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 museum has two levels, with exhibits divided into seven sections. The first section discusses the museum’s former usage as the Taipei Broadcasting Bureau and the history of Taiwan’s radio stations. But only towards the end of this section does the visitor realize its significance: that protesters demanded authorities broadcast throughout the country the shootings and subsequent protests taking place in Taipei.

The museum then backtracks in history with the second and third sections on the Japanese colonial era, Taiwanese demand for autonomy and equal rights and World War II — all told through the perspective of the Republic of China (ROC). The exhibit depicts, through old newspaper clippings and other publications, the Taiwanese endeavor to lobby for more political rights from the Japanese government. Documents and artifacts of the Kominka Movement, the Japanese endeavor to make Taiwanese loyal subjects of the emperor, are parts of the exhibit. The ROC perspective is also evident in a display under the title Running for Shelter during Air Raids, as the description of a painting reads, “Even though Taiwan has never been a full battleground, the planes of the enemy country of Japan still inflicted damage at will.”

This section concludes with the end of World War II and offers explanations on the dual identities of the Taiwanese, one of which is Japanese and the other waiting eagerly to be part of “the mother country.” According to the exhibit, the Taiwanese were greatly disappointed by the arrival of Nationalist troops, with discriminatory employment and language policies enacted by then-governor Chen Yi (陳儀) and rampant corruption being the primary sources of resentment.

The exhibit does not mention, however, the social, cultural and attitudinal differences between the Mainlanders and the Taiwanese, which was also cause for much resentment. Up to this point, there is no mention of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his role as the chairman of the Nationalist Government of China. At the end of the exhibit, there is an interactive game, where visitors can complete a puzzle of Taiwanese political cartoons.

The 228 Massacre and Village Cleansing

The museum gives a detailed account of the event that triggered the country-wide protest. Taiwan Tobacco Monopoly bureau inspectors confiscated vendor Lin Chiang-mai’s (林江邁) contraband cigarettes and her money. As Lin begged for leniency, one inspector hit her over the head with his pistol, causing Lin to fall to the ground while bleeding from her head. Bystanders came to Lin’s assistance and pursued the inspectors. One inspector fired his gun as he escaped and accidentally killed a bystander. The gathered crowd then marched to the police station, and demanded the arrest of the killer. Police did nothing and the Fourth Division of the Military Police harbored the inspector all night.

On the morning of Feb. 28, protesters took over the Taiwan Tobacco Monopoly Bureau, entered the Taipei Broadcasting Bureau and announced to the rest of Taiwan that protests had broken out in Taipei, sparking country-wide protests in major cities.

The initial chaos wraps up the first part of the exhibit. Visitors to the museum can then take the stairs to the second floor. The 228 Massacre itself, the arrival of the 21st Division of the Nationalist military through Keelung and the consequent village cleansing (清鄉) that subsequently ended on May 15 form the first part of the exhibit on the second floor. It is here on the second floor that the museum has its most powerful yet controversial exhibits.

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