TAIWAN AFTER WORLD WAR II: KUOMINTANG TAKE CONTROL AND THE 2-28 INCIDENT

TAIWAN AFTER WORLD WAR II:

On October 25, 1945—known as Retrocession Day in Taiwan— Japan was forced to cede all overseas possessions. Taiwan, as a spoil of war, was handed over to the Republic of China (the Chang-Kai-shek-led Kuomintang government). According to Lonely Planet, “Though some say the Taiwanese were relieved to be rid of the Japanese, others maintain that most already grown accustomed to the stability offered by the Japanese.”

Almost immediately following the defeat of Japan, civil war broke out on the mainland between the KMT (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and Chairman Mao’s communist forces. Embroiled in civil war, Chiang sent an inept general named Chen Yi to govern Taiwan; Chen Yi and his thugs plundered Taiwanese homes and shops, sending anything of value back to the mainland to help support the Nationalist fight against the communists. Riots against the KMT broke out, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.

Post-World War II Occupation of Taiwan

China was granted sovereignty of Taiwan after the Japanese were defeated in 1945. The Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist Chinese Party) received the Japanese surrender and the island became part of the Nationalist China of Chiang Kai-shek. The world community regarded Taiwan as a part of mainland China. These feeling were also shared by the local Taiwanese who, in 1945, regarded the Kuomintang as liberators. But these feelings of good will didn't last long

The military forces of the Republic of China under the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party—Chung-kuo Kuo-min-tang—usually shorted to Kuomintang, KMT) arrived in Taiwan after the war and started to erase all vestiges of Japanese rule and to bring the island under Nationalist Chinese political, economic, and cultural influence. Rather than treating Taiwan as a liberated area, the KMT forces confronted the local population as enemy collaborators. Businesses were looted and goods were seized as KMT military officers and politicians took charge.

Many Chinese that left for Taiwan left with their young children in their arms, a few possessions on their backs and some odd gold and jewelry and figured they would be back soon. For many it was 40 or more years before they had a chance to return. Some Taiwanese left for the mainland. The writer Chen Jo-shi (Chen Roxi) told Asia Weekly: “I did not go to mainland China just to look for creative material. I went there for an ideal and for my principles. We were children born after the Second World War. People like Chen Ying-chen and myself placed the state and its people first. Therefore, we were strongly opposed to the Kuomintang government. I was voting with my feet. There was a meeting among leftists, and we announced that we were the first ones to leave for the mainland. They congratulated us. I said, "Yes, we are returning to Taiwan via Beijing. We will be liberating Taiwan. (laughter). Those were our ideals." [Source: Asia Weekly Interview With Chen Jo-shi (Chen Roxi), November 14, 2008]

George H. Kerr wrote in "Formosa Betrayed": After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Formosans, despite the Cairo Declaration, hoped for a guaranteed neutrality under American or international trusteeship. Instead, they were delivered over to another and more oppressive occupation. Their prosperous society was invaded by a horde of mainland Chinese, often brutal, ignorant, and greedy -- the dregs of the Nationalist army. The new governor, under orders, bled the island dry, ruthlessly and with dispatch. Yet still the Formosans hoped. American propaganda, promising freedom to all oppressed peoples, and citing the glorious Revolution of 1776, continued to pour in upon them. [Source: "Formosa Betrayed" by George H. Kerr, Houghton Mifflin, 1965 and republished in 1992 by the Taiwan Publishing Co., Irvine CA. Kerr was an American diplomat, who worked at the US Consulate in Taipei at the time of the massacre and observed many atrocities in 1947 person. Online version has also been made available at http://www.formosa.org/betrayed]

Kuomintang Take Control of Taiwan

The once reform-minded Kuomintang had grown corrupt and brutal during war. The governor appointed by Chiang Kai-shek brutally suppressed the indigenous Taiwanese. Local industries were nationalized by the Kuomintang and their money was sent to the mainland along with rice and capital assets.

