Blood on the streets
This coming Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident (Massacre), which occurred (or began) on February 28, 1947, and still animates many of the political disputes in contemporary Taiwan, the animosity between green and blue, the decisions to de-Sinify (as some call it), the distrust of overtures of peaceful liberation coming from Beijing. Memories of what happened still lurk beneath the surface of Taiwanese society.
If you don't know what happened, then PLEASE read the article quoted in full below. It first appeared in the May 24, 1947 issue of The Nation. You can also find more US media articles on 228, written in 1947, at this excellent site. Wikipedia also has a good rundown. I'll keep looking for relevant sites. If you know of any sites that would open our eyes further to what happened, or have wisdom to share, please let us know in the comments.
5/24/47, The Nation
Terror in Taiwan
By Peggy Durdin
On February 27 a policeman of the Taiwan (Formosa) Monopoly Bureau saw a woman selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of the capital, Taipei. When he tried to seize her tray and money, she pulled away, and he struck her a crashing blow on the head with his revolver butt. She died at his feet. An angry mob gathered, and the police shot into the crowd, killing one person and wounding others. Forthwith a year and a half of gathering hatred for an inefficient, autocratic, corrupt administration exploded into unarmed demonstrations against the mainland Chinese.
China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre. Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders. Foreigners estimate that at least five thousand Taiwanese were killed and executions are still going on.
Governor General Chen Yi has turned a movement against bad government into one against any Chinese government. Nanking has again demonstrated that its chief solution for political and economic crisis is force. In spite of a curtain of censorship and official misrepresentation, the tragic events that took place in Formosa in March are well known here.
The Chinese government owns, controls, and operates -- for government profit and personal squeeze -- almost the entire economy of Taiwan. one of the articles whose importation and sale are rigidly controlled is tobacco. Many Taiwanese street venders sell smuggled cigarettes. It was in the course of a campaign against the sale of smuggled goods that the woman was killed in Taipei.
The rioting which followed was not consciously revolutionary but was against the hated monopoly police which symbolized for the people the government's exploitation of their island. Unarmed processions marched to the government offices to demand punishment of the policemen, compensation for the dead and wounded, and dismissal of the head of the tobacco monopoly. They beat to death two policemen in front of the tobacco monopoly's office and burned the stocks of tobacco. Police guarding the Governor's office raked the crowd with machine-gun fire without provocation.
Barricaded in its offices, the government lost control of the city. Shops closed. Transportation broke down. Mobs of Taiwanese, still unarmed, beat up a number of mainland Chinese and burned their possessions, though not their homes. Truckloads of police rushed through Taipei's streets machine gunning the demonstrators while Governor Chen Yi was busily broadcasting conciliatory promises. During this period not a single foreigner saw an armed Taiwanese.
With calculated trickery Chen Yi continued his efforts to appease the people while he waited for military reinforcements. On March 2, over the radio, he expressed his love for the Taiwanese, and promised that none would be prosecuted for rioting, that the families of the dead would be compensated, and that he would appoint a committee to settle the incident. This group composed of mainlanders and representative Taiwanese, most of whom have since been shot, was to be known as the "Committee to Settle the February 28th Incident" and was to present to him by March 10 their suggestions for the reform of the administration.
Though efforts of the committee Taipei and the near by port of Keelung became quiet. Students patrolled the streets, keeping order. Many of these students are now dead.
Meanwhile the spark ignited in Taipei had spread down the whole length of Taiwan. In the first few days of March the Taiwanese took over the administration of almost every city. As far as can be discovered, they seized control in most instances without the use of firearms. Violence was usually limited to beatings, though some officials were killed.
On March 7 Chen Yi's committee handed in its recommendations. Reasonably enough, they included the following: that Taiwan be given provincial, not colonial status; that provincial magistrates and city mayors be elected before June; that a larger proportion of Taiwanese be given administrative, police, and judicial posts; that all special police be abolished and no political arrests be permitted; that freedom of press and speech and the right to strike be granted; that managers of all public enterprises be Taiwanese; that committees be elected to supervise these public enterprises and the factories taken over from the Japanese; that the trade and monopoly bureaus be abolished; that the political and economic rights of aborigines be guaranteed; that Taiwanese be appointed to as many army, navy, and airforce posts in Taiwan as possible; that detained "war criminals" be released (Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire for fifty-one years); that the central government repay Taiwan for the expropriated sugar and rice; that garrison headquarters be abolished "to avoid misuse of military might." These proposals were not presented as an ultimatum. They were clearly a basis for negotiation. Chen Yi had already agreed to most of the points.
