Transitional justice is not possible while authoritarian-era symbols glorifying former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) remain, many survivors and families of people persecuted in the 228 Incident said.
Today marked the 76th anniversary of the incident, a crackdown launched by the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime against civilian demonstrators following the killing of a bystander in a crowd in Taipei on Feb. 27, 1947.
Between 18,000 and 28,000 people were killed during the crackdown, which lasted into early May 1947, a government report released in 1992 showed.
Photo copied by Wang Kuan-jen, Taipei Times
It marked the beginning of the White Terror era in Taiwan, during which thousands of people were arrested, imprisoned or executed.
“Chiang Kai-shek was the prime culprit of the 228 Incident. He has massive amounts of blood on his hands,” Taiwan 228 Care Association chairman Wang Wen-hong (王文宏) said.
Despite Chiang Kai-shek’s record of brutality, a large statue of him stands in the chamber of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Wang said, which he described as “condescending.”
Then-governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀) on March 2, 1947, agreed to requests from local leaders to establish the 228 Incident Settlement Committee to investigate the Feb. 27 incident.
However, on March 6, hundreds of people heading to a meeting of the committee in Kaohsiung were fired upon, under the orders of the Kaohsiung garrison commander, major-general Peng Meng-chi (彭孟緝).
Wang’s father, Wang Ping-shui (王平水), was among those killed in Kaohsiung, historical records showed.
Wang Wen-hong was 32 days old at the time.
Over the next two decades, he grew up under an authoritarian KMT regime that did not teach children about the 228 Incident, and created an atmosphere of fear to keep people quiet about it.
In a high school essay about his father, Wang Wen-hong wrote that “my father was killed by bad guys in the 228 Incident,” which he learned from hearing relatives talk about it, without understanding what it was.
The essay terrified his mother, he said.
“She quickly threw a banquet for my teachers to apologize for my ‘innocence’ and bought a boat ticket to send me to Brazil,” he said. “She was worried the essay would get me into trouble if I were conscripted into the army.”
In Brazil, he learned that his brother, who was 14 years older than him, and their grandfather found their father’s body among a pile of corpses in a cattle trailer after a long search on the chilly, rainy evening of March 10.
He said they bribed KMT soldiers to bring the body home.
Wang Wen-hong returned to Taiwan after the term “transitional justice” was first codified into law in August 2016.
Wiping out the legacy of authoritarianism was also mandated by the Act for Promoting Transitional Justice (促進轉型正義條例), enacted in 2017.
Wang Wen-hong said that transitional justice would not be complete without dealing with the symbols of Taiwan’s authoritarian past, including the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Cihu Mausoleum in Taoyuan’s Dasi District (大溪), where Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo are interred.
Historical archives indicate that Chiang Kai-shek, who was in Nanjing, China, at the time of the 228 Massacre, ordered Chen to respond to the uprisings with a brutal crackdown, and sent troops from the mainland to quell the protests, said Kenneth Wang (王克雄), whose father, Wang Yu-lin (王育霖), was arrested on March 14 and later executed.
Those who opposed the removal of these symbols are unwilling to face history and admit to the mistakes made in the past, Kenneth Wang said.
He said he hopes that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) will keep her promises on transitional justice and that the KMT will have the courage to admit what it did so it can apologize with sincerity.
“Only by doing so can the historical trauma be healed and forgiveness and social reconciliation come about,” he said.
Eliminating the symbols could still be difficult. When the ad hoc Transitional Justice Commission was formed, there were about 966 statues of Chiang Kai-shek or Chiang Ching-kuo in public spaces and 580 places named after them nationwide, government data showed.
When the commission was dissolved in May last year, 80 percent of those symbols remained, the data showed.
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