Tomorrow marks the 62nd anniversary of the 228 Incident, a tragic chapter in Taiwan’s history that six decades later still divides opinion, and one that will continue to do so until the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) makes a genuine effort to make amends for the crimes it committed during the incident and its protracted aftermath.
As usual, the KMT’s attempts at reconciliation have been left to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who after several years of trying to build bridges with victims’ families can now show his face at memorial events without too much controversy.
Attending as president for the first time, Ma on Wednesday went further than ever before when, at a meeting with Taiwan 228 Association members, he said that dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was responsible for the tragedy.
Even the apparent progress reflected in this admission is questionable, as it contradicts Ma’s comments from two years ago, when defending Chiang, he said “the decision-maker during the incident was not the party’s chairman.”
But it is still hard not to question Ma’s sincerity, when on the one hand he continues his courtship of 228 victims and their families, while on the other he persists in paying annual homage to the incident’s architect on the anniversary of his death. Ma’s argument that historical figures should not be judged by a single event just doesn’t wash.
Ma cannot have his 228 memorial cake and eat it.
Inconsistencies aside, it should be recognized that Ma at least makes an effort to promote reconciliation, even if his words are seldom backed up with action. This is more than can be said for the other ranking members of his party, who are conspicuous by their absence at this time of year.
The families of 228 victims are on the whole a retiring bunch: They do not bay for blood or seek retribution. Many would just like to know exactly what happened to their relatives and who was responsible for their deaths, as such information would help them fill in the gaps and close this tragic chapter in their family histories once and for all.
Yesterday’s release of previously unseen papers is a start, but the KMT also needs to give unhindered access to its party archives and make every document related to 228 available for public scrutiny.
The dilemma the party faces is that doing so would implicate certain party demagogues who remain popular with many Taiwanese, notably Ma’s mentor and former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), who played a key role in collecting and passing on information about dissidents following the incident.
For this and many other reasons, such documents will likely never see the light of day, and the KMT will remain in an awkward position each spring as the opposition makes capital out of the KMT’s reluctance to clean the 228 skeletons from its closet.
Meanwhile, Ma will continue indefinitely with his annual balancing act as he attempts to tiptoe between the minefields of Taiwanese sentiment and KMT arrogance.