The abolition of the use of widely spoken Japanese and the imposition of Mandarin Chinese led to communications and political problems. Taiwanese political groups and the media sought influence, but mainlanders predominated in the key provincial administrative positions. Provincial and local assembly elections took place in 1946, but the Taiwanese found their elected bodies had only limited powers. Decolonization and reintegration were proving difficult, and the KMT regime was turning out to be just as exploitative and controlling as the Japanese had been but less competent. Resentment was on the rise. [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005]

In a review of Jay Taylor’s book on Chang Kai-shek, Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books, “For Chiang, patriotism came second to personal power. But now able to rule as an extraneous force, with full-bore American assistance and without ties to local landlords, he could preside over an agrarian reform designed by US advisers, and industrialisation funded by US capital, in a society that fifty years of modernisation under colonial rule had left substantially more advanced in popular literacy and rural productivity than the mainland. Economic success stabilised but scarcely liberalised his regime, which ended as it had begun under martial law. [Source: Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, February 9, 2012]

When unarmed demonstrators protested the corrupt KMT occupation and overthrew the provincial administration in early 1947, they were violently suppressed in what has become known as the February 28 Incident. A military reign of terror ensued, and an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 (some say 100,000) people were killed and some 30,000 wounded. To commemorate this bloody event, February 28 has, since 1995, been marked as a national memorial day.

George H. Kerr wrote in "Formosa Betrayed": In February 1947 unarmed Formosans rose en masse to demand reforms in the administration at Taipei. Chiang Kai-shek's answer was a brutal massacre. Thousands died -- first among them were the leaders who had asked for American help. Washington turned a deaf ear, while the Chinese communists rejoiced. [Source: "Formosa Betrayed" by George H. Kerr, Houghton Mifflin, 1965]

2-28 Incident

According to the Guinness Book of Records the world's worst recorded riot occurred on February 28, 1947 when 1,400 people were killed during a spontaneous uprising that broke out after Kuomintang police arrested and beat up a Taiwanese woman who was selling black market cigarettes. Most of the dead were killed by police who fired randomly into crowds of protestors. [Source:Guinness Book of Records]

On February 28, 1947, about two thousand people gathered in front of the Bureau of Monoply in Taipei to protest the brutal beating on a woman cigarette peddler and the killing of a bystander by the police on the previous evening. The Chinese Governor, Chen Yi responded with machine guns, killing several people on the spot. Uprisings errupted. What ensued were a series of massacres on the island by the troops sent from China by Chiang Kai-Shek resulting in the deaths of more than 30,000 Taiwanese people, followed by an era of white terror (arrests and mysterious disapprances of countless additional people) by the military police for decades.

Peggy Durdin wrote in The Nation, “On February 27 a policeman of the Taiwan (Formosa) Monopoly Bureau saw a woman selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of the capital, Taipei. When he tried to seize her tray and money, she pulled away, and he struck her a crashing blow on the head with his revolver butt. She died at his feet. An angry mob gathered, and the police shot into the crowd, killing one person and wounding others. Forthwith a year and a half of gathering hatred for an inefficient, autocratic, corrupt administration exploded into unarmed demonstrations against the mainland Chinese. [Source: Peggy Durdin, The Nation, May 24, 1947 >>>]

“China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre. Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders. Foreigners estimate that at least five thousand Taiwanese were killed and executions are still going on. Governor General Chen Yi has turned a movement against bad government into one against any Chinese government. Nanking has again demonstrated that its chief solution for political and economic crisis is force. In spite of a curtain of censorship and official misrepresentation, the tragic events that took place in Formosa in March are well known here.

The riot grew into the "2/28" revolt in which leaders voiced their support of the national Kuomintang government but condemned the governor and other brutal provincial leaders. More than 10,000 Kuomintang troops were dispatched from the mainland to put down uprising that they said was led by Communists and gangsters.

