Compared with the centralized event organized by the government, does an event marking the 67th anniversary of the 228 Incident put together by non-governmental organizations come closer to addressing the historic truth and the viewpoints of most Taiwanese?
This is a question that must be asked repeatedly, fearlessly and humbly, because how the 228 Incident is commemorated directly affects the general understanding of it. One question that could be heard for the first time this year was why, if Feb. 28 is a public holiday, all media reports are about pro-independence groups organizing demonstrations and concerts.
Does one have to be in favor of Taiwanese independence to attend these events?
Most people studying the political history in post-World War II Taiwan agree that the incident that occurred on Feb. 28, 1947, was the starting point of modern Taiwanese nationalism and the Taiwanese independence movement.
With the addition of the following long period of martial law and the White Terror era, the continuation of this movement mainly occurred in Japan and the US.
In Taiwan, there were just a few disconnected attempts, such as the Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation by Peng Ming-min (彭明敏).
Precisely because there had been 40 years of apparent silence, the atmosphere surrounding the 228 justice and peace movement around the time when martial law was lifted, while nominally peaceful and harmonious, was very tense, and there was an undeniable connection to the self-immolation of Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代週刊) editor-in-chief and democracy activist Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕).
However, after former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) started to open archives, offered a milestone apology and started paying compensation in the 1990s, it seemed to become increasingly difficult to renew the 228 memorials in a way that touched people.
The pursuit of historic truth is the fundamental project that counts.
As oral histories, such as those about the 228 Incident presented by former Academia Historica president Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲) and Hsu Hsueh-chi (許雪姬), former director of Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, began to appear, the Modern Academic Studies Foundation, the Taiwan Association of University Professors (TAUP) and the Wu San Lien Foundation for Taiwanese Historical Materials (吳三連台灣史料基金會) used a series of academic forums to announce the results of their studies in what could be said to be the most important memorial function during the 1990s.
Yet another step forward occurred when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government published its Research Report for Responsibility on the 228 Massacre in 2006. Unlike former premier Hau Pei-tsun’s (郝柏村) statement in a newspaper in 2012 that no more than 800 people had died in the 228 Incident, National Taiwan University philosophy professor Wang Hsiao-po’s (王曉波) at least acknowledged that 20,000 people had died when he said that those deaths were a small case in comparison with the number of people killed by Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) government in China.
Just ahead of Feb. 28 this year, the TAUP published a new translation of George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed with an added commentary, a project that had been in the works for two or three years and an achievement that future history will note.
However, the significance of the type of manifestation must not be underestimated.
On the one hand, although traditional memorial events must continue, the invitation of party politicians must be carefully contemplated, including whether they should be giving speeches. Regarding what these speeches should address and for how long must be analyzed as well, to avoid sullying the solemnity of 228 memorials.
On the other hand, which format will attract young people and the general public must also be gauged. This is why the second “Using Music to Change the World” concert at Liberty Square attracted more than 20,000 people, 80 to 90 percent of whom were students. This new approach is indeed worth examining.
As in the past, a 228 memorial ceremony will be held at Keelung Harbor this afternoon because this is where two military police battalions landed on March 8, 1947. It was on March 9, after these troops had marched through the night to Taipei, that then-chief executive and Taiwan Garrison commander Chen Yi (陳儀) dared declare martial law, leading to the vengeful slaughter of Taiwanese.
Today, Taiwanese need more than demonstrations and the laying down of flowers, we must also add music and poetry in the hope of also attracting those who are not in favor of Taiwanese independence.
Chen Yi-shen is chairman of the Taiwan 228 Care Association.
Translated by Perry Svensson