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.
‐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?
‐If my notes are correct, Ms. Ying came from the mainland when she was eight. She used to say, “I am both Chinese and Taiwanese.” But now she says she is Taiwanese — “because if you say ‘Chinese,’ people think you’re from China.”
‐She talks about the old days in journalism — the old days on Taiwan: You could not advocate independence. And you could not criticize the head of state. But there was leeway.
Now, of course, the press is robust, diverse, and even wild. Ms. Ying says there’s a lot of populism and sensationalism — a lot of irresponsibility — in the press. I have heard this from others as well.
‐Ms. Ying says there are many Chinese who admire Taiwan’s freedom. They say, “Why can’t we have a free press, and free elections, and so on?” These are “liberal” Chinese. But a great many Chinese look at Taiwan and say, “If we had that freedom, there would be chaos. Taiwan is just a little island. But we are a huge nation. If we imported Taiwan’s system, every province would want its own way and we would disintegrate.”
‐There are Chinese journalists, says Ying, who are no more than government apparatchiks. We should put quotation marks around that word, “journalists.” But there are some who aspire to be real journalists. Who want to do investigative reporting. Who want to “speak up for the poor and the disadvantaged.”
‐Like others, Ying talks about “self-censorship” in Taiwan — the pulling of punches by journalists. Little accommodations made, and not so little. China buys a lot of advertising. It exerts its influence in a number of ways. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to get on the bad side of Beijing, even when you’re safe in free and democratic Taiwan.
“A trend we should worry about,” says Ying.
‐There are obviously benefits to closer ROC-PRC relations, she says. The greatest benefit: no war, or a greatly reduced chance of war. But there are some negative consequences — absorption. Absorption by the behemoth next door. “The danger of losing your ability to decide your own future. Your freedom of choice.”
‐I ask her to talk a little about Chiang Kai-shek. She does. Here’s a tidbit:
Remember, his councils in China were infiltrated by Communists. When he came here to Taiwan, he was vigilant — and overvigilant — about this. He “overreacted.” “We saw the slogans everywhere: ‘Beware of Communist spies.’ ‘Don’t talk about secrets.’ Because he had lost everything.”
‐Ying says that Taiwan’s exclusion from international organizations has this bad effect: Taiwanese officials are cut off from the world. They’re not integrated. They’re not up to speed. They’re shunned — provincialized, maybe.
Businessmen, she says, have a better acquaintance with the world than do government officials. They travel more, have more contacts, have more opportunities. They may look down on government officials — and before, it was the other way around.
‐One thing I love about Diane Ying: She says, when speaking in English, “Peking.” Beautiful. I regretted the loss of “Peking,” when “Beijing” came into vogue. Maybe the vogue will change, later . . .
‐She says that Chinese who live and work in Taiwan love one thing, above all: the kindness and helpfulness of the Taiwanese people. They also like the convenience of living: “We have a lot of convenience stores.”
Oh, yes. In West Virginia, they have stores called “the Convenient” — because they are.
I’ll see you on Monday, friends, for my wrap-up.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.