The soldiers were largely undisciplined and contemptuous of the local people who they regarded as too sympathetic of Japan. They arrested people they suspected of being Communists and saboteurs. Among the targets were doctors, lawyers and ordinary people. One woman told AP that soldiers broke down the door of her house, grabbed her father and blindfolded him with a necktie, executed him and dumped his body in a ditch.

There was no death count. According to some estimates between 10,000 and 28,000 people were killed. Some say 50,000. Nearly all the local middle-class leaders were executed. The brutal slaughter is still a sore point between the native Taiwanese and the mainlanders. For decades, simply mentioning it could land a person in jail. In the 1990s, the government formally apologized for the incident, a monument to the dead was raised and ceremonies were held to honor them.

Accounts of Violence During the 2-28 Incident and the Days After

Ambassador Stuart's memorandum to Chiang Kai-Shek on April 18, 1947 read: On the evening of February 27 certain armed Monopoly Bureau Agents and special police agents set upon and beat a female cigarette vendor, who with her two small children, had protested the seizure of her cash as well as her allegedly untaxed cigarettes. She is reported to have died soon after the agents, who shot at random, killing one person before they escaped into a civil police station. Their Monopoly truck and its contents were burned in the street, although the agents were allowed to be taken away, on foot and unmolested, from the police station by military police called for that purpose. [Source: Ambassador Stuart's memorandum to Chiang Kai-Shek on April 18, 1947 |+|]

“(On February 28)...The parade, meanwhile, left the Monopoly Bureau for the Governor's office where it was intended to present the petition for reform. At about two o'clock it reached a wide intersection adjacent to the government grounds. Without warning a machine gun mounted somewhere on the government building opened fire, swept and dispersed the crowd and killed at least four. Two consular officers drove through the square immediately after the shots were fired. Two of the dead were picked up a few minutes later by an UNRRA officer....Martial law was invoked in the late afternoon February 28. Armed military patrols began to appear in the city, firing at random wherever they went. |+|

Ambassador Stuart's memorandum to Chiang Kai-Shek: read: (March 1, at approximately 5 o'clock)... members of the American Consulate staff witnessed a severe clash between armed government forces and unarmed crowds. Mounted troops had killed two pedestrians near the compound. A crowd gathered. A few hundred yards away Railway Administration special armed police suddenly opened fire from within the Administration building and killed two more pedestrians. The crowd turned on any mainland Railway Bureau employee found nearby. Two more pedestrians who looked like coolies were shot about 300 feet from the Consulate gates. Then as the bodies were carried off the crowd was observed to assemble again some distance from a mounted patrol near an intersection. Suddenly, with no warning, a long burst of machine gun fire swept the area. Some of the wounded and dead were carried past the Consulate gates; it is stated reliably that at least 123 felled by the burst and that 25 died. How many of the injured walked away is not known. [Source: Ambassador Stuart's memorandum to Chiang Kai-Shek on April 18, 1947]

The writer Chen Jo-shi (Chen Roxi) told Asia Weekly: “I saw people being assaulted right in front of our home. I saw that the soldiers from mainland did not speak Taiwanese dialect and when the Taiwanese could not communicate themselves, they were beaten. If the children misbehaved, they were told: "You'll be send to the killing field and be dispatched with a bullet." We all experienced that terror. A friend of mine personally witnessed two mainlanders being assaulted by people with white headbands and wearing wooden sandals and kicked into a ditch. I was very scared. I wanted to leave Taiwan if I can. [Source: Asia Weekly Interview With Chen Jo-shi (Chen Roxi), November 14, 2008]

Newsweek reported: “Police on trucks roamed Taipei shooting into unarmed crowds. Troops knocked on doors of houses and shot the first person who appeared. They looted left and right. Thousands of Formosans were arrested and jailed. It was evidently a common practice to bind prisoners with thin wire. The dead bodies of bound men were found every morning on the streets, some beheaded or castrated. [Source: Newsweek, April 7, 1947 <>]

