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March 2, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright March 2, 2008. Used by permission.


This past Thursday, Taiwan commemorated the 61st anniversary of the February 28 Incident (hereafter referred to as 228), an uprising against KMT authoritarian rule initially sparked by the beating of a female vendor in Taipei for selling untaxed cigarettes. During the ensuing military crackdown, tens of thousands of Taiwan’s elite were arrested, tortured, and murdered, with the violence lasting into the spring of 1947 and helping usher in the era known as the White Terror (白色恐怖).

The untold suffering of 228 has led to decades of division in Taiwan society, because while the conflict’s victims included both Taiwanese and Mainlanders, the KMT brought the full brunt of state violence to persecute innocent men and women. 228 remained taboo for decades under Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorial rule (discussed in my previous blogpost), with the first scholars to lecture on this subject writing their wills before heading off to class. It took until 1995 for then KMT President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to offer the first official apology, with the Legislative Yuan making 228 an official holiday in 1998.

Regrettably, the commemoration of 228 is increasingly turning into a formality. This year’s anniversary in particular has been highly politicized, as it comes amid a tightly-fought presidential race featuring Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) of the ruling DPP and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the KMT. Thousands of DPP supporters marched through the streets of Taipei starting at 2:28 p.m. before proceeding to an evening rally, in part in hopes of rekindling the spirit of the of the Hand in-Hand Safeguard Taiwan Rally (手牽手護台灣活動), which attracted over two million participants back in 2004. Ma, who is leading Hsieh by at least 10 points in opinion polls, attended a 228 concert in tribute to the victims. In a concerted drive to appeal to the 70% non-Mainlander element of Taiwan’s 23 million people, Ma often prefers to use Taiwanese instead of his native Mandarin when offering apologies for the past. His years of effort have moved some family members of the victims to take part in KMT-sponsored events, and if he does win the election such support may be a key factor.