2008-02-28

2-28 Peace Day



2-28 Peace Park
Taipei, Taiwan
台灣 台北

©2007 Alton Thompson 唐博敦

Taiwan is quiet today in observance of February 28, a date that marks a tragic turning point in the island's history. That moment, the subject of a film to be released later this year, is described thus by historians at the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum:

August 15, 1945, the end of the Second World War, marked an end to the Japanese rule over Taiwan, and the arrival of the Chinese. The Taiwanese initially welcomed China with great joy and anticipation of the arrival of their counterparts from the 'motherland.' The euphoria quickly faded as China's Nationalist government brought a corrupt bureaucracy, economic hardship, and a deteriorating sense of public security. The mood of the Taiwanese fell from hope to deep despair. By its second year on Taiwan (1946), the Nationalist government authorities often found themselves in conflict with Taiwan society – these conflicts were the root of the large-scale bloodshed to follow.

On the evening of February 27, 1947, agents from the Monopoly Bureau in Taipei went to a neighborhood on present-day Nanjing West Road, where they confiscated contraband cigarettes from a woman named Lin Jiang-mai. One of the agents beat Lin on the head with a pistol, prompting the surrounding angry crowd to chase the agents. As the agents ran away, they fired their guns indiscriminately into the crowd, killing one person named Chen Wen-xi. The mood of the crowd, which had already been harboring many feelings of frustration from Nationalist rule, exploded like a volcano. The crowd protested to both the police and the gendarmes, but received no response.

On the morning of February 28, the angry crowd held another protest at the Monopoly Bureau Headquarters, later moving on to the governor's office to present a petition to Governor-General Chen Yi. To their surprise, the crowd was met by soldiers at the governor's office who shot at them, killing and injuring at least 10 people. A group of young Taiwanese took over the Taiwan Broadcasting Company Station (the present site of the Taipei 2-28 Memorial Museum) and announced the transpiring events on the radio, calling on the Taiwanese to voice their protests. Conflicts ensued across the entire island, with rioting in almost every city and town, setting the tone for opposition between the Taiwanese and the Nationalist army.

The unrest gradually faded from March 1 to March 5, as Taiwanese representatives from the Nationalist government and the provincial government members formed the '2-28 Settlement Committee.' The Committee negotiated settlement conditions with Governor-General Chen Yi, who agreed to government reforms raised by the committee. However, despite his promise to not bring any more troops into the city, Chen Yi made a secret call to the Nationalist capital on Nanjing requesting a dispatch of troop reinforcements to Taiwan.

In Kaohsiung on March 6, the day that the Settlement Committee issued its 'A Call to All Taiwanese,' General Peng Meng-chi ordered the execution of a number of Kaohsiung committee representatives. Peng also dispatched troops to a meeting of another Taiwanese group where they shot and killed many of the members.

On March 7, the committee issued its “Thirty-two Demands,” which included a call for political reform, and the demand that all army and navy posts on Taiwan be taken by Taiwanese. However, Chen Yi knew that reinforcements from Nanjing would soon arrive at Taiwan, and he suddenly turned hostile, ignoring the promises he had made with the Settlement Committee.

On the afternoon of March 8, the troop deployment from Nanjing arrived at Keelung Harbor. The troops started to kill people indiscriminately immediately upon their arrival, and Taiwan society plunged into panic. A 'cleansing of the countryside' proceeded, with innocent Taiwanese killed at random – the number of deaths is estimated between 10,000 to 20,000 people.


These events marked the beginning of martial law in Taiwan and the White Terror that accompanied it. For this reason the date February 28 has come to represent not just the losses endured in a single day, but over decades.

Eyewitness accounts

George H Kerr
Formosa Betrayed (1965/1992)
Eyewitness report by an American who served as vice consul at the U.S. consulate.

Allan James Shackleton
Formosa Calling: An Eyewitness Account of the February 28th , 1947 Incident (released 1998)
The account of a New Zealander who served as Industrial Rehabilitation Officer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

Contemporary Reports

Tillman Durdin. 'Formosa Killings are put at 10,000.'
New York Times, 1947 March 29.

Peggy Durdin. 'Terror in Taiwan.' The Nation. 1947 May 24.
The 228 Massacre as documented in the US media

Internet sources

Wikipedia: 228 Incident

Jerry Griffin
Yale 1962: 'Real Life Real Time History' (2004)
Missionaries' accounts of protecting dissidents during the White Terror

Wikipedia Commons:
228 Incident of Taiwan, 1947
Historical images, art, images of victims and witnesses.

Green Island Adventures: 'A Modern History of Green Island'

Flickr photo set: Oasis Prison, Green Island

Loa Iok-sin: 'New documentary... the 228 Incident and the White Terror era through the eyes of the victims'
Taipei Times 2007.02.09

Official sources

Taiwan: Government Information Office, ROC

Taipei 228 Memorial Museum

Sixtieth Anniversary News

BBC 2007.02.27: 'Anniversary of deadly Taiwan riot'

Film

Formosa Betrayed, from Formosa Films

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