February 28 marks the seventieth anniversary of the “228 Incident”, otherwise known as the White Terror. On February 27, 1947, a woman selling unlicensed cigarettes was beaten by police and a bystander was shot and killed without reason. This led to protests by Taiwanese people against the government’s actions.
In response, the dictator president Chiang Kai-Shek (still based in China at the time) ordered the military to put down the protests and arrest leaders. Estimates of the number murdered by the government range from 18,000 to 28,000 people. Some are now calling for removal of Chiang’s name from the memorial hall that bears his name, and that a song about him no longer be played at public events. There are yet no calls for Chiang’s face to be removed from the $1 and $5 coins or the $200 note (US$1 = NT$30.68, as I write).
The claim by Chiang and the KMT at the time was the uprising “impeded the movement towards democracy”. Very unlikely. It was the Taiwan public’s anger which brought democracy to the country faster.
“Yongyuan bù huì wàngjì” is google’s translation of “never forget”.
Culture Minister Cheng Li-chiun on Saturday announced a series of measures to push for transitional justice, including transforming the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, as Taiwan prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the 228 Incident.
Cheng said the previous practice of playing a song in memory of the late president at the opening and closing of the hall was stopped on Feb. 23.
The ministry also stopped the sale of commodities such as figurines and stationery associated with the authoritarian ruler on Feb. 10.
Chiang also had thousands of Taiwanese arrested or killed for political reasons during the “White Terror” era in the decades after he took power in Taiwan in 1949, when the KMT fell to defeat in China’s civil war and retreated to the island.
Cheng argued that the hall was built during a period of authoritarian rule to commemorate an authoritarian ruler and that it needed to be transformed in the pursuit of historical truths.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the government of the Republic of China assigned Chen Yi, who knew little about Taiwan, as the island’s governor-general. Chen brought into Taiwan the Chinese style of hegemony and “rule by man” which resulted in odious policies and discrimination against the local people, not to mention poor ethical behavior by the officials in his administration, a worsening economy, inflation, and surging unemployment. All of these stoked the general public’s discontent with the government.
On Feb. 27, 1947, government agents ignited the public’s anger when they accidentally shot and killed an innocent passerby while beating a female vendor who was peddling unlicensed cigarettes. Many people took to the streets the next day, demanding that the government hand over the agents who were responsible for the shooting and beating. The protesters were shot by law enforcement officials, and casualties were reported. The massacre triggered an islandwide revolt. In order to end the dispute, local leaders formed a settlement committee and called for reform.
Chen Yi, who deemed these leaders to be a bunch of bandits and mobsters, called in troops from mainland China to put down the revolt. This move took a heavy toll on the local people’s lives and property in the ensuing months and came to be known as the 228 Massacre. The government’s follow-up purge operation in the rural areas, and its employment of a “white terror” policy to strengthen the late President Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian regime undermined social harmony and impeded the country’s movement toward democracy.