Taipei graveyard may hold key to White Terror, Part 2

A simple marker of a political prisoner. Photo: Trista di Genova
Former ‘tea country’

Before it was a cemetery, it was prime “tea country,” key tea-growing areas on the outskirts of town. Then, after the Chinese Civil War of 1949 and Chiang Kai-shek fled here with Nationalist armies, it became a resting place for lost souls. Sixty years ago, the area was producing munitions (at one time burying 17 accident victims a day here), there were armed bands of youths roaming the hills of Taipei, and apparently communist communes.

“When I started teaching (Humanities at Taipei Medical University) in September 2007, I took a walk around the area and felt this is a time capsule. It’s where the old soldiers came in 1949.”

“This is the area which has the oldest graves of Mainlanders, plus the area that has the White Terror graves,” Linda continued. “Since then I’ve found three areas marked for Terror graves, and met a lot of people who have researched the cases,” she adds.

One grave is in what’s considered the traditional, northern Chinese “bread-loaf style,” she points out. If they’re covered with ceramic tiles (usually red and white) that means their families came in the 1980s and rebuilt the tomb. Sometimes, families put tiles on the marker, to symbolize “putting a new tile on the roof,” a custom that only native Taiwanese and Jews follow.

 Ceramic urns, with sign behind reading, "Open grave, dust off the bones, cremate, put it in a jar, send back to the Mainland. Photo: Trista di Genova
Other graves appear bombarded, dugout trenches like open war wounds. Arrigo found out that since 1991, some of the bodies have been exhumed by family members in Mainland China. Nearby, ceramic urns are stacked in front of a sign that reads, in essence, “Dust off the bones and send them back home to the Mainland.”

“My understanding is they give three years’ notice and give some compensation to people to move their relatives, but people who have no family will just be erased from the area,” says Arrigo.

If the tomb is rebuilt with tile, then usually their children rebuilt the tomb in the 1980s, Arrigo discovered. “The older ones are kind of hard to see, they’re just kind of buried in the grass.”

“A lot of tombstones here were buried military people who died without children, which for the Chinese is a huge tragedy. These were huge numbers of military fleeing from the communists but also some forced to come to Taiwan, some kidnapped from their villages. In the last few months of Chiang Kai-shek’s retreat, according to some sources the KMT kidnapped about 100,000 youth and forced them into the military. I met people picked up off the streets 80 years ago who say when they were 15, on their way home the soldiers just took them away and they never saw their parents again.”

“So this is one reason why CKS first came to Taiwan the military was very restive,” she observed. “There were people who were suicidal, people who just wanted to go home to their parents, wives, who attempted to return to the Mainland, and many of those soldiers became political prisoners. I’ve met many of them, and they really didn’t want anything except to go home.”

One grave marker indicates the deceased was a sergeant, another a colonel. There are soldiers from Shanghai, Canton, and the Shijiang area. Most likely they were buried by their friends; often it doesn’t say what province they’re from. Someone was laid to rest by a Presbyterian church. Even high-ranking officials were not exempt from the brutal suppression of the White Terror era.

“Objectively, any dictatorship, centralized power is going to wipe out its opponents for the sake of its long-term survival,” posits Shih Chou-chun, an academic researcher specializing in Chiang Kai-shek’s role in Taiwan history. “Even generals close to the Americans but not coming out against Chiang Kai-shek became somebody to be wiped out,” he said. Further, he noted, “the security agencies wanted to guarantee Chiang Kai-shek’s rule and he gave them good salaries.”

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