Remembering the 228 Massacre: Readings & Resources on Taiwan’s White Terror Era

Feature image: Memorial Foundation of 228 

How should a nation reckon with its sins? On the 75th anniversary of the 228 Massacre in Taiwan, and in the midst of ever-greater geopolitical distress, we invite our community to reflect with us on life under and after authoritarian violence. History is rife with the patterns of misinformation masquerading as prophecy; ego presented as hope; fear as our moral compass.

In Green Island Secrets, Professor Chung-chih Li writes, “how one feels about the 228 incident becomes the guiding factor in the formation of their political position.” I suggest this next step: what we do with that position determines the trajectory of our humanity. And how we talk about the past, how we name each violence, determines whether we choose healing or erasure.

In speaking with diasporic Taiwanese, I notice the impulse to turn systemic amnesia inwards. “My parents never talked about it with me,” they might say bitterly. “I never learned it in schools.” But silence is not inherently a tradition, or a small matter of miscommunication between parent and child. It is a longstanding playbook of authoritarian regimes: to abuse a generation and then gaslight its descendants.

We are somebody’s descendants. We will become someone’s ancestors. May we do them both justice.

Recommended Resources & Materials

[PODCAST] Massacres and Cover-ups | Hearts in Taiwan

If you didn’t know that the KMT government killed about 20,000 Taiwanese people in a one-month span in early 1947 and imprisoned about 140,000 more during the 40 years after, that’s no accident. In Part 1, we share what we’ve learned from our research about the 228 Massacre and the period of martial law afterward called White Terror. In Part 2, we share the way that the 228 Massacre and White Terror were handled since these events ended and the parallels to how governments handle similar events like the Tulsa Race Massacre and the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Trigger warnings: violence, police/military brutality, totalitarian government.

[PODCAST] The 228 Massacre: Taboos, Scars, Stigmas and an Essential Lesson in Taiwan History Ep 171 | Talking Taiwan

Since it’s the 75th anniversary of the 228 massacre we will be dedicating two episodes to this topic. In this first episode today, my guests Wei-Wei Chang, Michi Fu, Tsuann Kuo and Josephine Pan represent different backgrounds and generations of Taiwanese women. Each will share their personal perspectives and experiences related to 228, and thoughts on the societal impact of 228. Next week Michi and Tsuann will return to discuss their work with 228 survivors and their families through the Transitional Justice Commission.

[FORUM TRANSCRIPT] Taiwan’s 228 Incident: The Political Implications of February 28, 1947 | The Brookings Institution

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.

[ARTICLE] Historical Violence of the 228 Massacre is still Unanswered For | New Bloom Mag

It may not be surprising that the KMT still refuses to confront the crimes of its past. The 228 Massacre is sometimes downplayed, with claims that the DPP and members of the pan-Green camp are exaggerating the scale of the incident. Sometimes it is claimed that the victims of the 228 Massacre were communist spies, to justify the actions taken against them. Otherwise, it is claimed that the 228 Massacre is an incident that got out of hand, but that it is an aberration from the actions of the KMT party-state, rather than an incident representative of its fundamental violence.

[ARTICLE] The 228 Massacre in Taipei: “Forced Into A Car, Never To Return” | The Reporter, Translated in the Taiwan Gazette 

Survivors and their descendants share their frightening experiences in the midst of the White Terror.

More English translations from The Taiwan Gazette:

These Are The Tyrants And Robber Barons Of The 228 Massacre – Yang Pi-chuan (楊碧川)

Tsai Ing-Wen: A Letter About 228 For The Young People Of China – Tsai Ing-wen

Who Was Chen Wen-Hsi? The First Victim Of The 228 Massacre – Yeh Hung-ling (葉虹靈)

[ARTICLE] 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.

[VIDEO] 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)

[VIDEO] 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)

[DIGITAL ARCHIVE] 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)

[REPORT] 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.

[ARTICLE] The Bold and Unruly Legacy of Chen Wen-Chen | New Bloom Mag

Wen-chen had a bold personality and was not suited to strict organization of life. He did not join any political group throughout his life. However, he was a person with an extremely strong sense of equality and justice. He sympathized with the poor in Taiwan and hated the trauma caused by the Kuomintang’s ‘provincial’ discriminatory policy and dictatorship and repressive rule.

[ARTICLE] Black Lives Matter, Taiwan’s ‘228 Incident,’ and the Transnational Struggle For LiberationBlack Youth Project

In other words, what happened to Eric Garner and what has happened to Black Americans so many times is, in fundamental ways, not that different from how the Taiwanese 228 Incident — as it is known for the mass violence that started on February 28 — began. On February 27, 1947, representatives from the recently self-installed Republic of China government in Taiwan went to a tea shop to confiscate cigarettes from a woman who had been selling them illegally. The authorities hit her in the head with the butt of a gun and injured her, causing a crowd to form. An agent shot into the crowd, killing one bystander. Thus began a night of unrest that would be quelled in the subsequent months and years through extreme violence. The exact number of Taiwanese who were disappeared is not known, but it is believed 30,000 or more people were murdered and many others who were incarcerated for decades before returning unrecognizable to their families.

