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 narration describes Taiwan governor Chen Yi as the main culprit, along with Peng Meng-chi (彭孟緝), the garrison commander, who gave the order to the military to attack the train station, the Kaohsiung Middle School, the Kaohsiung Municipal Government and to shoot all the city councilors, who were in the process of negotiating a settlement for the 228 Massacre.

One small photograph of Chiang Kai-shek is displayed, along with a request from Chen Yi requesting military assistance, while another document is of an official order from Chiang on March 1947 banning the military from taking any revenge against civilians. Critics of the museum argue that Chiang played a much larger role in spearheading the military crackdown and accused the museum of attributing responsibility to Chen Yi, while minimizing Chiang’s responsibility.

The museum does identify, though, Chiang Kai-shek and Chen Yi as mostly responsible for the initial brutal crackdown and the later killings. This section presents examples of arrests, interrogations and methods of execution of protesters and elites by KMT troops.

The Victims

The last section of the museum commemorates the victims of the 228 Massacre and their families. The exhibit titled The Suffering displays on a circular glass wall photographs of the victims. The exhibit also identifies some influential Taiwanese leaders who either disappeared or were executed by the KMT, including renowned painter and a member of the Chiayi City Assembly Chen Cheng-bo (陳澄波) and Wang Tien-teng (王添?), a member of the Provincial Assembly.

An interactive program enables visitors to look up a victim’s name and listen to the testimony from their family members about the suffering they endured. The testimonies are very moving and helpful in painting a more complete picture surrounding the 228 Massacre. Visitors are encouraged to leave their thoughts and reflection on a bulletin board.

Assessing the 228 museum

The permanent exhibition at the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum serves as a good starting point to understand Taiwan’s modern political history. Along with the multi-language audio guide, there are also a number of very capable and multilingual museum tour guides, who are more than happy to show visitors around and answer any questions. The interactive games, however, are redundant and serve no particular purpose and can even be seen as making light of the tragedy.

The museum fails to fully conceptualize the significance of the 228 Massacre in Taiwanese history, and the permanent exhibition needs additional presentation to elucidate the extent to which this tragic event marked the beginning of the White Terror Era, where even more individuals were arrested, jailed and executed. The White Terror Era is still something that many members of the older generation in Taiwan refuse to discuss and speak about. It seems doubly odd in light of the fact that so much space is expended on the Japanese colonial era, a time that is, at the most, tangentially related to 228. These critiques aside, the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum does possess the qualities of a quiet, somber place for contemplation. Individuals of all ages who are interested in learning about Taiwan are strongly encouraged to pay a visit.

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