordered the hit through his gangster buddies in the Bamboo Union. I think it's fair to say that the son was operating on his own initiative, though, even if he did receive help later on in covering it up. Alex had his hands in all kinds of unsavory business. He died young; and people have written that it probably had something to with drugs.

Instead of getting a cell, Wang got his own place, a kind of Taiwanese villa with several rooms, a front yard, kitchen, etc. from which his wife could come and go. A few years later, he was transferred to more scenic place on Yangming Mtn. I don't know how the story ends. I think maybe he was pardoned for health reasons.

We went on a Sunday and were the only visitors. My wife figures either people are not interested right now in the general mood of denial that has slipped over the island or they're afraid of it. Anyway, here is address: 台灣人權景美園區 地址: 台北縣新店市復興路131號 or Taiwan Human Rights Memorial (Taiwanese People's Empowerment Jingmei Garden) at 131 Fuhsing Road, Hsin Tien, Taipei. Phone: (02) 2218-2436: http://www.thrm.org.tw/en/


Anonymous said...

The Chinese name for Annette Lu is 呂秀蓮.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Actually, I was getting burnt out on the names, but figured the English ones aren't really meaningful.

cfimages said...

I've wanted to go to this place since David Reid blogged about it, but still haven't made it. It looks very interesting - I'll have to make an attempt to visit next time I have a free afternoon.

Patrick Cowsill said...

It's well worth the visit. You'll practically have the place to yourself.