History | Taiwan

In the shadow of the dictator

Under the regime of dictator Chiang Kai-Shek, tens of thousands of people were arrested and killed in Taiwan between 1948 and 1987. However, the country has never come to terms with the “White Terror”. Photographer H. C. Kwok wants to change that with his pictures by giving the victims a voice.
Mrs. Tu is a middle-aged lady. She is leaning against the wall of an elevator and supporting herself with one hand.

The KMT ruled Taiwan with an iron fist from 1948 and declared martial law on the island to persecute and imprison alleged spies and communists. Among the victims was Xu Daidé, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for participating in a book club when he was only twenty years old. After his release, only a few of his friends were willing to friends were willing to keep in touch with him. Tu Guimei (pictured above) only met and married him after his imprisonment. After the KMT's autocracy ended in 1987 with the the end of martial law, people like Xu Daidé were financially compensated. However, the perpetrators were never brought to justice. This is another reason why the social stigmatisation of the victims continues. The KMT is still one of the two major popular parties in Taiwan.

Mr. Chen is an older gentleman with gray hair and glasses. He is sitting on a chair, behind him on the wall hang various photo collages. In the foreground you can see steps of a staircase.

Chen Chin-Sheng has dedicated his life to coming to terms with the White Terror. The seventy-year-old works as a witness in a documentation centre that deals with the crimes of Chiang Kai-shek's regime. Chen Chin-Sheng himself was sentenced to death at the time for alleged involvement in a bomb attack. However, this was reduced to a twelve-year prison sentence after the human rights organisation Amnesty International intervened. Years later, when the former prisoner campaigned against the demolition of the prison where he had served time, he was sharply criticised by KMT sympathisers. They said that the White Terror should not be used to make politics against the KMT.

Two men are standing at the heel of a ledge in a warehouse. One has just thrown down the head of the statue of Kai-Shrek Chiang. The head can be seen falling.

Workers clear out the studio of a former KMT member, also removing several statues of party veterans and ex-dictator Chiang Kai-Shek. Before they dismantle the statues into their individual parts, they pray. According to them, destroying the statues spells great misfortune.

Mrs. Lan is sitting on the sofa in front of the television. Above her on the wall hangs a picture. The photo was taken through a window pane, you can see the reflection of trees.

Lan Yuruo is a second-generation political victim of the KMT. Her father was executed by the regime when she was just one year old. Her mother was also arrested because she would not allow herself to be forced to denounce her husband to the authorities as a “communist”. In his dreamlike photographs, H. C. Kwok wants to fathom the hidden traumas that were created in Taiwan by the tyranny of the Kuomintang and still run through Taiwanese society today.

Tsai Kuan-Yu, now 88, spent ten years in prison under Chiang Kai-Shek's regime. He was held on Lü Dao, a small island in south-eastern Taiwan, also known as “Green Island”. The KMT used this location to house political prisoners and other criminals far away from Taipei, making it impossible for them to escape. Today, Tsai Kuan-Yu serves as Secretary General of Taiwan's “Association for the Care of Victims of Political Persecution”.


An old man stands in front of a silver car scattering food for a flock of chickens in front of him. In the background you can see a statue wrapped in blue and white tarpaulin on a pedestal.

After Chiang Kai-Shek's death in 1975, the KMT had tens of thousands of statues of their party leader made and distributed throughout the country. At the same time, the population was encouraged to donate for the construction of more Chiang monuments. At the height of the statue cult, even schoolchildren were involved in the production. Thus, in a very short time, Taiwan was equipped with some 45,000 dictator monuments.

A very large park. Around a statue in the center, about ten statues are arranged in a circle. You can see a pond, in the background two houses and then a wooded mountain landscape.

Chen Shui-Bian, the first president installed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DFP), had almost all of the 45,000 statues of the former dictator removed after taking office in 2000 and had them moved to the city of Taoyuan. There they now decorate Cihu Park, not far from Chiang Kai-Shek's mausoleum.