A verdant Pacific gem about 33km east of Taitung, LUDAO (綠島; lǜdǎo) flourishes with tropical vegetation inland and a jaw-dropping abundance of colourful marine life amid the nourishing coral that skirts most of its shoreline. Its beauty and relative accessibility – a twelve-minute flight or fifty-minute ferry ride from Taitung – have made it an immensely popular tourist destination, with a holiday atmosphere starkly at odds with its recent history as Taiwan’s principal place of exile for political prisoners. Site of the notorious Ludao Lodge, where tens of thousands were held without proper trials and routinely tortured during the White Terror period, the island is now equally well known for some of Taiwan’s finest snorkelling and diving. It also boasts the atmospheric Zhaori Hot Springs, one of only two known natural saltwater hot springs in the world (the other is near Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy).
Given its small size – an eighteen-kilometre surfaced road loops round it – Ludao can easily be explored by scooter or taxi, and many Taiwanese opt to fly in for a day-trip before returning to Taitung for the night. It gets very crowded during the summer holidays, and especially at weekends, when tourist numbers easily dwarf the island’s summer population of just over two thousand. In contrast, during the winter months, there is a sharp decline in the number of visitors, and ferries and flights are prone to last-minute cancellations due to inclement weather. If you come during this time, you’re likely to have the island mostly to yourself, but many tourist facilities are closed and it’s hard to arrange snorkelling trips unless you’ve brought your own kit.
A brief history
Archeological evidence suggests that humans inhabited Ludao as long ago as 1000 BC. According to aboriginal myth, it was known as Sanasai, and the Ami, Kavalan and Ketagalan tribes believe their ancestors used it as a land bridge for migration. The first Han Chinese immigrants arrived in the early 1800s and named it Huoshaodao (火燒島; huǒshāodǎo) or “Fire-burned Island”, in reference to the fires that locals would light to help guide fishing boats to shore (the island’s highest point, at 281m, is still named Huoshaoshan). In the early 1930s, the occupying Japanese built processing plants for dried fish, which was shipped to Japan. By the 1970s, the raising of Sika deer, prized commercially for their antlers, had become a boom industry, and at one point there were more of these diminutive creatures than people. Though this industry has been in decline on Ludao since 1986, there are still plenty to be seen, and today they are something of a tourist attraction. In the main village of Nanliao, some hotel and restaurant owners keep them as pets, sadly tied up for photo opportunities.Read More
Remembering the White Terror
Remembering the White Terror
In the minds of many Taiwanese, especially the elderly, Ludao’s natural beauty is overshadowed by its brutal past as the primary place of imprisonment, torture and execution during the country’s White Terror (白色恐怖; báisè kǒngbù). Although in the late 1940s and early 1950s it was mostly targeted at those suspected of being Communist spies for the mainland, eventually students, intellectuals and professionals accused of criticizing the government were rounded up, tortured and interrogated before being imprisoned or executed. During this time, more than ninety thousand people were arrested in Taiwan and at least half were put to death. From 1951 until the end of martial law in 1987, more than twenty thousand political prisoners were shipped to Ludao, where they were held in the notorious Green Island Reform and Re-education Prison or Ludao Lodge (綠島山莊; lǜdǎo shānzhuāng), just east of Gongguan Village (the current buildings date from 1972). Here, inmates were routinely tortured and often confined to damp underground bunkers where they were eaten alive by mosquitoes. Some were held for more than thirty years before being freed, and an estimated one thousand were executed here. The prison, dubbed “Oasis Villa” in Chinese in the 1970s (in extreme irony) is now part of the Green Island Human Rights Culture Park (綠島人權文化園區; lǜdǎo rénquán wénhuà yuánqū), with a small visitor centre recounting the history of the site through films and displays, and the Human Rights Monument (人權紀念碑; rénquán jìniàn bēi). The words on the graceful stele, by writer Bo Yang, who spent twelve years in prison here, read: “During that era, how many mothers have cried through the night for their children imprisoned here?” To the west of Ludao Lodge, between Gongguan and Zhongliao villages, is the Ludao Prison (綠島監獄; lǜdǎo jiānyù), a maximum-security complex built in 1971 to hold Taiwan’s most dangerous convicts, including some of the island’s infamous organized-crime bosses (it’s off limits to the public).