Yesterday marked the 64th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1947 Incident, also known as the 228 Incident. It was also the inauguration of the National 228 Memorial Museum, thus starting a new page in the history of Taiwan. There is a saying that “the past is the key to the future.” Sixty-four years ago, racial discrimination and conflict were rampant in Taiwan; today, rather than opening old wounds for the families of victims of the 228 Incident, the establishment of the National 228 Memorial Museum tries to restore historical memory by converting sorrow into a positive force and passing down the historical significance of the 228 Incident to the next generation.
To gain insight into Taiwan’s history, one must understand the history of the 228 Incident — the most tragic and unforgettable incident in Taiwanese history and the deepest and most painful historical wound in Taiwanese society. From being a forbidden topic during the 38 years of Martial Law to having a national museum dedicated to it, the 228 Incident clearly represents a watershed for Taiwan’s democratization process. Many books have been written on the 228 Incident, and there is also a symphonic poem, 1947 Overture, composed by Tyzen Hsiao. The overture incorporates poet Lee Min-yung’s poem Love and Peace about healing the wounds of history, and Pastor John Jyigiokk Tin’s Taiwan the Green, expressing a hope for the rebirth of Formosa.
Photo: courtesy of the 228 Memorial Foundation
In 2006, the Ministry of Education initiated plans to establish a National 228 Memorial Museum on 54, Nanhai Road, and it entrusted the 228 Memorial Foundation with the museum’s management and operation. Prior to 2004, the foundation’s mission was mainly to provide monetary compensation and emotional consolation, and to restore the good names of the victims of the massacre. Between 2004 and 2007, efforts were made to make the history of the 228 Incident more accessible to the public by holding academic conferences and memorial events to commemorate the human rights victims. In 2007, the foundation shifted its mission and began focusing on fact finding, the collection of historical documents, and cultural, historical, educational, and human rights work and international academic exchanges as a long-term project. Inaugurated during Taiwan’s centennial celebrations, the National 228 Memorial Museum has signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, which is under the supervision of Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Within walking distance of each other, the two museums will share resources, cooperate with each other, and try to avoid the repetition of content in their respective exhibitions.
Photo: courtesy of the 228 Memorial Foundation
Past and present merge at 54, Nanhai Rd.
Located at 54, Nanhai Road, the National 228 Memorial Museum maintains the Taiwanese architectural style of the 1930s. The building has played different roles throughout history and is witness to how Taiwanese history has developed.
1. Taiwan Education Association Building
Photo: Tseng Wei-chen, Liberty Times
This building was constructed in 1931, during Japanese rule, as the Taiwan Education Association Building. It was an important venue for all sorts of lectures, exhibitions, film screenings, art exhibitions, and other events. It was regarded as an important conduit between modern art in Taiwan and the rest of the world. The “Taiwan Art Exhibition,” a major annual art event in Taiwan, was held by the Taiwan Education Association, and made artists such as Chen Cheng-po, Liao Chi-chun, Yang San-lang, Yang Shui-long, Lan Yin-ding, and Lee Mei-shu famous.
Photo: Tseng Wei-chen, Liberty Times
2. Taiwan Provincial Assembly
In 1945, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government designated Chen Yi as governor of Taiwan province. It also established the Taiwan Provincial Assembly, which met in the Taiwan Education Association Building. After the 228 Incident, of the 30 provincial assemblymen, Wang Tian-deng was captured and later died, Lin Lien-tsung went missing, and Lin Jih-kao and Ma You-yueh were incarcerated. The building is therefore very significant for the story of the Taiwanese pursuit of democracy after World War II and is an important 228 Incident historical site. In 1949, the Taiwan Education Association took over the management of the building, which continued to be used for free by the Taiwan Province Provisional Assembly and later the Taiwan Provincial Assembly.
3. The United States Information Service
The United States Information Agency moved into the building in 1959, a year after the Taiwan Province Provisional Assembly moved out. After the US ended diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979, the US embassy in Taiwan was transformed to the non-official American Cultural Center (ACC), and continued to hold cultural, educational, and business exchange events. By the end of 1991, the ACC moved out due to the Nanhai Renewal Project, a project that was later canceled because of protests from cultural circles who opposed its being rebuilt. The building was once rented by the Scouts of China, and then again rented by the ACC in 1993. The building was declared a third-class national historic site in the same year. The United States Information Service held official US government data and information about study in the US, and it also provided part of its office space for arts and literary exhibitions. Following the eclectic exhibitions held by the “Taiwan Education Association” during Japanese rule, in the 1960s, when information from the outside world was relatively suppressed, the center also played a role in pushing Taiwan’s arts and literary development.
4. National 228 Memorial Museum
The National 228 Memorial Museum, whose establishment was approved by the Cabinet in July 2006, was finally inaugurated yesterday. The historic site, filled with the traces of history, shows the changes through the years. According to Allan J. Shackleton’s book Formosa Calling, disillusioned Taiwanese people at the time would often say, “Out with the Japanese dogs, in with the Chinese pigs.” The opening of the new national museum symbolizes a wish that Taiwan will be able to “move beyond the 228 Incident and embrace democracy and human rights.”
Exhibitions and Historical Objects
There are two exhibition areas in the National 228 Memorial Museum, one for the permanent exhibition and the other for special exhibitions. The former presents exhibition materials chronologically and reconstructs scenes from the 228 Incident through a combination of traditional and interactive digital displays. The special exhibition focuses on different periods and shows the history of the site itself. In addition to the exhibitions, there are also historical objects such as documents, files, photos, videos, publications, art works, and folk arts. People can revisit history through the exhibitions and learn the history of Taiwan’s democracy.
“Division and Rebirth”
Many people are certain to sympathize with the sorrow and resentment of the families of the victims of the 228 Incident. In the lyrics of a Taiwanese song If I Open My Heart to the World written in 1954, “If I open my heart to the world, I will see the glorious colors of a spring day.” Only if we face up to the past — forgive but not forget — can we restore the historical truth, escape from under the shadow of the past, and learn the lessons of the 228 Incident. Only if we transcend ethnic divides can the brand new National 228 Memorial Museum, which commemorates a painful episode in Taiwan’s history, accomplish its new mission in the new era, for the benefit of Taiwan.
(WRITTEN BY LIN YA-TI, TAIPEI TIMES / 台北時報林亞蒂編撰)
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