Remembering 228: Ghosts of the past are yet to be laid to rest

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tue, Feb 28, 2006 - Page 4

Fifty-nine years have passed since the 228 Incident took the lives of tens of thousands of people in 1947.

The grief and anger the tragedy caused the victims and their families has yet to be appeased despite the efforts of the government and civil groups to heal the wounds with the formation of a memorial museum, researching of historical documents and annual memorial ceremonies.

The 228 Incident refers to the brutal military crackdown on civilians who rose up against the corrupt administration of Chen Yi (陳儀), the executive administrator who Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) sent to oversee the rebuilding of Taiwan after World War II.

Local frustration with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration reached boiling point on Feb. 27, 1947, after Monopoly Bureau officials' attempts to confiscate untaxed cigarettes led to the beating of an elderly woman vendor and a bystander being shot dead.

The incident sparked islandwide rioting and anti-KMT protests. More than 30,000 people were killed by Nationalist troops sent over from China.


Until the 1980s mention of the incident was still taboo, with the KMT government long painting the incident as a communist rebellion or a conflict spurred by ethnic extremists.

Not until the 1990s was there formal recognition of the misery caused by the crackdown. Following the publication of an investigation into the 228 Incident by the Executive Yuan, the breakthrough arrived when former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) made a public apology to victims' families in 1995 at the unveiling of the 228 monument.

Since then there have been many more official and private efforts to publicize the truth and honor the victims, efforts that have helped many victims or their survivors to transcend their animosity to Mainlanders.

"The 228 Incident was not a consequence of the resistance of the Taiwanese against the Mainlanders, and it was more than an issue of ethnic conflict. It's important for all ethnic groups to live peacefully together and to love Taiwan," said Huang Chin-dao (黃金島), who was jailed for 24 years after the 228 Incident.

Taipei 228 Incident Association director Liao Chi-pin (廖繼斌) agrees that there were many facets to the incident.

"Many documents have shown that there are many touching stories, such as Mainlanders saving Taiwanese and vice versa," Liao said.

But the quest for truth and justice continues, just as the tragedy still haunts the victims and their families.

After a recent report said Chiang Kai-shek was the mastermind of the 228 Incident, demands for the KMT to apologize increased.

"As the then-ruling party, the KMT should offer a formal apology and compensate the families of the victims," Lee Chian-rong (李建榮), the son of a 228 victim, told the Taipei Times during a memorial ceremony held by the KMT last Saturday.

Lee sounded angry and was agitated while discussing how his father was killed by Nationalist troops and the family's assets confiscated.

While an open apology was necessary to ease the families' anger, Lee said, the KMT had to provide compensation.

In 1995, the Ministry of National Defense established the Foundation for Compensation of Improper Trials During the Martial Law Era, which included compensation regulations for 228 victims.

But the families argued that the regulations are unclear.

Although Lee Teng-hui and former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) have both offered apologies on behalf of the KMT, the party has been criticized for not showing sincerity or for being unwilling to face up to its historical sins.


To work toward reconciliation with 228 victims and their family members, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) acknowledged the party's "political" responsibility and initiated dialogue with them during last week's memorial ceremony.

But his failure to offer a formal apology during the ceremony upset many families.

Ma said that he apologized many times in the past -- but those apologies were made in his capacity as Taipei mayor.

An open apology from Ma as the KMT's leader would go a long way in demonstrating the party's sincerity.

"As much as I want an apology from Chairman Ma, it's more important that Ma listen to our voices and lead the KMT to become a real Taiwanese party that loves the country," said Chang An-man (張安滿), whose grandfather, father and uncle were killed during the incident.

Families said the government, as well as political parties, must work to restore the truth while avoiding the creation of ethnic conflict.

Only by identifying the persecutors and receiving apologies and compensation from them, it seems, will the victims and their families be able to seal the wounds of history.