Remembering is key to the future

By Li Thian-hok 李天福  / 

Tue, Feb 27, 2007 - Page 8

On the afternoon of March 8, 1947, 10,000 troops landed in the port of Keelung in response to an urgent request for reinforcements by executive administrator Chen Yi (陳儀). Concurrently, some 3,000 troops landed in Kaohsiung. They then began a systematic massacre, shooting people on sight.

According to Allan Shackleton, a UN Relief and Rehabilitation officer witnessing the events: "Truckloads of troops armed with machine guns and automatic rifles quickly sped from Keelung to Taipei. Not content to firing at people on the street, they fired indiscriminately into shops and houses. In one village between Taipei and Keelung, 20 youths were castrated, their ears were cut off and their noses slit before they were bayoneted."

In Keelung, some prisoners were stripped naked, forced to kneel on the street and beaten to death with iron chains. Many were shot in the back of the head, had their ankles or palms pierced with wires and were thrown into the sea in groups of three or five. A policeman estimated that 2,000 people were disposed of in this way.

In Taipei, a massive slaughter of residents took place, including some 200 high-school students who had been cornered near the zoo.

Kaohsiung was unique in that a massacre of some 2,700 residents started on March 6, before the arrival of reinforcements from China. On that day, the mayor and four city councilors went to the Kaohsiung garrison headquarters to urge that troops disarm voluntarily.

The garrison commander, Peng Meng-chi (彭孟緝), shot three delegation members on the spot before leading more than 300 soldiers into the city to start an indiscriminate slaughter of residents. The gunfire persisted past March 8.

Peng was later commended by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) for his valor and promoted to major general in 1952. In 1957, he was made commander of the army, and later head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Academics generally agree that 28,000 Taiwanese were killed. [Editor's note: This is contestable.] What is noteworthy, however, is not only the number of deaths but also the brutality and wantonness with which the Chinese soldiers massacred people, molested women and robbed Taiwanese.

On March 13, massive arrests began. The members of the Settlement Committee were the first to be arrested, many executed on the spot, followed by the systematic slaughter of Taiwan's elite in all major cities and towns, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, businessmen and members of the Provincial Council.?A whole generation of Taiwanese leaders was thus eliminated through ruthless ethnic cleansing.

Today Taiwan faces the threat of another massacre by Chinese troops. China has deployed close to 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles targeted on Taiwan. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is rapidly developing the capacity to invade and overwhelm Taiwan's defenses before any help could arrive.

The PLA's modernization efforts are focused on a "Taiwan contingency" and include the acquisition of advanced weapons from Russia and improvement of its joint force operation capability while the Legislative Yuan cannot even debate the purchase of US weapons offered by the Bush administration back in 2001.

Taiwan is also increasingly vulnerable to internal subversion due to China's united front tactics. Ever since the pilgrimage of former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) to Beijing, the pan-blue opposition has done its utmost to belittle the Democratic Progressive Party government and scuttle Taiwan's democratic institutions in an effort to regain power and facilitate the annexation of Taiwan by China.

Much of Taiwan's media is known for its pro-unification bias due to its KMT roots, a tendency exacerbated by the infiltration of such media by Hong Kong and presumably Chinese capital. Pan-blue politicians and media bared their fangs when they combined forces last fall to encourage the red shirt rebellion -- an attempt to destroy the democratically elected government through extralegal means.

In the face of grave external and internal threats to Taiwan's democracy, the DPP government appears feckless in its dealing with the PRC. Its main concerns are how to implement direct links and open up Taiwan to Chinese tourists and investments, seemingly oblivious to the national security consequences of such policies.

Taiwan's most important ally, the US, meanwhile, is so preoccupied with its problems in the Middle East it is in no position to pay heed to the deteriorating status quo in favor of the PRC.

Philosopher George Santayana has said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." It may thus be useful to compare today's Taiwan with the situation 60 years ago. There are certain similarities.

First, the 228 Incident was caused in part by the friction between a backward country and an advanced society. In 1947, Taiwan enjoyed an 80 percent literacy rate, the antithesis of China. Taiwan's standard of living was second only to Japan in Asia and industrialization and economic infrastructure were much more advanced than China's.

Today similar disparity persists between Taiwan and China.

Despite rapid economic development, China's per capita GDP remains around US$1,200, compared to US$15,000 in Taiwan. China has much more serious problems in environmental degradation, rampant corruption and widespread social instability.

