Sixty-five years have passed since the 228 Massacre began, but the wounds the tragic incident and its aftermath inflicted upon Taiwanese society have never completely healed.
Begun over an altercation involving agents of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s Monopoly Bureau, who beat up a woman in Taipei on Feb. 27, 1947, for selling contraband cigarettes, the incident rapidly spiraled out of control and quickly pitted a resentful Taiwanese populace against their new KMT rulers, who had been mismanaging the economy.
To stamp out any challenge to his rule, then-KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) issued an order for loyal troops in Taiwan to fire on protesting Taiwanese, killing many. The number of dead and missing cited by academics varies, but most agree that about 20,000 lost their lives while the KMT tried to put down the insurrection.
A good number of those who went missing were Japanese-educated, simply because their KMT rulers questioned their loyalty. Others fled out of fear of persecution or worse. Stories abound of remote mountain towns or valleys — such as the Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) area in Yuanshan Township (員山), Yilan County — where numerous Japanese-educated people went to hide from the KMT throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. This kind of event leaves its mark on the memory of a nation, and if it is not addressed, it will continue to be like a bloody scab that fails to heal because it is constantly picked at.
Former premier Hau Pei-tsun’s (郝柏村) recent remark questioning the generally accepted notion that about 20,000 people were killed in the massacre and insisting that only about 500 people were killed is a symptom of the problem.
Because the victims have been generally ignored over the past 65 years and since the KMT has never fully come clean about its role in the massacre — failing to release all the documents it has on those who died and refusing to make reparations to the surviving families or give back assets it stole during and after the massacre — people like Hau can still trample on the bones of the dead, while insulting their living descendants.
Another symptom of the failure to properly bury this skeleton in the nation’s closet can be seen in an image that continues to haunt its victims. Chiang is regarded by many as the main culprit behind the massacre, yet his image still adorns the NT$5 and NT$10 coins that Taiwanese use on a daily basis.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Pasuya Yao (姚文智) has suggested minting new coins with images of people who contributed positively to society, such as internationally renowned painter Chen Cheng-po (陳澄波), who also fell victim to the massacre.
The ghosts of 228 continue to haunt the present because they have not been put to rest by addressing the problem honestly, adequately and with integrity. They can be seen in any political dispute between the pan-green and pan-blue camps, often manifesting themselves in so-called ethnic arguments that won’t die as long as these ghosts remain.
Sixty-five years on, it is time to put the 228 Massacre to rest so that old Taiwanese and new Taiwanese can finally reconcile.