Today is 228 Memorial Day, which falls — with the exception of leap years — on the last day of February. Since it comes right in the middle of Lantern Festival, and it was intentionally excluded from the calendar for years, the so-called memorial day has entered into the public’s collective memory.
During President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) term as Taipei mayor, then-Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) even once let slip that she thought people should “celebrate” the day.
It might be a memorial day, but for the most part it is remembered only by those who were affected by it. Those with a good memory for these things, and who have a special affinity with the nation, still remember the date’s relevance.
However, the memorial ceremonies held every year by the party responsible for the incident are purely nominal.
History has tended to become confused and forgotten, due to its obfuscation and distortion at the hands of the authorities. In 1987, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government ended the 38-year-long Martial Law era, which Taiwan had been kept in from 1949, the same length of time that Eastern Europe had been under communist control following World War II. However, in the late 1980s, Eastern Europe progressively abandoned communism in favor of democracy and market forces.
In Taiwan, despite the abolition of martial law and the adoption of direct presidential elections, the KMT remains in power.
After Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945, Taiwan — unlike other colonies of the time — did not declare independence and become a new country. It became a captive of China, which merely replicated Japanese colonial rule, turning the Japanese governor’s office into the Taiwan Provincial Administrative Office, which later became the Presidential Office. It was because of this that the KMT government in China was able to use Taiwan as a base when the Chinese communists wrested power from it.
However, after the 228 Incident in 1947, the government launched a crackdown on Taiwan’s elite — who had been subjected to Japanese and Chinese rule — and used local tyrants and high-ranking thugs to consolidate its power. After it relocated to Taiwan in 1949, it launched the Martial Law era.
The 228 Incident occurred before the KMT government’s defeat in China, and the White Terror era came after the KMT’s relocation to Taiwan. They highlight the logic of its rule and the essence of its power.
After it ended martial law, former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) of the KMT and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party tried to put in place a “political remedy” for the 228 Incident and the White Terror era. However, due to the lack of “transitional justice,” they were unable to set Taiwan on a new path.
Today, Ma is leading the Republic of China into surrender to the People’s Republic of China. Gradually, his party and the government are leaning toward China. On the surface, he shows respect for the “two Chiangs” (兩蔣) — former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). However, he is only using them when they are convenient, and is likely to discard them when he no longer has a use for them. Similarly, he is using the memorial nature of the 228 Incident, while disavowing any link to the White Terror era.