Understand context of 228 Incident

By Chen Tsui-lien 陳翠蓮  / 

Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - Page 8

Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波), an adjunct professor in Shih Hsin University’s Chinese literature department, spoke at a symposium at the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum on Feb. 28. Wang said that, relative to Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) killing of more than 400,000 people in Chinese anti-communist purges, the killing by his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime of 20,000 people in Taiwan during the 228 Incident of 1947 was a “minor case.” This and other remarks made by Wang have shocked many in Taiwan.

It is astonishing that the Ministry of Education could appoint someone with such scant regard for Taiwanese history, such a poor grasp of human rights and such confused values to serve as convener of the panel reviewing adjustments to senior-high school language and social studies courses. It puts Wang in a position to poison the minds of high-school students and Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) should resign for having made such a blunder.

Did the 228 Incident really arise out of the Civil War between China’s nationalist and communist parties? Was it really a communist rebellion? According to internal documents of the Investigation Bureau, there were only about 70 members of the Chinese Communist Party in Taiwan when the 228 Incident erupted in 1947. It was the strong popular indignation sparked by the army’s suppression and massacre that created room for the communist party to grow, and its membership in Taiwan rose to about 500 by the end of 1948 and 1,300 by the end of 1949. These figures make it clear that the communist party’s growing influence was a result of the 228 Incident, not a reason for it.

In 1948 the communist party’s East China Bureau held a meeting in Hong Kong that included a review of the 228 Incident. The party admitted that its underground members in Taiwan had not made clear judgements about the situation. It recognized that its members were inadequately prepared before the incident, had not proposed a clear plan of action as it took place and had abruptly broken up amid arguments when the time came to pull out. These points, among others, show that the communist party had very limited influence over the 228 Incident.

When the incident began, Chiang Kai-shek knew that the communist party was not yet a significant force in Taiwan. As he wrote in his diary: “At present, communist bandit organizations have not penetrated deeply, so it should be easy to deal with the incident. However, we have no well-trained troops available to dispatch and this makes me very worried.”

He also wrote grudgingly about Taiwan governor Chen Yi’s (陳儀) misrule: “Chen Yi did not take preventive measures before the incident and did not report truthfully on the situation once it broke out. Only when the incident had turned into a raging fire did he ask for assistance. It is really quite deplorable.”

Wang blames the 228 Incident on the Civil War between the nationalists and communists. During the current curriculum adjustments, he even inserted the idea that the reason the White Terror took hold in the 1950s was the confrontation that then existed across the Taiwan Strait. Can the Chinese Civil War really be taken as a pretext for the KMT’s abuse of power or allow the KMT to deny its responsibility for what happened?

The main reason Chiang Kai-shek decided to send troops to Taiwan to suppress the rebellion by force can probably be seen from his diary entry for March 7, 1947, one week after the 228 Incident.

“Taiwanese people have only recently been brought back into the fold. They have been enslaved by the Japanese invaders for a long time and have forgotten their motherland, so they are afraid of authority and lacking in moral fiber,” he wrote.

Instead of reflecting on its misgovernment following the end of World War II and the seething resentment it had provoked, Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government attributed Taiwanese resistance to “enslavement” and sought to teach them a lesson and subdue them by resorting to armed force.

During the repression of the 228 Incident, many prominent members of society were publicly executed, with their bodies put on display. It was an expression of the culture of tyranny. The kind of pre-modern political culture espoused by Chiang Kai-shek and Wang — one in which rulers can slaughter people to achieve their aims — and their attitude of seeing ordinary people as minions, should be anathema in any civilized society.

Since the time of Japanese rule, Taiwanese have been striving for values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The path to these goals has had its ups and downs, and new democratic pioneers have always arisen to continue the efforts of their forebears. Since Taiwan established a democratic system, civic education in schools has worked hard to inculcate civilized values and safeguard democracy by reminding students of the mistakes committed under the old authoritarian regime.

However, these facets of civic education are worthless in the eyes of Wang, who has said they are meant for US citizens and copied from US social science books. He also complained that existing social studies courses “go on and on” about the White Terror until it gets “really boring.” Now the real reasons why references to the White Terror are being deleted from social studies course outlines and why the modified curricula emphasize Chinese cultural traditions become clear.

The Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of Communist Rebellion came to an end in 1991, and for the past two decades, people have been working hard to establish a democratic system and the rule of law. However, the thought processes of Wang and his ilk are stuck in the past and have never moved forward. Unwilling to emerge from the imagined continued Civil War between nationalists and communists, they have lost touch with society. They look down on democratic Taiwan and cannot wait to embrace China, dictatorial as it is.

When attending symposiums in China, Wang and other members of his review committee have even said that they want to get course outlines revised in a way that promotes “the great task of uniting the motherland.” The curriculum adjustments formulated by the team that Wang heads are a fine example of these kinds of confused values being put into practice.

Chiang Wei-ling’s appointment of such a person as convener of the course outline adjustment review team looks a lot like a declaration of war against Taiwan’s civilized values. Should he not take responsibility for this sorry affair by stepping down?

Chen Tsui-lien is a board member for Taiwan Democracy Watch and professor of history at National Taiwan University.

Translated by Julian Clegg