“An eyewitness of the bloody Formosan rebellion which started February 28 gave Newsweek's Shanghai correspondent this shocking description of how Nationalist troops succeeded last week, by terroristic tactics, in restoring order throughout most of the island. The Chinese mainland troops, under the command of the Japanese-educated Formosan Governor, General Chen Yi, killed an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 of the natives who revolted against the political corruption and economic oppression of Chen's postwar regime (Newsweek, March 17). <>

“Even top Nationalist leaders, in effect condoned this revolt in their own territory. The Chinese Defense Minister, general Pai Chung-hsi, recommended various administrative reforms demanded by the rebels. The Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang (government party) voted in favor of Governor Chen's dismissal. Chen responded on March 24 by executing another 70 Formosans who reportedly established a "people's government" in the southwestern town of Chiayi. Formosans in Shanghai protested bitterly: "The government keeps Chen so it won't lose face by admitting its own maladministration. But every day it saves face hundreds of Formosans die", they said.”

Analysis of 2-28 Incident

In his book “Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950,” Steven E. Phillips wrote: “On the evening of February 27 [1947], six police officers attempted to arrest a women selling cigarettes illegally in Taibei. A policeman struck the woman, an angry crowd gathered, and violence broke out after an officer fired his weapon, killing a bystander. The next day, 2,000 to 3,000 Taiwanese marched to the [cigarette] Monopoly Bureau Headquarters, and hundreds moved on to [Nationalist administrator and garrison commander] Chen Yi's office. Besides protesting the beating and shooting, islanders complained of unemployment, food shortages, inflation, political repression, and corruption. That afternoon, a soldier or police officer at the office fired into the crowd, sparking an islandwide uprising. Vandalism and violence against police, soldiers, bureaucrats, and any mainlander unfortunate enough to be on the streets spread beyond Taibei. [Source: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 75-76 ***]

“The provincial administration had badly underestimated the willingness of Taiwanese to transform their discontent into concrete action. Incident turned into uprising as urbanites and government forces battled over buildings, railroad stations, and police stations in large towns and cities. Taiwanese gained control of most of the island since Nationalist soldiers, almost exclusively young draftees from the mainland, had little stomach for a fight. Many mainland officials and businessmen abandoned their posts and stayed home throughout the crisis. In some cities, officials and police sought safety together in local military outposts. Railroad, telephone, and telegraph traffic throughout the island ground to a halt in the first days of March. After two or three days of conflict, the situation calmed, although occasional shots were still heard in Taibei. ***

“This crisis was not simply a revolt against the state. Many different groups used the opportunity created by the temporary power vacuum to pursue their own agendas. For example, while educated youth sought immediate political and economic reform, secret society and gang members took advantage of the chaos for personal profit. Urban workers and youth wanted economic recovery and jobs. Youth who had received Japanese military training reconstituted their old units in many of the island's cities and took to wearing their old uniforms, singing wartime songs, and sporting swords. This naturally served to justify the suspicions of mainlanders that the Taiwanese had been "Japanized." Ironically, many of these youth had joined the [Sun Yat-sen's] Three Principles of the People Youth Corps after retrocession. Just as they had done immediately after Japan's surrender, these young men helped maintain public order. ***

“As had been the case under Japanese rule, the elite's political agenda placed them between the state and Taiwanese society. They sought the restoration of order and reform of the provincial administration, but found themselves dragged into a maelstrom by the actions of less wealthy Taiwanese. In fact, Taiwanese politicians had frequently raised the problems of poor and homeless islanders in the town, county, and islandwide consultative assemblies. Their solution, however, was reform to facilitate greater Taiwanese control of the island's resources. In late February and early March, prominent islanders often attempted to limit violence between Taiwanese and mainlanders. For example, Xie E, one of the few Taiwanese women involved in politics at that time, tried to calm islanders through a broadcast that suggested soldiers had not fired on the crowd on February 28. [Prominent Japanese-era reformer on Taiwan] Lin Xiantang personally protected Yan Jiagan, a Nationalist official, from angry Taiwanese. In another instance, some Taiwanese sheltered the Taizhong county magistrate from an angry crowd that wanted to cut off his nose. ***

