You ask any student at KAS, and they’ll be grateful for the long weekend that the 228 National Holiday is offering them. A welcome break from the full-swing of second semester, it’s important that we remember what the 228 actually means when looking at it in terms of Taiwan’s modern history.
The 228 Incident, also known as the 228 Massacre, is one that is still plagued with anguish and is considered very sensitive for many Taiwanese still. New Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-Je remembered his grandfather in a heart-felt speech who died from injuries inflicted on him during the era known as White Terror. Up until 1995, the 228 Incident that started in 1947 was considered a taboo subject.
When the Japanese had surrendered Taiwan to the KMT after World War II, it was an era of extreme unrest and scarcity. Food and other resources were very limited as the majority of crop and other goods were sent to China to support the ongoing civil war. This led to a black market for many items, seeing as the price of rice, for example, had gone up one hundred times. What this also created was a lot of dissatisfaction among the general population. People were hungry, scared, and unhappy with the ruling administration.
There was a monopoly on most items being sold, including tabacco. The Tobacco Monopoly Bureau had enforcement teams that would confiscate items sold illegally. With tensions at its height, such an enforcement team caught an elderly lady selling contraband cigarettes. They attempted to confiscate her belongings and fine her. Upon her protests, one of the enforcement officers hit the lady with a pistol, which prompted the surrounding crowd to begin protesting, challenging the enforcement officers. While they fled, an officer shot his gun into the crowd and killed an innocent bystander. For the local Taiwanese population, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The news of this incident spread rather quickly, and that’s when the uprising began. Within a few weeks, Taiwanese people had taken over most local institutions and became quite organized. They started making demands of what they wanted, including representation in government. However, on March 8th, reinforcements came from China for what is widely reported as a massacre. Within a few weeks, military troops both systematically and potentially at random, killed between three- to four-thousand people. Thus began an era known as the White Terror. From here, having gained back control of the government, the White Terror lasted until 1987, known for strict rules, crackdown on dissent, and imprisonment of tens of thousands of people. The majority of them were intellectuals or those that sought to organize a resistance. The number of people killed or imprisoned is between 10,000 and 30,000.
From the Past to the Present
Since then-President Lee Tung-Hui began discussing the events of 228 openly in 1996, Taiwan has come a long way to working on reconciliation. In the last decade alone, a special task force has been set up, independent reports have come out shedding light on new facts and figures, and all political parties in Taiwan come out in respect for those who lost their lives. In 2004, there was even a 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally, where people held hands spanning the entire country (all 502 km representing the top of Taiwan to its Southernmost tip). In Taipei, you can visit the 228 Peace Park, which also houses a museum with stories, artefacts, and a commemoration of the people who lost their lives.
The 228 Memorial Day is a reminder of how complicated and violent history can be. There are so many different factors that go into making history- the conditions at the time, how governments rule, how the people react, and of course, a country giving their people every opportunity to take care of themselves and their family. Taiwan has come a long way from the days that food was scarce and people were afraid of their lives. In fact, we are extremely well-off on our little island. This 228, let’s take time to remember what others have sacrificed so we could have the comfortable lifestyles that we live today. Let’s remember those that died for what they believed in, and let’s look out for each other.