Not much remains of the old Taipei Prison (台北刑務所) except the walls along the north and south sides of the prison grounds. Originally known as Taihoku Prison (after the Japanese name for Taipei), it was built in 1904 to incarcerate a burgeoning population of political dissidents, revolutionaries, and activists resisting Japanese colonial rule, though the authorities also imprisoned common criminals here as well. It was also the scene of the needless execution of 14 American soldiers a mere 58 days before the end of World War II. The KMT continued to operate the prison into the bleak years of the White Terror (白色恐怖) before razing it to the ground in 1963.
Pictured here is a section of the north wall and what is apparently Yùnshī Gate (運屍門), the “corpse door” through which remains of dead inmates were disposed. Indeed, if you look at a wartime plan of the prison you will notice a triangular enclosure at the north end of the prison where inmates were presumably executed by firing squad (or other means—I’m guessing here). Seeing this immediately reminded me of my visit to the well-preserved Seodaemun Prison in Seoul, which has many obvious parallels to the now-vanished Taipei Prison. I wonder how many bodies passed through this gateway, bound for parts beyond?
As an aside, I shot this photo while exploring Huáguāng Community (華光社區), scene of a major land expropriation and urban renewal battle in 2010–2014. The community lining the north wall of the prison was originally staff quarters for guards and other workers at the prison and later home to a great many refugees from the Chinese Civil War (which grossly oversimplifies the situation, but this will be the subject of a future post).
If you’re curious about visiting the remains of the Taipei Prison Walls (臺北監獄圍牆遺蹟, pinyin: Táiběi Jiānyù Wéiqiáng Yíjī) you will find them at Jīnshān South Road Section 2 Lane 44 (金山南路2段44巷) in Da'an.
The corpse door is eerily beautiful in a grim photography sense. Great picture of it. Nice write up that explains the history that I didn’t know about. Cheers.