To strangers who don’t know the history, 228 is just a bunch of numbers. However, 228 actually refers to February, 28, 1947. It marks the date of the massacre of around 30,000 people and the imprisonment of over 140,000 Taiwanese citizens who were suspected of opposing the Kuomintang (KMT) government. To certain Taiwanese people, it’s a date where blame is put on the government for what happened. To others, it’s just an incident in history where thousands died. But to me, 228 is what reminds me to value Taiwan’s democracy even more.
While I was growing up in a predominately Caucasian neighborhood in New Jersey, my mother instilled in me a strong sense of being Taiwanese. We watched Taiwanese shows, we spoke Taiwanese at home, and we went to every single Taiwanese event in the area. I distinctly remember my elementary school friends being shocked by how “Taiwanese” I was. When asked why she was so adamant about our identity, my mother always made two points. 1) It is extremely important to preserve all aspects of our culture and 2) Taiwan’s young independence is something that needs to be safeguarded. To a certain extent I understood why our culture needed to be preserved. If my mother had not insisted on being so Taiwanese, I probably would have lost all my ties with Taiwan due to the environment I was in. However, it was not until much later that I began to understand my mother’s point about safeguarding Taiwan’s independence.
My mother’s reason for supporting Taiwan’s democracy was always because she had experienced the White Terror period. White terror was the period following 228 when martial law was imposed on Taiwan and several citizens were punished or imprisoned for being political dissidents. During my mother’s senior year in high school, my late grandpa- a professor- was subjected to 268 days in jail for something he didn’t do. He was accused of being involved with the corruption of a government project. When my grandpa was arrested, there was very sparse information about why or what was going to happen to him. My mother always described what it was like to visit my grandpa in jail and how instead of going to school, she and my uncle would go try to find people of higher power to get more information about my grandpa’s case.
By the time I got to high school, I had been to so many Taiwan events that I had decent knowledge of Taiwan’s history. However, strangely enough, my mother never mentioned to me what 228 was. For decades in Taiwan, it was taboo to speak of 228, which is possibly why my mother never mentioned it. It wasn’t until people started to post “Remember 228” all over my Facebook that I learned what 228 was. At first, I was horrified by what I read. All the lives that were lost and the brutality that the citizens were exposed to was unbelievable. However, 228 has come to mean something more than that.
To me, 228 is the day where people tried to speak up for what they believed in. It’s where thousands of civilians rallied together for the rights of mankind. The sacrifice those people made for right for democracy only makes me recognize the inherent value of freedom. It’s what allows me to believe that the struggles and sacrifices we make are worth it. So on this February 28th, I pay homage to the ones that lost their lives and I promise to respect those around me and to continue fighting for what I believe in. I hope that others in the Taiwanese American community will also see the value of 228 and together we can strive to create a more positive history for Taiwan.
Audrey Tseng is currently an undergrad studying Biochemistry at NYU. Born and raised in NJ, she is a long time participant and leader of Taiwanese American Next Generation (TANG). She is an avid traveler, having been to over 22 countries. During her free time, you will probably find her eating brunch food, exploring NYC, or doing something Taiwan-related.