The history of the 228 Incident is a bloody one. Irrespective of the controversies that surround it, it may serve as a lesson for later generations. More importantly, it is Taiwan’s most precious collective memory and historical asset. The sad thing is that each year around the anniversary of the Incident, as the subject is once more brought to the fore, it is often presented as a matter solely involving ethnic Taiwanese — Han Chinese whose ancestors moved to Taiwan prior to 1945, or the arrival of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — and Mainlanders (Han Chinese who moved to Taiwan after 1945). Discussion of the 228 Incident is often no more than a war of words between different party ideologies.
The fact is the 228 Incident was not just a Han-versus-Han affair, since Taiwanese Aborigines were also a part of it. For example, Uyongu Yatauyungana of the Tsou tribe, whose Chinese name was Kao Yi-sheng (高一生), led Tsou youths who took part in the resistance in the mountains of Alishan (阿里山). Many Tsou Aborigines, including Uyongu Yatauyungana himself, were killed, leaving the tribe with sorrowful and fearful memories of the Incident. There were also plenty of Aborigines among the many people from the Hualien area who lost their lives. One of them was Walis Shumin of the Truku tribe, also known by his Chinese name Lin Ming-yung (林明勇), whose suffering tells us that young Aborigines in Hualien also died in the Incident. However, given a culture that generally pays more attention to western Taiwan than to the eastern area, and the relative power and influence of various ethnic and linguistic communities, the true story of multiethnic involvement in the 228 Incident in Hualien has generally been reduced to a singular perspective.
Nearly all the victims of the Incident were men, but the greatest impact among their relatives was surely borne by their immediate families — especially their mothers and wives — yet these people who were most deeply affected hardly feature in the official records. Take for example the wife of Dr Chang Chi-lang (張七郎) of Fonglin Township (鳳林), Hualien County. Surviving family members said this is what she said she saw: “The ox cart wobbled along the road in the glow of the dawning sun, but what it carried was despair that came like a bolt from the blue — three icy cold bodies, blood-spattered and caked in mud. One was my husband who had served as a delegate to the National Assembly; the other two our sons who had become doctors like their father. At that moment, all I could see before me was darkness, and from that day on there would be no other colors in my life.”
It is harrowing to think of the suffering of those young widows, some pregnant with children orphaned before they were born, and this Taiwanese Hakka woman who lost her husband and sons. All of a sudden the family breadwinners were gone, and the women had to endure the White Terror that followed.
These things could be a source of Taiwanese historical values, or be made into world-class literary works, but sadly, decades after the events unfolded, most people’s memories of the 228 Incident are stuck in an almost single-gender perspective and in the politics of interethnic conflict, while overlooking its deep influence on the whole society.
The number “228” represents an occurrence that everyone in Taiwan must bear on their shoulders. Whatever view people take of it, the Incident continues to reverberate from one generation to the next. The odd thing is that many Taiwanese prefer to hide their heads in the sand and avoid the true significance of the Incident.
Even in academic circles, the dark shadow of repression and the sensitive nature of the Incident have caused researchers to be boxed in by their own fears or to have political labels attached to them, so that the rich materials available for research and their important historical significance have been made taboo. Researchers have been labeled and demonized to the extent that this Incident — that has had such a profound influence over Taiwanese society — has become an invisible giant.
Building a common identity is a matter of finding worthwhile common memories from history. In Taiwan’s case, the 228 Incident is certainly an important historic memory that Taiwanese people should embrace. However, it is hard for a historical event to be brought from the periphery to a central position or to become a means to achieve a peaceful resolution between communities if the public have not been involved in telling the story, and if the tale has not been revealed in a pluralistic way and communicated from the points of view of various classes and groups of people. This is certainly true of the 228 Incident, which was for so long a taboo subject.
For those of us who have grown up alongside the formation of a common Taiwanese consciousness, memories of the 228 Incident should not be defined as a historical event that certain communities are either interested in or regard as taboo, but rather as a precious asset that enriches the Taiwanese experience and consensus.
More important still, if those who directly or indirectly experienced the story are allowed to speak out, they may become a value center and allow later generations to be enlightened through the telling of the stories of those events. The 228 Incident can become a means to build a national identity through reconciliation between communities and the formation of collective memories.
From the stories told, we can discover a variety of Taiwanese values. By seeing the events from the perspectives of different groups of people, we gain richer information by which to see and remember the 228 Incident as something that belongs to everyone in Taiwan.
We should let the Incident, which belongs to all of us, be told through authentic stories that include a greater variety of voices and from which we may learn positive lessons.
Jolan Hsieh is an associate professor in the College of Indigenous Studies, National Dong Hwa University, and a Siraya.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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