Portraits of White Terror: Shih Shui-huan (1926–1956)

Min Chao
4 min readMar 5, 2022

For 2.5 years, Shih Shui-huan’s (施水環) morning routine consisted of making 2 bento boxes replete with the flavors of her hometown, Tainan. The odd thing was, the bachelorette lived alone in employee lodgings as a Taipei postal worker. She was also severely malnourished — weighing 38kg upon arrest.

(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Shih, who was secretly sheltering her wanted brother, successfully evaded suspicion by buying single-household groceries. He spent daytime in a hidden ceiling compartment, and slept below the wooden floors at night, according to some accounts theorizing the KMT soldiers had little knowledge of traditional Japanese architecture.

(Digitized by Taiwan’s Transitional Justice Commission)

But a spurred admirer repeatedly tried to get her best friend in trouble. Ting Yao-tiao (丁窈窕) cautioned Shih over her suitor’s unsavory character, and in return, he reported Ting’s book collection — but his letters were intercepted by Ting’s friend Wu Li-shui (吳麗水), who worked at a Tainan postal office.

Nonetheless, when Wu was implicated himself, he admitted to burning those letters and surrendered Shih and Ting’s names upon being tortured. They were imprisoned from 1954 to 1956 at the dreaded Qingdao East Road military detention center (today’s Taipei Sheraton) — Ting gave birth to her daughter behind bars (the prison had a daycare center).

Both women were gunned down at Wanhua’s Machangding execution grounds on July 24, 1956. Their fabricated crimes leading to the death sentence were attempting to overthrow the KMT government through communist recruitment and sheltering dissidents. Many have stated that their membership was to a fictitious organization that never existed.

Ting was able to leave a letter and lock of hair to her friend, former flame Kuo Chen-chun (郭振純) who was also arrested. She told him when and where to find a certain cigarette box. Kuo spent 22 years as a prisoner before release; he buried Ting’s hair under a tree at her old school, Tainan Girls’ Senior High. The Madras thorn still thrives on campus.

(Graphic by the Taiwan Association for Truth and Reconciliation)

Shih wrote 68 letters to her mother and sister in Tainan when she wasn’t working at the prison’s sewing factory. Her last letter delivered 2 days before their execution didn’t read like a will; she asked for two yards of patterned fabric so she could make Ting’s kid a new dress. Witnesses also recall the soldiers came for them with the infamous phrase, “you’ve got a special visitor (你有特別接見).”


Her brother was never found. It is said that Shih Chih-cheng (施至成) froze in the ceiling while the secret police came to take his sister away (she had a pre-arrangement with a colleague to find him an escape car). He was last seen leaving his temporary hiding place at a close friend’s, fellow NTU alum Lin Ao-sheng (林粵生), walking down Taipei’s Zhongshan North Road…

Pictured: Shih Shui-huan (first left, back row), Ting Yao-tiao (middle, back row), and Shih Chih-cheng (first right, front row)

Shih Chih-cheng was wanted as member of a secret communist student union at NTU (he is remembered as the leftist son of a Taiwanese gentry family who dressed plainly like a commoner). He was only 25 when he disappeared forever.

This White Terror feature is based on this report by the Humanistic Education Foundation.

Explore de-classified military documents from the Transitional Justice Commission’s archives.

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