Portraits of White Terror: Shih Ju-chen (1916–1970)
Shih Ju-chen (施儒珍) spent 17 years behind a brick wall inside a firewood shack. The secret chamber was just as wide as his shoulders, so he could lay or sit, but never stand. Accompanying him was a chamber pot and a kerosene lamp too risky to use at night — it was lit during daytime only.
His younger brother, who kept him alive by passing food and water, would dismantle and then reseal a small hole in the wall using Formosa kao ash and bricks repurposed from an old pigsty. The family’s dogs doubled as sentries alerting their owners whenever the secret police came by.
Shih was wanted as a Taiwanese communist and anti-imperial activist under Taiwan’s martial law era known as White Terror. He was previously jailed 6 years for plotting subversion under the colonial Japanese authorities, but wanted by the KMT for his bookclub membership and perceived radicalness. He chose “exile” to protect family and associates.
His wife, assaulted by a police officer during interrogations, sought a new life and left two kids with the Shihs. After the news was kept from them for years, the siblings still sought to help — brother would deliver food and sister searched for cigarette butts as a “treat” for their dad. His existence was a family secret.
Shih died in 1971, in seclusion from jaundice, and was hastily buried in the backyard. A proper burial with a marker was only possible after martial law was lifted; his daughter re-interred his remains with a funerary urn. Details of his ordeal were not made public until the 2000s.
His is but one tale in the unrepentant course of White Terror, which saw countless lives destroyed in the name of national security and social order. Their indignities will live on. Shih’s escape began aged 37 in the 1950s, amid special criminal laws, dissident purges, and pervasive mass surveillance instilled after the February 28 Massacre.
This is just a short excerpt of his life, read the full story here, from one of my favorite #TaiwanResources, the digital archives of Taiwan’s National Central Library.
A virtual tour of Taipei’s 228 National Memorial Museum is available here.
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