Second, in 1947, the Taiwanese and their leaders failed to understand the predatory nature of the KMT. This phenomenon persists today although the main adversary is now the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Suffering grievously under the corruption and plundering of the Chen Yi administration in 1947, many Taiwanese hoped that once the situation was made known to the central government in Nanjing, it would come to the rescue. Others placed their hope on the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution scheduled to be implemented in July 1948, naively expecting Taiwan to be given local autonomy.

In reality, the KMT treated Taiwan as war booty to be squeezed for maximum profit, and Taiwanese were regarded as colonial subjects contaminated by the Japanese. The human-rights guarantees of the Constitution were nothing but empty promises. The blind faith in China resulted in the destruction of a large segment of Taiwan's leadership class.

Today, many Taiwanese are committing the same mistake. Due to the biased reporting of the pro-China media and Sinocentric education, many Taiwanese have an unreasonably benign view of the PRC's repressive rule.

They pay little attention to the gross violations of human rights by the CCP and its intent to annex Taiwan by nonpeaceful means. Taiwanese businesspeople continue to pour capital, technology and manpower into China, forgetting that the PRC is the nemesis of Taiwan's freedom.

A Wall Street Journal reporter once compared Taiwanese businessmen to lemmings, which are known for their propensity to plunge to death en masse.

There are also substantial differences between Taiwan in 1947 and in 2007. Taiwan in 1947 was an obscure colony, little known to the outside world. Today, it is the world's 17th largest economy and 16th largest trading nation. It has evolved from a one-party dictatorship into a nascent democracy and a de facto independent country.

Second, although isolated from the international community due to Beijing's pressure, Taiwan maintains substantial relations with the US under the Taiwan Relations Act. US policy dictates that any dispute between Taiwan and China must be resolved peacefully and Taiwan's status must be determined with the consent of the Taiwanese people. Japan has also expressed explicit concern for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Finally, while in 1947, the Taiwanese had no hope of establishing an existence separate from China, today they have the potential to maintain the status quo as a de facto independent nation until an upheaval in China overthrows CCP rule, provided the Taiwanese people can unite and defend their hard-won freedom.

For Taiwan's ethnic groups to unite toward a common goal, there must first be reconciliation.

The KMT leadership likes to say, "Let us forget the past and move forward." Many native Taiwanese believe, "We should forgive but never forget." In my view, "We should neither forget nor forgive." During the White Terror era, there were many victims but no perpetrators. The KMT has shown no contrition and offered no apology, which makes talk about forgiveness premature. In any event, atrocities should never be forgiven or condoned.

Does this mean never-ending enmity between native Taiwanese and Chinese emigrants? Certainly not. The notion that the 228 Incident was a conflict between these two groups is a myth propagated by the KMT for political purposes. It enables the KMT to falsely claim that ethnic reconciliation is possible only if the 228 Incident is buried and forgotten.

The 228 Incident was in essence a conflict between democratic values and a corrupt autocracy. During the White Terror, many Chinese also fell victim to KMT repression. Because native Taiwanese and Chinese emigres worked together to achieve Taiwan's economic miracle and build a robust democracy, and due to intermarriage, the sense of Taiwanese identity has grown.

In 2004, 60 percent of the people considered themselves Taiwanese, while only 9 percent regarded themselves Chinese. The rest said they were both Taiwanese and Chinese.

Thus, the 228 Incident should not be regarded as an impediment to all ethnic groups pulling together to preserve Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy. On the contrary, the courage exhibited by many 228 heroes should inspire the current generation of Taiwanese to strive for genuine reconciliation and a nation everyone can be proud of.

Ong Thiam-teng (王添燈), a Provincial Council member and president of the Taipei Tea Merchant's Association served as spokesman for the Settlement Committee and was the chief drafter of the "32 Demands." He knew that in presenting the demands he was risking his life. Chinese security agents poured gasoline on him and burned him alive but to his last breath, he never relented on the rightness of his cause.

Thng tek-chiong (湯德章) was a lawyer in Tainan. When soldiers showed up to arrest him, he was burning a list of people who participated in the activities of the local Settlement Committee. Because the list was only partially burned, Thng put up a fierce resistance so the paper could burn completely. He was severely beaten and executed the following day. Because of his bravery, the lives of scores of leading Tainan residents were saved.

The proper way to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the 1947 massacre and the ensuing White Terror is to make sure such catastrophes will never be repeated, by safeguarding Taiwan's sovereignty and democracy so all Taiwanese people can continue to live in a society where freedom and human dignity are respected and preserved.

Li Thian-hok is a freelance commentator based in Pennsylvania.