Taiwan Journal, Part X

Commemorating 228 in Taipei, February 28, 2009


Here in Taiwan, “228” refers to February 28 — specifically, to February 28, 1947. Starting on this date, a terrible massacre occurred. It was perpetrated by Republic of China forces on Taiwanese citizens (if “citizens” is the correct word). Something like 20,000 were killed.

This event was hushed up — taboo for discussion — for decades. But when martial law ended in the late 1980s, people began to talk. And Taiwan launched a memorial museum on the 50th anniversary: February 28, 1997.

The museum tells of the independence movement, or autonomy movement, that began in Taiwan after World War I. Japan was the ruling power on the island then. We see flickering film of Woodrow Wilson, who spread the idea of self-determination.

I reflect on how much my fellow conservatives, back home, hate Wilson. (There are some good reasons, and some not-so-good ones.) To many people around the world, he remains a hero of freedom and democracy, almost 90 years after his death.

On February 27, 1947, a woman was selling contraband cigarettes in Taipei. She was a widow of 40, surnamed Lin. The authorities caught her and abused her. Apparently, someone knocked her to the ground by striking her with his pistol. This bloodied her.

The sight of this treatment outraged people who were watching. A crowd formed. A police officer fired into the crowd, killing someone.

So, that was the 27th. On the 28th, there were huge protests all over Taiwan. People were sick of the corruption of the regime, and of the humiliations that the regime inflicted on people every day. The ROC sent in troops to restore order. The troops rampaged for days, killing at random — killing those 20,000 (which I understand is a conservative number).

I have told this story sketchily. You can find complete information about it elsewhere, of course.

Thinking of the woman selling cigarettes, I can’t help thinking of the fruit vendor in Tunisia. Very similar circumstances. A pent-upness, a fed-upness. A feeling of, “I can’t take it any longer. We can’t take it any longer.”

You’ve heard of “waving the bloody shirt”? Here in the museum, there is literally a bloody shirt on display. There are also names — as many names of victims as researchers could find. It’s important to people to name names. To name names of victims, to have them commemorated.

Those who work in this museum have what seems a burning need to tell the truth. It was suppressed for so long.

Later, I ask myself, “Given 228, and given the White Terror, how could the KMT retain its legitimacy, after the era of dictatorship was over? How could it just glide on, and be the majority party?” Interesting.

In an early part of this journal, I remarked on how interesting it was to meet liberal democrats — good liberal democrats — who have positive things to say about Chiang Kai-shek. Or at least non-negative things. A real mixed bag, Chiang.

For previous parts of the journal, click on the following links: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX.

Above, I wrote the phrase “terrible massacre.” Are there un-terrible ones? Well, there are degrees, I guess. What we Americans call the “Boston Massacre” killed five.

Come to CommonWealth magazine, whose founder and guiding light is Diane Ying, and whose editor-at-large is Fuyuan Hsiao. Smart, engaging, hospitable cookies.

CommonWealth is a biweekly. I say, “National Review is a biweekly too. Or, as our founder Bill Buckley sometimes said, a ‘fortnightly.’” Ms. Ying smiles and says she met WFB. In fact, she was a guest on Firing Line, many years ago.

How do you like that?