Sun, Feb 26, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Awakening a silenced past

After decades of censorship, discussion on the 228 Incident heated up in the 1980s, leading up to then-president Lee Teng-hui’s formal apology in 1995

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Members of the 228 Peace Day Association take to the streets of Tainan on Feb. 15, 1987, one of a series of marches held around the country as the 228 Incident’s 40th anniversary approached.

Photo: Hung Jui-chin, Taipei Times

Feb. 27 to March 5

“Today, the family of the victims will listen with their own ears as I, as a public servant of the country, accept the responsibilities of the government’s past mistakes and offer my deepest apologies.”

These words were part of the speech by then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on Feb. 28, 1995, the 48th anniversary of the anti-government uprising and subsequent brutal crackdown that would be known as the 228 Incident.

It was the first time a president officially addressed the incident, much less apologized for it, as the incident had remained a taboo subject well into the 1980s. Even after the lifting of martial law, artist Chan San-yuan (詹三原) was reportedly jailed (under other pretenses) for designing Taiwan’s first 228 memorial monument in Chiayi in 1989.


To understand the extent the incident was “erased” from public memory, communications professor Hsia Chun-hsiang (夏春祥) analyzed news reports from the Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News (台灣新生報), United Daily News (聯合報) and China Times (中國時報) between 1947 and 2000.

Between 1948 and 1957, only four news articles mentioning the 228 Incident appeared in these papers, all of them appearing in the government-run Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News. One of these detailed the punishments for those involved in the uprising, and the other three were direct reports on notable people involved with the incident.

After 1957, the 228 Incident disappeared from these papers for 27 years until the United Daily News published a feature on the history of the Central News Agency, which mentions how staff members reacted during the incident.

In 1985, legislator Chiang Peng-chien (江鵬堅) requested that the government acknowledge and apologize for the incident, suggesting that they designate Feb. 28 as “Peace Day.” The Executive Yuan did not respond and major newspapers did not report on the matter.

Two days before the 40th anniversary of the event in 1987, the first critical article appeared in the United Daily News, a column by historian Hsu Cho-yun (許倬雲) asking the government to directly address and resolve the “228 tragedy.”

Martial law was lifted a few months later, and freedom of speech began to return. By 1992, a United Daily News poll showed that 80 percent of respondees knew about the incident.


Despite official censorship, Taiwanese kept the memory of the 228 Incident alive in private. And since the 1950s, independence activists working in Japan and the US continued to make the incident one of their talking points.

According to the article The Predicament of Historical Justice: Ethnic Issues and the Discourses on the 228 Uprising by historian Chen Tsui-lien (陳翠蓮), overseas Taiwanese published books in 1983 and 1984 that heavily criticized the KMT’s handling of the events.

The government dismissed these authors as instigators who were reopening old wounds to advance their independence agenda. They decided to write their own book, which contained the following passage:

“After the incident, the government and people both stopped talking about the events because of how painful it is to everyone …We only hope that time can wash away these horrific memories and people can stop debating which facts are true and who was in the wrong ... Otherwise it will only disturb our peaceful life as a united people. These overseas groups bring this event up each year to slander the government and distort the truth.”

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