History is not simply about the past; it has a hand in the present, too.
On the anniversary of the 228 Incident, year in, year out, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rolls out an apology for what happened on that fateful day and in the following years.
Every year, the apology from a major figure in the party falls short. They utter words that somehow fail to convince, just sounds strung together, meaning little and not coming from the heart. Behind this, of course, is the lack of sincere interest in realizing meaningful transitional justice or allowing the truth to emerge fully.
The weight of responsibility for this falls squarely on the KMT’s shoulders, because the 228 Incident was the product of the KMT regime’s rule over Taiwan, and all of the information and personnel involved were under its control.
Even though the silent revolution that led to Taiwan’s democratization avoided bloodshed on a large scale, it also gave the KMT the opportunity to cover up the history of what happened, to distort the events.
However, this state of affairs is becoming increasingly untenable.
More importantly, at the same time the KMT is trotting out its formulaic apologies for the 228 Incident, it continues to create the conditions for history to repeat itself.
The 228 Incident reflected the naivety of Taiwanese at the time toward the “motherland” and how much they misunderstood the nature of the arriving KMT regime. This is why they welcomed the Chinese regime with open arms, only to discover that the KMT’s embrace was cold, and that concealed behind its honeyed words was a dagger that it would use to cruelly cut down a generation of Taiwanese elites, silencing Taiwanese for decades.
To use a coarse Chinese saying, “the mighty dragon trampled the head of the snake on the ground beneath.”
It is a story that has been played out countless times over two or three millennia of Chinese history, such that it has become part of the sociopolitical culture. It is unthinkable that this might have escaped Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).
The tragedy is that, even though the KMT is, of course, keenly aware of this saying and its implications, the party continues to work from the same playbook. Indeed, since 2005, it has been openly working with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to try to control Taiwan, inviting the latest “mighty dragon” to extend its talons across the Taiwan Strait.
Last month, KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia (夏立言) traveled to Beijing to prostrate himself at the feet of the dragon and discuss this very matter, to lay the foundations for a new 228 Incident. The party was delighted with the reception it received in Beijing.
Taiwanese achieved their silent revolution and secured a peaceful transition of power, and yet the KMT is working with a new representative of the “motherland” to threaten Taiwanese with a new 228. Naturally, the KMT would have us all believe that this is all in the name of maintaining peace, but what it is actually doing is aiding and abetting the CCP in its suppression of the independence movement to realize unification.
This is no way to maintain peace.
The Chinese communists have always been better at “trampling on the head of the snake” than the KMT. After the KMT put down the Autumn Harvest Uprising led by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in China in 1927, Mao was forced to seek shelter in the Jinggang Mountains with bandits Yuan Wencai (袁文才) and Wang Zuo (王佐). It was not long before Yuan and Wang met sticky ends at the hands of the communists.
After the Chinese communists arrived in Shaanxi Province in 1935 at the end of the Long March, Mao sent one of their commanders, Liu Zhidan (劉志丹), to the east to fight the Japanese, but before Liu could even set sight on the Japanese, he was shot, and — according to some accounts — the bullet that killed him came from his own men.
Mao then pushed for the rapid promotion of the CCP figure Gao Gang (高崗), but Gao was one of the first to first to fall afoul of communist purge not long after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Other CCP figures would suffer a similar fate, including Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) father, Xi Zhongxun (習仲?), who had been accused of anti-CCP activities for supporting the biography of Liu and attempting to rehabilitate Gao’s reputation.
In 1945, Mao joined the Chongqing Negotiations in the wartime capital, where he warmly greeted Chiang. Over the course of the negotiations, Mao regularly met with a senior figure and “democracy advocate” in the KMT government. Four years after the signing of the agreement on the conclusion of those negotiations, the KMT government was overthrown and military commander Zhang Zhizhong (張治中), who had been assigned by the KMT to Mao for the duration of the negotiations, defected to the CCP, along with the entire KMT delegation.
In the eyes of the KMT, Chiang was the savior of the nation, the helmsman of the age and a great statesman. Can figures such as former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) or KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) compare to Chiang in stature? Will Xi show Taiwanese any more mercy than Mao would have done?
The British controlled Hong Kong for more than 150 years, but in a few short years after taking the reins of the CCP, Xi has completely destroyed the territory’s rule of law and thrown many pro-democracy and pro-localization figures and media workers behind bars. This is what might be called “228 with Hong Kong characteristics.”
During the time of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), the CCP would talk of taking Taiwan by force. Are we to believe rhetoric of “peaceful unification” now? If KMT politicians are looking to sell Taiwan out with an eye on their own interests and are willing to create the conditions for another 228 Massacre, they are truly beyond rehabilitation.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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