Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The 228 Incident

By Lee Shiao-Feng 李筱峰


On Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, US atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. One week later, Japan declared an unconditional surrender. The Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces and renounced their claim to Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), the chairman of the Nationalist government in Nanking, accepted the surrender of the Japanese military in China. It was against this backdrop that Chiang sent troops to take over Taiwan. Actually, it was a temporary military occupation. But at the time everyone called it "retrocession."

The "retrocession" was carried out without obtaining the agreement of the residents of Taiwan. But, at the time most Taiwanese maintained a welcoming attitude toward it. They welcomed the Nationalist government from China with the enthusiasm not seen in other areas of China.

While the people of Taiwan joyfully welcomed the retrocession and the new "mother country," their new rulers acted like conquerors.

First, the Nationalist government established the "Taiwan Provincial Executive Office" as the ruling institution -- a system different from what was in place in other Chinese provinces. This institution held executive, legislative, judicial and military powers, as if it were a replica of the Japanese governor's office and as if it were extending the colonial system. This "new governor's office" monopolized all resources -- from political to economic to social, which laid the roots for the 228 Incident to take place one year and four months later.

Following the Nationalist government takeover, people were quick to realize it was establishing a total political monopoly, where perks and privileges went to a small number of people, there was widespread corruption and where the leadership was inexperienced.

While the Nationalist government paid lip service to offering opportunities for political participation by the Taiwanese, in reality it used the excuses that "Taiwan has no political talent" and "Taiwanese compatriots do not understand the national language" (Mandarin) in order to exclude many well-educated Taiwanese from mid-level and top posts. The important jobs were mostly given to people from China. Mainlanders essentially replaced the position of "the ruler" held by Japanese during the colonial era, which left Taiwanese intellectuals feeling disappointed.

Most unbearable to the Taiwanese was the corruption. At the time, in the private sector, people referred to the "takeover" (of Taiwan) as a robbery. The "post-robbery" politics and corruption gave the people of Taiwan the experience of their lives for the next 50 years.

On the economic front, the same kind of monopoly took place. The two reigning economic institutions at the time were the Trade Bureau and the Monopoly Bureau. The Provincial Executive Office continued the government-monopoly system of the Japanese, giving the Monopoly Bureau full control over the sale of goods such as matches, cigarettes, liquor and camphor, as well as weights and measures. The Trade Bureau monopolized the procurement, sale and export of industrial and agricultural products. The lives of the Taiwanese became even more difficult and impoverished.

As a result of an economic downturn and a shortage of daily necessities, theft became prevalent. Even more painful to the people was the fact that the troops stationed in Taiwan were undisciplined and often bullied people. These soldiers were the troops from the "mother country" who had been enthusiastically welcomed by the public only a year ago. In the second year after the Nationalist government took over Taiwan, the crime rate became a serious problem, climbing 28-fold. In 1946, confrontations between the general public and the military and the police became more frequent. These incidents all had the potential of escalating into massive riots.

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