By Joyce Chen & Leona Chen |
74 years have elapsed since the 1947 February 28 Massacre in Taiwan, when building resentment over inflation, constant military occupation, and police brutality culminated in an island-wide protest. When local Taiwanese leaders demanded administration reforms, free elections, and accountability for government corruption, the Chinese Nationalist army began a violent campaign to impose martial law, executing teachers, students, and commercial leaders. An estimated 20,000 were killed.
It would be an oversimplification to suggest that all roads lead back to 228; but everything at stake, everything the Taiwanese people fight for today, is colored by the griefs and violences this incident enacted. From Taiwanese solidarity with Hong Konger’s protests against police brutality to the creation of a 228 Memorial Park and Museum in Taipei, resistance today requires two components: mission and memory. Taiwan’s experiences of state-sponsored amnesia in the aftermath of 228 have become, powerfully, the subversive genetics of its very spirit.
Overseas, especially in Taiwanese American communities originally activated by a blacklisted diaspora, 228 feels like a permanent cultural marker. Sandwiched between the jubilance of Lunar New Year banquets and the pride of Taiwanese American Heritage Week, 228 programs are solitary fixtures of community solemnity. The older generations congregate over shared trauma: family members they have loved and lost, classmates who have disappeared, heirlooms never recovered. For the younger generation, myself included, “remembrance” is a staggering imperative. It requires memory, testimonial of something we have never truly witnessed. The legacy of 228 feels both embedded into the very fabric of my family history and mythologized oceans, decades away. I admit, for all that we are begged to remember, what we know at all feels so fragile, a generational game of telephone.
The degrees of separation are accumulating: my sister and I were born and raised in the United States, conscious but without firsthand context. Our parents were children during martial law; their memories of 228 are thus tethered to an adolescent understanding of classroom crime and punishment. Years from now, our children will be even further removed. The family histories will seem ancestral– healed over time, but deeply, so deeply buried.
So I ask: what does remembrance look like for us, and for future Taiwanese Americans?
Today, my remembrance will look like learning, leveraging the memories of others when my own feels incomplete. Every year, we ask each other to “remember 228.” Let this be our collective tender, gentle reminder that the prerequisite of this is knowledge, of bearing witness to the scholarship and works of others.
To that note, we’ve curated a (by no means exhaustive) list of resources about 228 for our current and future selves. We hope you’ll begin your memorial experience here.
228 Massacre | Outreach for Taiwan
Don’t have much time? Here’s the TL;DR on the 228 Incident from our friends over at Outreach for Taiwan.
*NEWLY ADDED* Taiwan’s 228 Incident: The Political Implications of February 28, 1947 | The Brookings Institution
(Transcript) On February 28, 1947, the arrest of a cigarette vendor in Taipei led to large-scale protests by the native Taiwanese against the corruption and repression of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist government, which had come over from China after Japan’s defeat by the Allied forces in 1945. Following the protests, troops that Chiang’s government secretly sent from mainland China rounded up and executed an entire generation of leading figures, including students, lawyers, and doctors. Scholars estimate that up to 28,000 people lost their lives in the turmoil. During the “White Terror” of the subsequent years, the Nationalists ruled Taiwan under martial law, which ended only when democratization set in during the mid-1980s. The “228 Incident” remains a defining event in the political divide that exists in Taiwan today.
*NEWLY ADDED* Historical Violence of the 228 Massacre is still Unanswered For | New Bloom Mag
“In this sense, the 228 Massacre still has many lessons to teach us today. It is another question, however, whether these lessons have been learned. That being said, it is not without reason that the historical legacy of the event remains contested.”
*NEWLY ADDED* Virtual Exhibitions on The 228 Incident: A Chronicle | 法國台灣協會 Association Formose en France
How did the Formosan people get to know what exactly happened in the year 1947? At that time, there wasn’t any internet, television, so people could only know by press and radio. By the horizon of Formosan intellectuals, we shall witness the story of the 228 incident. (English Translation: Kuan-Wei Wu 吳冠緯, Zong-You Ke 柯宗佑)
*NEWLY ADDED* Transitional Justice in Taiwan: A Belated Reckoning with the White Terror | Thomas J. Shattuck for Global Taiwan Institute
Since the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, the Taiwan government has not formally issued a finding on the truth of the “White Terror Period.” Therefore, it is still unclear who perpetrated state violence and how many victims were tortured, imprisoned, or even executed during the authoritarian period. The current scope of the truth investigation also lacks a gender perspective as there are no comprehensive documents about historical accounts of women’s victimization under authoritarian rule. This lack of a comprehensive truth investigation of past wrongdoings makes the current discourse on transitional justice an easy target of political manipulation that could impede social reconciliation. Immediate legal reforms on access to the national archives could offer opportunities to usher in a new era for transitional justice by building a foundation for a historically accurate and comprehensive collective memory, hence a new narrative for Taiwan’s future.
