Hundreds of young people gathered on Ketagalan Boulevard, bobbing their heads up and down to the tunes played by math rock band Elephant Gym.
The trio were among several Taiwanese bands and singer-songwriters performing on Tuesday at the Gong Sheng Music Festival (共生音樂節) held to commemorate those killed during a Feb. 28, 1947, government crackdown known as the 228 Incident.
The diverse lineup also included Amis singer and activist Panai Kusui, award-winning Hakka singer Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥) and up-and-coming band Tsng-kha-lang (裝咖人).
FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
The motivation behind the annual event is to bring the nation’s young people together to remember the deadly incident and reflect on its repercussions for Taiwanese society, festival founder Na Su-phok said.
However, music is only one of the four pillars that make up the commemorative event. Exhibitions, fairs for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and short talks have also been intrinsic to the one-day event since it was first held in 2013.
Every year, a team made up mainly of young people spends six months researching the Incident and preparing an exhibition, the theme and content of which is different from previous editions, Na said.
“Over the past 10 years, no other youth groups have been as dedicated to reading and writing about the Feb. 28 Incident as Gong Sheng’s teams,” said Na, who founded the event when he was a doctoral student and is deputy executive director of the Ministry of the Interior’s 228 Memorial Foundation.
The foundation was established in December 1995 to handle damages claims by families of the crackdown’s victims, just months after then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) apologized for the “government’s wrongdoings” in 1947.
This year’s exhibition, “Filling the Blank Space,” was produced by a team of 35 volunteers aged 18 to 25, who worked on it since September last year, team leader Pan Mei (潘美) said.
Pan, who first volunteered for the yearly event in 2018, said that the exhibition explores the decades of public silence in Taiwan regarding the Incident, as many feared being persecuted by the authorities for speaking out.
We “want to discuss why such a void was created, how it was later filled and what is left for us at the present time to do something about it,” the 24-year-old said.
An estimated 18,000 to 28,000 Taiwanese were killed during crackdowns by forces of the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime on anti-government protests across Taiwan starting on Feb. 28, 1947, a report issued by the Executive Yuan in 1992 said.
The unrest was mainly caused by the KMT’s oppressive and corrupt rule in the 16 months after it replaced Taiwan’s colonial Japanese administration, the 228 Memorial Foundation says.
Calls for the government to investigate and make amends for the crackdown were absent until after martial law was lifted in 1987.
PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
While the festival’s exhibitions offer a window to the past, the NGO fairs serve as a platform to discuss current social issues, Na said.
The event “provides a venue for discussing various issues ... not just the Feb. 28 Incident; you can come here as long as you are concerned about human rights issues or Taiwan,” he said.
The musical performances and short speeches on stage aim to create an environment where all attendees can “form a sense of community,” Na said.
We “can shape a form of thinking ... an imagination of the future. That is, the future of the nation,” Na said.
To Na, the festival is a way to stop the victims of the Incident from being forgotten.
He said he received a lot of support from his mentors when he and his friends tried to launch the event, adding that such support came from the belief that memorials for the Incident should be passed down to younger generations.
Over the past decade, the number of people taking part in the festival — a free event administered by young adults and funded by government grants and crowdfunding — has quadrupled to 7,000 to 8,000.
Yet for Pan, the road to achieving “gong sheng,” which literally means “coexistence” and even reconciliation remains thorny.
A social media post published on Feb. 18 by Pan’s team to promote Tuesday’s event received a mixed reaction online, with some people saying that bringing up issues such as the 228 Incident every year only served to divide society.
Those comments, not uncommon when discussing transitional justice in Taiwan, have not discouraged Pan and her team, she said.
Rather, they shows exactly why the Gong Sheng Music Festival should continue to be held to promote understanding of the Incident and transitional justice, Pan said.
“There is still a lot of room for dialogue,” she added.
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