[ARTICLE] The Public Narratives Behind 228 | Ketagalan Media

Rather than weighing specific actions or comparing the scale of brutality, it may be more instructive to consider the emotional state of the local populace during the lead-up to these events. In gauging the public mood and uncovering the violations to which they have been subjected, we find hints of a broader narrative on communities, democracy, and the search for dignity.

[OVERVIEW] Taiwan’s History: Important Milestones | Taiwan DC

[VIDEO] Relevance of 228 to Taiwan Today | Taiwan Plus

The 75th anniversary of the 228 Incident is coming up. The massacre was one of the worst in Taiwan’s modern history. TaiwanPlus spoke to Dr. Huang Cheng-yi, a member of the Taiwan Association for Truth and Reconciliation and research professor at Academia Sinica. We began by asking whether Taiwan is in a position to prevent a repeat of history.

[VIDEO] Lasting Impact of 228: Pan Mu-chih | Taiwan Plus

The 228 Incident was an anti-government uprising in 1947 that left tens of thousands of people dead. Pan Mu-chih, a doctor, was one of them. Bing Wang spoke to Pan Mu-chih’s son, Pan Hsin-hsing, who tells us how 228 left an indelible mark on his family.

[VIDEO] Talking Transitional Justice | Taiwan Plus

Chiang Kai-shek’s crackdown on opposition sent thousands of Taiwanese into exile. Rik Glauert talks to Strong Chuang, who was blacklisted from returning to Taiwan when in the United States in 1965, and his son Tim Chng about what transitional justice means for them.

Foundational Texts

Formosa Betrayed | George H. Kerr

Formosa Betrayed is a detailed, impassioned account of Chinese Nationalist (KMT) misrule that remains the most important English-language book ever written about Taiwan. Author George H. Kerr lived in Taiwan in the late 1930s, when the island was a colony of Japan. During the war, he worked for the U.S. Navy as a Taiwan expert. From 1945 to 1947, Kerr served as vice consul of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Taipei, where he was an eyewitness to the February 28 Massacre and the subsequent mass arrests and executions. As well as chronicling KMT repression during the early years of the White Terror, Kerr documents widespread corruption, showing how the island was systematically looted. Formosa Betrayed has served as a foundational text for generations of Taiwanese democracy and independence activists. It has an explosive effect among overseas Taiwanese students; for many, the book was their first encounter in print with their country’s dark, forbidden history. A 1974 Chinese-language translation increased its impact still more. It is a powerful classic that has withstood the test of time, a must-read book that will change the way you look at Taiwan.

Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan | Jonathan Manthorpe

For over 400 years, Taiwan has suffered at the hands of multiple colonial powers, but it has now entered the decade when its independence will be won or lost. At the heart of Taiwan’s story is the curse of geography that placed the island on the strategic cusp between the Far East and Southeast Asia and made it the guardian of some of the world’s most lucrative trade routes. It is the story of the dogged determination of a courageous people to overcome every obstacle thrown in their path. Forbidden Nation tells the dramatic story of the island, its people, and what brought them to this moment when their future will be decided.

Taiwan’s 400 Year History: The Origins and Continuing Development of the Taiwanese Society and People | Su Beng

Taiwan’s 400 Years of History was the first, most comprehensive book written on the subject, but it was immediately banned in Taiwan. The 2000+ page Chinese language version of the book, was published in 1980. This seminal book has and continues to influence generations of Taiwan independence activists.

Learn more about Su Beng:
A Life for an Island: The Life of Su Beng

Making History Happen (Felicia Lin) 

Blacklist: Documentary Series

Inspired Non-Fiction & Literary Fiction

Green Island: A Novel | Shawna Yang Ryan

Taipei, February 28, 1947: As an uprising rocks Taiwan, a young doctor is taken from his newborn daughter by Chinese Nationalists, on charges of speaking out against the government. Although he eventually returns to his family, his arrival is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community. Years later, this troubled past follows his youngest daughter to America, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.

More reading: “Q. and A.: Shawna Yang Ryan on the 1947 Incident That Shaped Taiwan’s Identity” (The NY Times)

Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror | Milo L. Thornberry

Milo Thornberry believed God called him to be a missionary to teach history and live the faith he professed. Taiwan wasn’t his choice, but it was where the Methodist Church sent him at the end of 1965. “Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror” is a 65,000-word account of how becoming friends with Peng led to a double life, one in which Milo taught church history at Presbyterian seminaries, and the other in which he and his wife secretly collaborated with Peng and two of his former students in a variety of human rights activities, all of which were illegal and some of which were considered capital crimes under martial law. The constant threat of discovery by Chiang’s secret police gave Milo his own taste of the White Terror. As a political narrative, the author’s portrayal of life in the White Terror casts an eerie shadow on contemporary relations between the United States, China, and Taiwan.