Taiwan Bar EP 5 The 228 Incident (8:37) | Taiwan Bar
Taiwan Bar was founded in 2014 as a digital content creator dedicated to making topics such as Taiwan’s history, law, and philosophy easier to understand. In this video, Taiwan Bar approaches the 228 Incident from a political, economic, and cultural perspective to provide a fundamental understanding of the events and circumstances that culminated in the massacres. (Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles)
BONUS: Taiwan Bar EP5.5 What Didn’t Happen on 228 (6:43) | Taiwan Bar
When we commemorate the 228 Incident, we’re not just talking about what happened on February 28, 1947. 228 marked the beginning of the era known as the White Terror. In a follow-up video, Taiwan Bar delves deeper into the actions of the oppressive government and how we got to where we are today. (Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles)
Cross-Generational Conversations on the 228 Incident (6:48) | 青春發言人
Children, parents, and grandparents sit down to talk about their memories of the 228 Incident and what role it plays in their lives. (Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles)
The 228 Massacre in Taipei: “Forced Into A Car, Never To Return” | The Reporter, Translated in the Taiwan Gazette (h/t Lev Nachman @lnachman32)
Survivors and their descendants share their frightening experiences in the midst of the White Terror.
Lin Fei-Fan: On 228, I Choose to Stand with Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples | New Bloom Mag (h/t Lev Nachman @lnachman32)
One of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement in 2014, Lin Fei-Fan, draws attention to indigenous activists, who fight for a community oft overlooked in the discussions of transitional justice.
The 228 Incident Still Haunts Taiwan | The Diplomat
Each year, on the eve of 228, memorials of Chiang Kai-Shek are vandalized in protest against the dictatorship of the past. James X. Morris comments on the symbolism of these actions and how the rest of the Taiwanese public has reacted to these statements.
Martial law has ended, and open discussion of the White Terror has been encouraged more and more. With the words “transitional justice” being thrown around in conversations, what exactly does that mean for Taiwan?
Formosa Betrayed (2009) – 103 minutes
Inspired by actual events, American political thriller Formosa Betrayed portrays the terrifying reality of life during the White Terror. After the murder of a Taiwanese professor, an American agent is sent to Taiwan to track down the killer. In the process, he unravels the complex (corrupted) political structure set in place by the Kuomintang government.
Detention (2019) – 105 minutes
Set in 1962, in the midst of the White Terror, Detention started out as a video game, and was later adapted into a movie. During the era of censorship and restriction of free speech, a high school teacher secretly holds a study group for banned books. When the teacher disappears, the students find themselves trapped in the empty school, and as demons emerge, they are left to face the truth of their school’s dark history.
More from TaiwaneseAmerican.org:
The 228 Inheritance: Taiwan’s Revolution Is Here | Catherine Chou
“We are in year seventy-two of revolutionary time and counting. This is the moment that the nascent, unrealized Republic of Taiwan lives or dies. Whether we will reach year seventy-three or year one hundred depends not least on the investment of those who care about Taiwan and their commitment to meeting the challenges and contingencies that fortune will throw our way.”
“February 28, 1947 seems so long ago when you’re only eighteen. But the shadow of the martial law remains, and I see it in my grandparents and in my parents. For my peers, whose families never left Taiwan, martial law defined their lives and informed their memories. They weren’t allowed to talk about it. The government distorted the facts. And now that cracks are forming in the propaganda, they no longer know how to talk about it. It’s one thing to learn about a politically fractured country. It’s another to live in it, to have a shattered sense of history and identity.”
Green Island Secrets | Dr. Chung-Chih Li
“How one feels about the 228 incident becomes the guiding factor in the formation of their political position. This holds true for an entire generation, and the generations to come.”