At noon on March 8 the commander of the Fourth Gendarme Regiment told the committee that its demands for political reform were "proper," but asked that it withdraw its demand for the abolition of garrisons. He said, "I will guarantee with my life that the central government will not take military action against Taiwan." At this point, although most of the island was still in the hands of the people, Chen Yi could have reached an agreement with them which would have insured the Nanking government's continued control of Taiwan and the cooperation of the Taiwanese. He only needed to move honestly toward reform. But he had at no time any intention of establishing peace by compromise. This was revolt; he would crush it. He was obliged to temporize and deceive until his troops arrived.
On the afternoon and evening of March 8, without warning or provocation, the streets of Keelung and Taipei were cleared with gunfire to cover the entry of mainland troops. These reinforcements consisted mainly of the Twenty-first Division, a Szechuan outfit with a reputation for brutality. In the next four or five days more than a thousand unarmed Taiwanese in the Taipei-Keelung area alone were massacred. A year and a half earlier many of them had joyously welcomed the arrival of the Chinese troops. Now truckloads of soldiers armed with machine guns and automatic rifles shot their way through the streets. Soldiers demanded entry into homes, killed the first person who appeared, and looted the premises. Bodies floated thick in Keelung harbor and in the river which flows by Taipei. Twenty young men were castrated, their ears cut off, and their noses slashed. A foreigner watched gendarmes cut off a young boy's hands before bayoneting him because he had not dismounted from his bicycle quickly enough. The radio advised students who had fled from the city to return to their homes, but when they did so they were killed. Any prominent person was in grave danger.
By March 14 the killing had tapered off in Taipei. In other cities the
terror followed the same pattern.
While this legalized slaughter was at its height, Chiang Kai-shek told the audience at the weekly memorial service in Nanking that Taiwan would have constitutional rights "at an early date." The recent riots, he revealed assuringly, were "instigated by Communists." He admonished the erring people of Taiwan to "abide by law and not become an instrument of traitorous cliques."
Terror has won temporarily in Taiwan; the island is sullenly quiet. At this writing Governor Chen Yi has not yet been dismissed, in spite of a resolution passed by the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang several weeks ago.* Chen Yi has important friends. Moreover, to dismiss him promptly would mean loss of face; it is more tactful to let him resign, in good time. A Taiwanese who had spent his adult life in anti-Japanese activity said to me bitterly during the height of the terror, "The Generalissimo won't dismiss Chen Yi now. That would be an admission that he and the government had made mistakes. But hundreds of Taiwanese die every day that Chen Yi saves face."
The Minister of National Defense, Pai Chung-hsi, sent by the Generalissimo to Taiwan to investigate the affair and "comfort" the mainland Chinese, has denied any reprisals against the Taiwanese; the rioters were simply pursued, arrested, and punished. There were no atrocities, he said, giving the lie to foreign eyewitnesses. "Chinese troops have been instructed by the government not to commit any atrocities; so it is not possible for them to commit any atrocities in Formosa or anywhere in China," he explained. While he admitted that there were defects in the Chinese administration of Taiwan, Pai blamed the revolt on Japanese influence and on the Communists. Not a single neutral observer, however, accepts Pai's or the Generalissimo's statement that Communists instigated or directed the riots. None believes that Communists have any influence at present in Taiwan. However, shortly after news of the massacre began to leak through to China, the Yenan radio claimed that hundreds of Taiwan soldiers in Kuomintang armies on the Shantung front were deserting to the Communists. Certainly Chen Yi has followed the procedure most likely to cause the development of a flourishing Communist movement in Taiwan.
A group of Japanese-trained gangsters and ronins undoubtedly participated in the uprising, but they did not start it. Foreign observers in Taipei state categorically that the sole cause of the revolt was the flagrant misrule of the Chinese mainlanders. The Taiwanese had repeatedly and fruitlessly petitioned for reform. It is not surprising that they finally acted.
* Since Miss Durdin wrote, Chen Yi has been removed, and Dr. Wei Tao-Ming has been appointed governor of Formosa. -- Editors, The Nation.