Elegy of Sweet Potatoes: Stories of Taiwan’s White Terror | Tephen Tsai

Elegy of Sweet Potatoes is a thinly-fictionalized version of Tsai Tehpen’s experiences as a political prisoner. Names are changed, dates are fudged, but the narrative here is true to life. A compelling story full of rich description, pathos, and odd moments of humor, it is essential reading for anyone looking to understand the realities of martial law in “Free China”.

At Stake: Understanding Taiwanese Identity

[VIDEO] Being Taiwanese: What’s in a Name? (2020 Webinar Recording) | Professor Catherine Chou

Taiwanese ethnic and national identities are modern (and unlikely!) developments borne out of the double experiences of colonial rule by the Japanese empire (1895 – 1945) and Republic of China (the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang/KMT occupants who fled there in 1945 after their defeat in the Chinese Civil War, and instituted martial law in Taiwan until 1987)

[PODCAST] Mom, are we Taiwanese? | Hearts in Taiwan

Co-hosts Annie and Angela decode the distinction among people whose families come from Taiwan: who identifies as Chinese and who identifies as Taiwanese, and why. Our journey begins when we combine Wikipedia research with questions we’ve never asked our moms until now.

[ARTICLE] Reorienting Taiwan and Hong Kong: New avenues for building power | Lausan HK

However, in some ways it is somewhat unusual that the term “White Terror” came to be used in Hong Kong. The White Terror carried out by the KMT was justified under the auspices of Cold War anti-communism, in which the KMT claimed that those it imprisoned and executed were Communist spies loyal to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). By contrast, the CCP is precisely the political force that protesters in Hong Kong are contending with. Behind the actions of the Hong Kong government are the directives of the CCP from afar. Consequently, there is a certain irony that the term “White Terror” has come to be used instead of, say, “Red Terror”—though many of the individuals who have engaged in physical violence against demonstrators have worn white clothing during the attacks they carried out.

[BOOK] Book of Cord | Leona Chen

In her debut collection BOOK OF CORD, Leona Chen confronts the loss of Taiwanese identity through colonization and emigration. As she acknowledges her heritage and claims herself as Taiwanese American, “a radical act” with “profound implications,” her poems explore histories both recognized and erased. She composes her narrative by way of a series of fragmentary lyric poems in English that is interspersed with Taiwanese Hokkien. BOOK OF CORD is Chen’s protest, journey of self- discovery, and rallying cry for the Taiwanese American community. Or, as novelist Shawna Yang Ryan writes in her comprehensive introduction: “The history she depicts is implied and embodied, making it emotionally accessible to readers unfamiliar with Taiwan’s history and deeply affecting to those who are familiar. This is a powerful inscription of an effaced history.”

Who gets to be Taiwanese? Solidarity with Migrants & Indigenous Peoples

[ARTICLE] The 228 Massacre In Alishan: “All We Have Left Are Ashes And Bones” | The Reporter, translated in The Taiwan Gazette

When I was little, I was called the “child of the Communist spy.” I’ve always remembered with reverence my father’s last written words: “The government can’t continue to treat us unfairly, suppress us, and control us, all because of this event.” My uncle Tibusungu’ Muknana (武義德) spent 23 years in jail because of 228.

[ARTICLE] Lin Fei-Fan: On 228, I Choose to Stand with Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples  | New Bloom Mag

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.

[ARTICLE] Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan to President Xi Jinping of China | Joint Declaration

The future of Taiwan will be decided by self-determination of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples and all the people who live on our motherland. No government, political party, or organization has the right to negotiate with any foreign power in an attempt to surrender the control of the traditional territory of ours, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.

[FICTION] Migrante (Camphor Press) | J.W. Henley

Migrante, the story of a Filipino fisherman, one of thousands in the Taiwan fleet, paints a stark picture of the reality facing the migrant workers of the world — people who exist outside the public eye.

For Further Research (Academic Texts & Databases)

Harrison, M. (2007). Legitimacy, Meaning, and Knowledge in the Making of Taiwanese Identity. Palgrave Macmillan.  doi: 10.1057/9780230601697

Yang, D. (2020). The Great Exodus from China: Trauma, Memory, and Identity in Modern Taiwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108784306

Fleischauer, S. (2007). The 228 Incident and the Taiwan Independence Movement’s Construction of a Taiwanese Identity. China Information. doi:10.1177/0920203X07083320

Dawley, Evan N. “The Question of Identity in Recent Scholarship on the History of Taiwan.” The China Quarterly, no. 198 (2009): 442–52.

Academica Historica Presidential Databases (Chinese)

More from

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.”

All Quiet: An American in Taiwan’s Perspective on 228 | Joyce Chen

“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.”


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