History of 228 incident in Taiwan
The February 28 Incident ( 二二八事件), also known as the “February 28 Massacre”, “228 Incident” or “228 Massacre” was an anti-government uprising in Taiwan in 1947, violently suppressed by the local government led by the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese nationalist party.
Between 5000 and 28000 people perished during these purges. The incident marked the beginning of the White Terror, an era that has profoundly influenced modern Taiwanese history, in which tens of thousands of people went missing, died, or were imprisoned.
In 1945, following Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, the Allies handed over administrative control of Taiwan to the Republic of China (ROC), marking the end of the Japanese colonial period. Governor Chen Yi arrived in Taiwan on October 24, 1945, sent to the island to facilitate Taiwan’s reintegration into the Republic of China. The new governor maintained the system of monopolies inherited from the Japanese and confiscated over 500 factories and houses belonging to the Japanese.
Featured image: The Horrifying Inspection (恐怖的檢查), Huang Rong-can (Jun Li), 1947
Economic mismanagement led to a flourishing black market, rampant inflation, and food shortages. Many goods were then compulsorily purchased at low cost by the administration of the Kuomintang to be shipped to mainland China during the civil war where they were sold at very high profits. Within a year the price of rice rose uncontrollably. The new officials who arrived from China had then replaced the entire local ruling class. The garrison troops of the KMT were undisciplined; looting and stealing contributed to the general collapse.
The locals, therefore, became impatient with the corruption of the new government and the discriminatory policies implemented by the Kuomintang. Taiwanese elites, under Japanese rule, had managed to gain a degree of autonomy. However, Chinese nationalists opted for the centralization of government powers and the reduction of the authority of the regional administration.
On February 27, 1947, agents from the State Monopoly Bureau arrived in Twatutia District (Dadaocheng in Mandarin) and confiscated contraband cigarettes from a 40-year-old Taiwanese widow, Lin Jiang-mai, 林江邁 at the Tianma Tea House (Tianma Tea House, 天马茶房). When the woman demanded her goods back, an officer struck her in the head with the butt of his gun. The officers’ violence caused the crowd to react. One officer fired, hitting a man, who died the following day. Protesters gathered around Taipei the next morning, demanding the arrest of the officers and a trial, trying to make their way to the governor’s office. Local forces attempted to disperse the protesters and opened fire, killing at least three people.
On March 4, a local radio station fell into the hands of protesters, and news of the riot spread throughout the country. By evening Taiwan entered a martial law regime and a curfew was imposed.
As the uprising spread, Governor Chen Yi requested the intervention of military forces, and the uprising was violently crushed by the National Revolutionary Army. Chen Yi awaited the arrival of reinforcements from Fujian, which arrived on March 8. The New York Times reported that the troops from mainland China had spent three days of indiscriminate slaughter and looting. The streets were littered with corpses. In some areas, severed heads and chopped-up bodies could be seen. By the end of March, Chen Yi ordered the arrest and execution of all the main organizers of the uprising. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people were executed.
For the next 38 years, the island remained under a martial law regime that took the name of White Terror, until 1987. During this period over 100,000 people were imprisoned for political reasons and 1000 of these were executed. During this time the Kuomintang prosecuted political dissidents. The February 28 incident became a taboo subject. Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui was the first to openly discuss the incident on the 1995 anniversary.
Governor Chen Yi’s fate was certainly no better. In June 1948 Chen Yi became provincial president of Zhejiang. In November he released more than 100 Communist prisoners who were to be executed. In January 1949, thinking that the KMT was doomed to lose, and also to save the 18 million inhabitants of the Nanjing-Shanghai-Hangzhou region from an unnecessary war, he abandoned the KMT and joined the Chinese Communist Party. He tried to bring the commander of the military garrison Tang Enbo to his side without succeeding. Tang informed Chiang Kai-shek of Chen Yi’s betrayal. Chiang immediately removed Chen Yi and had him taken to Taiwan where he was imprisoned in Keelung, before being executed on June 18, 1950. On June 9, the Communist Party declared Chen Yi a “patriot who sacrificed his life for the cause of liberating the Chinese people.”
February 28 today has become a national holiday, named Peace Memorial Day, during which tribute is paid to the victims. Hou Hsiao-hsien‘s A City of Sadness is the first Taiwanese film to chronicle the tragic events of February 28, 1947.
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it and China-underground.com.