Past tenants vividly recall how they were forced to relocate to the prefabricated sheds that they have inhabited ever since.
“It was a rainy night. All of us were told to move at once. We didn’t even have time to pack. It was chaotic,” Chen says.
The next morning, residents went back to pick up their belongings, only to find that their home had been razed to the ground.
“It stung my heart to see my collection of books, paintings, ink and paintbrushes buried under the debris,” recalls Tang, who says that reading helped him get through the dark days of isolation.
The forced evictions have also resulted in serious health problems and even death for some former patients.
“Most of us moved two or three times. Some moved five times. Others were injured when they were moving and had to have their legs amputated. A few became paralyzed and passed away soon after. A blind patient fell to his death shortly after the move because he didn’t know his way around the new environment,” Lee says.
A group of students came to Losheng in 2004 to help residents preserve their home. They called the forced eviction of the aged residents a violation of their human rights. The activists also say that the sanatorium is an important site that bears witness to the history of Taiwan’s public health. Meetings, discussions and other activities were held inside the sanatorium to facilitate understanding and gain support. One day, the then-director of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (台灣人權促進會), Wu Hao-jen (吳豪人), showed up and told the residents that they no longer lived under Martial law and had the right to live in freedom and without fear.
“It was a wake-up call. We knew we had to fight for our rights from that moment on,” Tang says.
In 2005, the former lepers united to form the Losheng Self-Help Organization. Together with student activists and preservationists their campaign has laid bare government deception.
In 2006, pressed by the hunger strike held by young activists, the now defunct Council of Cultural Affairs (CCA, 文建會) proposed a plan that allowed for the preservation of 90 percent of what’s left of the sanatorium without delaying the line’s completion. The Executive Yuan (行政院) later rejected the proposal.
In April 2007, more than 6,000 demonstrators took to the street in Taipei to support Losheng’s preservation. The demonstrators demanded that partial operations of the MRT line start before completing the depot.
Meanwhile, other Losheng supporters like civil engineer Wang Wei-min (王偉民) warned that construction might trigger landslides because the sanatorium sits on a fault line.
Meanwhile, the county government was accused of fostering antagonism between Losheng residents and inhabitants of the Sinjhuang (新莊) area. In March 2007, along with Sinjhuang mayor and several city councilors, then Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) led a demonstration of 10,000 local residents. Chou said that Losheng was an obstacle to the completion of the MRT line and thus the area’s growth and development.