Yvonne Cho is a student in humanities and social science at Taipei First Girls’ High School. She looks back at why the 228 Incident happened, and reminds readers that the past still matters.
74 years ago, the 228 Incident, or some say the 228 Massacre, happened.
Today we have a national holiday named “Peace Memorial Day of 228” on the last day of February.
However, how many truly understand the meaning and the reason behind this holiday?
The Chaotic Era
The history of China has been an intricate and confusing affair since the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1912, all the way up until the Chinese Communist Party took power and established The People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists (now known as KMT) and the Communists broke out towards the end of WWII, but it didn’t end with WWII as the rest of the world saw it, and it continued till 1949.
At the time when the civil war broke out, Taiwan was still under Japanese occupation, however, after WWII, Taiwan claimed “retrocession” as the Republic of China.
The situation was, and remains quite complicated since, and in the years after that point, Taiwan was significantly affected by the Chinese Civil War.
After Taiwan was taken over by the ROC, Taiwanese people suffered in their comprehension of the concept of “motherland” and reality.
Most parts of Taiwan were modern – for the time – with electricity and public water supplies, people obeyed laws and spoke Japanese and / or Taiwanese.
On the contrary, most officials from the “motherland” were not like the people originally living in Taiwan, as they spoke Chinese, and were despondent to see Taiwanese people wearing kimonos and clogs.
They saw them as just like the Japanese, their enemy during WWII.
Local culture was suppressed, and local languages were also forbidden.
The ROC government took most companies whether private or public that had existed from the Japanese Era, and made them into public enterprises.
They also increased the monopoly system dating back to the Japanese period, and nearly all commodities were monopolized by the ROC government.
There was lots of corruption, unfairness and mass violence in the government and wider society. The economy was in a recession, inflation skyrocketed, law and order was deteriorating.
People lived miserable lives due to the many radical social changes they endured.
What’s worse, the Chinese Civil War was ongoing, and crops and many things grown and made in Taiwan were shipped to China to help in the war effort. The price of daily necessities soared frantically, doubling or tripling even on a daily basis.
People could barely survive and sustain themselves.
Their wrath kept on accumulating. People were irritated but they couldn’t do anything.
So happened on February 27th, 1947, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
On February 27th, a widow was selling cigarettes illegally when she was caught by officials from the monopoly bureau.
Cigarettes at that time were like salt, other tobacco products, and wine in that they were products that could only be sold by the monopoly bureau.
If caught selling those items privately, the consequences would be dreadful.
Simple fines might not cause too many problems, but it was because she was pistol whipped by the officials that local people were furious, and chased after the officials who attacked the woman.
In the confusion, a bystander was shot, and the hidden rage in society at the time became immediately obstreperous.
The people of the district, today’s Dadaocheng in Taipei, rallied and petitioned government agencies like police stations for someone to take responsibility for the incident and apologize.
People finally began to take actions into their own hands.
The day after, the Taiwanese people stood up to fight against a power greater than they had ever faced.
They used the broadcast stations and newspapers to spread the news, and urge people to respond.
Protests erupted all over Taiwan.
From March 1st to the 5th, Taiwanese Settlement Committees for 228 Incident were established all over Taiwan, and intellectuals and well-known local gentries were included in the committee.
They worked with Governor-General Chen Yi to discuss related issues and proposed political reforms.
But what they didn’t foresee was Chen Yi calling the ROC government in Nanjing to send troops to Taiwan.
Once the troops arrived in Taiwan, more sanguinary suppression and crackdowns happened.
Chen Yi no longer recognised the Taiwanese Settlement Committees for the 228 Incident; many of those participating in the committee were apprehended and shot.
Society in Taiwan came to a halt.
Many people with no links to the incident or committees were arrested and eventually died.
It is estimated that there were more than 28,000 civilian casualties, although an accurate number has never been released.
Many intellectuals, elites, influential civilians and dissidents include lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists, politicians died or “were disappeared” to use modern parlance after the 228 incident and in the years following which in turn led to generational faults.
Much of the nation’s intelligentsia was gone.
Their families were abandoned by society and people were afraid to get involved with them.
Martial law was declared, and the ‘White Terror’ Period followed until 1987 when restrictions were finally lifted.
People who spoke ill of the government could be sentenced to death on the back of reports of anybody reporting your behaviors and comments.
In the long run people stopped talking and caring about politics for a long long time, adults hid the facts about the 228 Incident and many forbade their children from asking.
People were afraid. Speaking about the 228 incident became taboo.
This still be seen today.
Many of our elders, our grandparents might actually have been born before the 228 Incident, our parents might have grown up under martial law, and many don’t like their grandchildren or children to speak about politics.
Such a form of behaviour is unhealthy for a democratic country to develop.
After so many years it’s still crucial for us to keep in mind what happened at the time of the 228 Incident.
If, in reading this you are of a younger generation, try asking your grandparents or parents about their memories on that day or in the years since. You won’t regret it.