White Terror (Taiwan)

In Taiwan, the White Terror (Chinese: 白色恐怖; pinyin: báisè kǒngbù) was the suppression of political dissidents following the February 28 Incident.[1]

White Terror
Traditional Chinese白色恐怖
Literal meaningWhite Terror

The period of martial law lasted for 38 years and 57 days from 19 May 1949 to 15 July 1987.[2] Taiwan's period of martial law had been the longest period of martial law in the world at the time it was lifted, but has since been surpassed by the incumbent Syrian 48-year period of martial law, which lasted from 1963 to 2011.[3]

Time period

The term "White Terror" in its broadest meaning refers to the entire period from 1947 to 1987.[4] Around 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned during this period, of whom from about 3,000 to 4,000 were executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) government led by Chiang Kai-shek.[2] Most actual prosecutions, though, took place in 1950–1953. Most of those prosecuted were labeled by the Kuomintang as "bandit spies", meaning spies for Chinese communists, and punished as such.

The KMT mostly imprisoned Taiwan's intellectual and social elite out of fear that they might resist KMT rule or sympathize with communism.[2] For example, the Formosan League for Reemancipation was a Taiwanese independence group established in 1947 which the KMT believed to be under communist control, leading to its members being arrested in 1950. The World United Formosans for Independence was persecuted for similar reasons. However, other prosecutions did not have such clear reasoning; in 1968 Bo Yang was imprisoned for his choice of words in translating a Popeye comic strip. A large number of the White Terror's other victims were mainland Chinese, many of whom owed their evacuation to Taiwan to the KMT. Often, after having come unaccompanied to Taiwan, these refugees to Taiwan were considered more disposable than local Taiwanese. Many of the mainland Chinese who survived the White Terror in Taiwan, like Bo Yang and Li Ao, moved on to promote Taiwan's democratization and the reform of the Kuomintang. In 1969, future president Lee Teng-hui was detained and interrogated for more than a week by the Taiwan Garrison Command, which demanded to know about his "communist activities" and told him "killing you at this moment is as easy as crushing an ant to death." Three years later he was invited to join the cabinet of Chiang Ching-kuo.[5]

Fear of discussing the White Terror and the February 28 Incident gradually decreased with the lifting of martial law in 1987, culminating in the establishment of an official public memorial and an apology by President Lee Teng-hui in 1995. In 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou addressed a memorial service for the White Terror in Taipei. Ma apologized to the victims and their family members on behalf of the government, and expressed the hope that Taiwan would never again experience a similar tragedy.[6]


  • 1949: 713 Penghu incident or the Shantung student refugee incident, where secondary school students, refugees from Shandong province, were conscripted by force as child soldiers on July 13.[7]
  • 1952: Chungli Yimin Middle School incident
  • 1952: Luku incident
  • 1953: Aborigine leaders Tang Shou-jen and Kao Yi-sheng are arrested and executed in 1954.
  • 1960: Arrest of Lei Chen, publisher of the Free China Journal
  • 1961: Su Tung-chi case
  • 1968: Arrests of writers Chen Yin-chen and Chiu Yen-liang, who supported independence
  • 1972: Trials of Huang Chi-nan and Chung Chien-hsun
  • 1979: Eight pro-democracy activists are arrested following a riot on December 10, later known as the Kaohsiung Incident.
  • 1980: The mother and twin daughters of democracy activist Lin Yi-hsiung (arrested following the Kaohsiung incident) are stabbed to death on Feb. 28.
  • 1981: Professor Chen Wen-chen is found dead on July 3 after a long interrogation session with government officials.
  • 1984: Journalist Henry Liu is assassinated at his home in Daly City, California for writings disparaging President of the Republic of China Chiang Ching-kuo.


Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, the government has set up the 228 Incident Memorial Foundation, a civilian reparations fund supported by public donations for the victims and their families. Many descendants of victims remain unaware that their family members were victims, while many of the families of victims from Mainland China did not know the details of their relatives' mistreatment during the riot. Those who have received compensation more than two times are still demanding a trial of the still-living soldiers who were responsible for death of their loved ones.


Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness, the first movie dealing with the events, won the Golden Lion at the 1989 Venice Film Festival.[8]

The 2009 thriller Formosa Betrayed also relates the incident as part of the motivation behind Taiwan independence activist characters.


Taiwanese-American Julie Wu's novel The Third Son describes the event and its aftermath from the viewpoint of a Taiwanese boy.[9]

In her 2013 novel, The 228 Legacy, author Jennifer J. Chow brings to light the emotional ramifications for those who lived through the events yet suppressed their knowledge out of fear. It focuses on how there was such an impact that it permeated throughout multiple generations within the same family.[10]

Shawna Yang Ryan's novel Green Island[11] tells the story of the incident as it affects three generations of a Taiwanese family.


In 2017, Taiwanese game developer Red Candle Games launched Detention, a survival horror video game created and developed for Steam. It is a 2D atmospheric horror side-scroller set in 1960s Taiwan under martial law following the 228 incident. The game also incorporates religious elements based on Taiwanese culture and mythology. The game has received favourable reviews from critics. Rely On Horror gave the game a 9 out of 10, saying that "every facet of Detention moves in one harmonious lockstep towards an unavoidable tragedy, drowning out the world around you."[12]


See also



  1. Rubinstein, Murray A. (2007). Taiwan: A New History. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe. p. 302. ISBN 9780765614957.
  2. Huang, Tai-lin (20 May 2005). "White Terror exhibit unveils part of the truth". Taipei Times. p. 2.
  3. Barker, Anne (28 March 2011). "Syria to end 48 years of martial law". ABC/Wire. ABC News. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  4. Chen, Ketty (Winter 2008). "Disciplining Taiwan: The Kuomintang's Methods of Control during the White Terror Era (1947-1987)" (PDF). Taiwan International Studies Quarterly. 4 (4): 187.
  5. Tsai, Shih-shan Henry (2005). Lee Teng-Hui and Taiwan's Quest for Identity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 101–103. ISBN 9781403970565.
  6. "President Ma attends White Terror Memorial". China Post. July 16, 2008. Archived from the original on December 14, 2014.
  7. Cheung, Han (July 10, 2016). "Students, soldiers and spies". Taipei Times. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  8. "A City of Sadness". 21 October 1989. Retrieved 12 March 2017 via IMDb.
  9. Winterton, Bradley (May 7, 2014). "Book review: The Third Son". Taipei Times. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  10. Bloom, Dan (Aug 19, 2013). "US author probes 'legacy' of the 228 Incident in novel". Taipei Times. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  11. "Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  12. "Review: Detention - Rely on Horror". Retrieved 12 March 2017.


English language

  • Kerr, George H. (1965). Formosa Betrayed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. OCLC 232303374.
  • Lin, Sylvia Li-chun (Spring 2004). "Two Texts to a Story: Representing White Terror in Taiwan". Modern Chinese Literature and Culture. 16 (1). JSTOR 41490913.
  • Lin, Sylvia Li-chun (2007). Representing Atrocity in Taiwan: The 2/28 Incident and White Terror in Fiction and Film. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231143608.
  • Schafferer, Christian (2003). The Power of the Ballot Box: Political Development and Election Campaigning in Taiwan. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. ISBN 0739104810.

Chinese language

  • 藍博洲,1991,幌馬車之歌。台北:時報文化。
  • 藍博洲,1993,白色恐怖。台北:揚智。
  • 呂芳上計劃主持,1999,戒嚴時期台北地區政治案件相關人士口述歷史:白色恐怖事件查訪(上)。台北:台北市文獻委員會。
  • 任育德,2003,從口述史看1950年代政治案件的女性受刑人,近代中國第154期。
  • 台灣省文獻委員會編,1998,台灣地區戒嚴時期五零年代政治案件史料彙編(一):中外檔案。南投:台灣省文獻委員會。
  • 魏廷朝,1997,台灣人權報告書,1949-1995。台北:文英堂。
  • 朱德蘭,2001,崔小萍事件,南投:省文獻會。
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