President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday downplayed criticism of his China policy by a family member of a victim of the 228 Incident, saying Taiwan was a free and democratic society where everybody was entitled to his or her own opinion.
Addressing a ceremony for the opening of a new exhibition at the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum in downtown Taipei, Taiwan 228 Peace Association secretary-general Chang Chiu-wu (張秋梧) said all political parties must respect history and the 228 Incident, regardless of who is in power.
“It is a known fact that dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) cracked down heavily on Taiwanese and that Chiang must be identified as the perpetrator,” she said. “The wound must be healed, but the descendants of ‘Mainlanders’ do not necessarily have to bear the original sin.”
“Please allow me to tell you something, Mr President: We could not agree less with your China policy,” she said.
The 228 Memorial Museum was reopened to the public after a 10-month, NT$30 million (US$1 million) renovation project in time for the 64th anniversary of the 228 Incident on Monday next week.
The 228 Incident refers to the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators under Chiang’s administration after a woman was beaten for selling contraband cigarettes in Taipei on the night of Feb. 27, 1947.
The beating sparked nationwide disorder and the slaughter of tens of thousands of people at the hands of KMT troops.
The KMT did not acknowledge any mistakes or offer public apologies for the incident until former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) administration. Ma has promised to put greater effort into uncovering the truth of the incident since taking office, and a national museum on the 228 Incident is scheduled to open in Taipei next Monday.
Ma, who spoke after Chang, said he did not mind her criticism because Taiwan was a “free and democratic society where people can express their opinions freely.”
“In the end, we will make the final decision through a democratic mechanism,” he said.
To commemorate the 228 Incident, Ma said the administration must make efforts at redress and face the mistakes made 64 years ago.
“What is more important is to prevent any similar incident from happening again,” he said. “The key lies in a free and democratic society so everybody has the opportunity to voice his or her opinion.”
The museum was established in 1997 when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was Taipei mayor. Ma said some had speculated that he would get rid of any museum display putting the KMT in a negative light after he was elected Taipei mayor in 1998.
“But I didn’t,” he said.
Ma said similar atrocities occurred elsewhere. Taking Germany as an example, Ma said Germans faced up to the history of the Nazis after World War II and changed the world’s perception of the country.
The German government -honestly dealt with its past, apologized to the victims and their families and admitted the mistake they made, he said.
“Frankly speaking, not many countries can do that,” he said. “Some countries decide to erase their past rather than face it. The Republic of China government, however, chooses to face its past.”
Over the years, several measures have been adopted, he said, including apologizing, admitting mistakes, erecting a memorial statute, enacting a special law to offer compensation to victims and their families, and designating Feb. 28 as a national holiday.