My heart feels heavy this time of year. Thoughts race through my mind as to how best to tackle the topic of “228” – short for February 28, 1947, the date which marked the massacre of an estimated 20,000 Taiwanese and the imprisonment of approximately 140,000 more who were suspected of opposing the newly established Nationalist KMT’s Republic of China government. It would also mark the beginning of the “White Terror” martial law era and foreshadow the mass migration of 2 million people fleeing China to Taiwan after losing their Civil War in 1949.
What do I write to acknowledge this piece of still recent history which has shaped the story of a country now with over 23 million people without offending the sensibilities of our diverse community today? There will be no right answer, as anything I say or do will either be too little or too much for my fellow Taiwanese Americans, depending on who you ask. And anything I write can be countered with another perspective or argument.
All too often, the mere mention of “228” understandably draws forth the raw emotions connected to memories of family histories and stories.
On one hand, our green-leaning and independence-minded friends may argue that although we’ve come a long way as a democratic society, there have been many backward steps that the current KMT-controlled government has taken that continues to threaten the foundations of true democracy. And, how do you dissociate blame of a genocidal massacre of a people from its government or forget 40 years of martial law that exceeded any other in the history of the world? Furthermore, the power and media structures that exist today are still remain heavily controlled by the pan-blue side.
On the other hand, our blue-leaning friends may remind us that the KMT party of today has markedly changed in the past decades, and that perhaps the past is something that we should acknowledge and never forget. Perhaps only then can we move forward without always using this piece of history as a tool for divisiveness. After all, KMT presidents Lee Teng-hui and Ma Ying-jeou have already offered formal apologies on behalf of the government. With China as a looming superpower next door, we must focus on our position and place in this world today in order to bring a more productive relationship across the Taiwan Strait.
And in this over-simplified dichotomy of perspectives, the folks who lean towards other colors of the political spectrum representing varied perspectives will have something else to chime in because, well, they just don’t agree with any of the viewpoints or perspectives of the major political parties in Taiwan.
But really, I suspect, there is a huge group in the middle who have either tuned out this article from the start simply because of the reference to “228” or who simply avoid all things perceived as “political” for whatever reason. And I don’t blame them, because sometimes living in ignorance or avoiding the messiness of politics is just a whole lot easier than “taking sides.”
I know it would be easier to not write anything about the topic of “228,” as I my mind considers several excuses. However, I recognize that it is part of our collective identity as a Taiwanese American community, and it’s our responsibility at TaiwaneseAmerican.org to acknowledge this defining moment in the history of Taiwan, and thus, our immigrant history in America.
I know that whatever I write, though, will never do justice on the topic. There is just too much to say, too many perspectives to consider, and so much depth of history intertwined with personal stories that must be represented, never forgotten.
I think these notes on my thoughts will have to do for now. It’s a start. And the story of Taiwan’s democracy is still being written today. At the very least, maybe just breaching this topic may open the eyes of fellow young Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans to a piece of their own history. Maybe they’ll be curious enough to learn more on their own, or track down others’ more eloquent essays.
So maybe the best I can do is perhaps tell you what I plan to do on February 28, also known as Peace Memorial Day in Taiwan.
I will wake up and remember “228.” I will take a deep breath and reflect on my family’s history and friends’ histories, no matter how different they may be from mine. And then I will continue to acknowledge my pride in being a 2nd generation Taiwanese American. I’ll go a step further, and I will remember the struggles of oppressed peoples around the world recognizing that our story is not the only one.
But most importantly, I will continue to respect everyone around me, hoping they’ll at least do the same for me. That is how we will begin to write a more positive history together… everywhere around the world.
The 228 Massacre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/228_massacre
About Taiwan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan
New York Times Article, March 29, 1947: “Formosa killings are put at 10,000” http://www.taiwandc.org/hst-1947.htm