Thu, Feb 28, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Remembering Taiwan’s Tragic Past

The Taipei 228 Memorial Museum commemorates the 228 Massacre and provides a solid introduction to the worst mass killing in Taiwan’s modern history. However, the museum fails to fully conceptualize the significance of the event and how it continues to divide contemporary Taiwan

By Ketty W. Chen  /  Contributing reporter

The only photograph of Chiang Kai-shek in the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum is shown with a telegram from Taiwan governor Chen Yi, who requests permission to court martial the “rebels” and “traitors,” instead of trying the arrested in a civil court. The display attributes responsibility for the 228 Massacre to Chiang and Chen.

Photo: Ketty W Chen

Behind a vibrant green lawn and luxuriant trees, the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum sits quietly in the southwest corner of the 228 Peace Park. The museum is one of two in Taipei erected to commemorate the 228 Massacre (also known as the 228 Incident) and a must visit place for individuals hungry for knowledge of Taiwan’s modern political history. The 228 Massacre and the subsequent slaughter remains the nation’s worst mass killing.

Originally inaugurated on Feb. 28 1997 on the eve of the massacre’s 50th anniversary, the museum closed for renovations in April 2010, and reopened a year later with new permanent exhibits. However, controversy emerged as the newly-minted museum and exhibition drew harsh criticism from victims’ families, academics, political activists and opposition parties. Critics said the new museum, which had been under the management of the Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs under then-mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) since January 2003, glorified and whitewashed the acts of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and distorted the truth with its selection of displays and documents.

Lee Te-cheng (李德振), for one, said that the new exhibits didn’t accurately depict the historical truth. The grandson of former Taipei City Council member and massacre victim Lee Jen-kuei (李仁貴) said he couldn’t accept the exhibit’s narrative in how it “portrayed the government’s action as merely ‘exercising government power’ and ‘restoring order.’”

Following protests by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Chien Yu-yen (簡余晏), former Memorial Museum director Yeh Po-wen (葉博文) and former Academia Historica president Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲) — who went through the exhibition with the museum staff and identified the historical discrepancies and erroneous descriptions — the wording of some displays were changed.

While there has been an improvement in the language used to describe the events leading up to the 228 Massacre and the succeeding killing in the following months, the 228 museum still needs to more effectively present the atrocity in the context of Taiwan’s modern history and to explicate those ultimately responsible for the worst atrocity in Taiwanese history.

Additional and supplemental explanations should also be put in place to elucidate the extent to which the 228 Massacre marked the beginning of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authoritarian regime and the White Terror Era, which remains the defining event in the political divides that exist in Taiwan today. Still, the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum serves as a good and reasonable starting place for those who want to understand Taiwan’s history and a venue for those who disagree with the city government’s interpretation of history to identify the discrepancies and provide the appropriate corrections.

the Museum’s Architecture

The new 228 museum emits a modern ambiance compared to its predecessor. Instead of white florescent spotlights, studio lights with yellowish and warmer hues are installed throughout the museum with spotlights highlighting each exhibit and artifact.

Audio guides in Chinese, English and Japanese are available at the museum information counter free of charge. However, prior knowledge of Taiwan’s history is necessary because the narrative doesn’t clearly identify which display or historical documents the visitor should pay attention to.

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