Government Response to the 2-28 Incident

Peggy Durdin wrote in The Nation, “The Chinese government owns, controls, and operates -- for government profit and personal squeeze -- almost the entire economy of Taiwan. One of the articles whose importation and sale are rigidly controlled is tobacco. Many Taiwanese street venders sell smuggled cigarettes. It was in the course of a campaign against the sale of smuggled goods that the woman was killed in Taipei. [Source: Peggy Durdin, The Nation, May 24, 1947 >>>]

“The rioting which followed was not consciously revolutionary but was against the hated monopoly police which symbolized for the people the government's exploitation of their island. Unarmed processions marched to the government offices to demand punishment of the policemen, compensation for the dead and wounded, and dismissal of the head of the tobacco monopoly. They beat to death two policemen in front of the tobacco monopoly's office and burned the stocks of tobacco. Police guarding the Governor's office raked the crowd with machine-gun fire without provocation. >>>

“Barricaded in its offices, the government lost control of the city. Shops closed. Transportation broke down. Mobs of Taiwanese, still unarmed, beat up a number of mainland Chinese and burned their possessions, though not their homes. Truckloads of police rushed through Taipei's streets machine gunning the demonstrators while Governor Chen Yi was busily broadcasting conciliatory promises. During this period not a single foreigner saw an armed Taiwanese. >>>

Government Trickery in the 2-28 Incident

Peggy Durdin wrote in The Nation, “The Chinese government owns, controls, and operates -- for government profit and personal squeeze -- almost the entire economy of Taiwan. One of the articles whose importation and sale are rigidly controlled is tobacco. Many Taiwanese street venders sell smuggled cigarettes. It was in the course of a campaign against the sale of smuggled goods that the woman was killed in Taipei. [Source: Peggy Durdin, The Nation, May 24, 1947 >>>]

“With calculated trickery Chen Yi continued his efforts to appease the people while he waited for military reinforcements. On March 2, over the radio, he expressed his love for the Taiwanese, and promised that no one would be prosecuted for rioting, that the families of the dead would be compensated, and that he would appoint a committee to settle the incident. This group composed of mainlanders and representative Taiwanese, most of whom have since been shot, was to be known as the "Committee to Settle the February 28th Incident" and was to present to him by March 10 their suggestions for the reform of the administration. >>>

“Though efforts of the committee Taipei and the near by port of Keelung became quiet. Students patrolled the streets, keeping order. Many of these students are now dead. Meanwhile the spark ignited in Taipei had spread down the whole length of Taiwan. In the first few days of March the Taiwanese took over the administration of almost every city. As far as can be discovered, they seized control in most instances without the use of firearms. Violence was usually limited to beatings, though some officials were killed. >>>

“On March 7 Chen Yi's committee handed in its recommendations. Reasonably enough, they included the following: that Taiwan be given provincial, not colonial status; that provincial magistrates and city mayors be elected before June; that a larger proportion of Taiwanese be given administrative, police, and judicial posts; that all special police be abolished and no political arrests be permitted; that freedom of press and speech and the right to strike be granted; that managers of all public enterprises be Taiwanese; that committees be elected to supervise these public enterprises and the factories taken over from the Japanese; that the trade and monopoly bureaus be abolished; that the political and economic rights of aborigines be guaranteed; that Taiwanese be appointed to as many army, navy, and airforce posts in Taiwan as possible; that detained "war criminals" be released (Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire for fifty-one years); that the central government repay Taiwan for the expropriated sugar and rice; that garrison headquarters be abolished "to avoid misuse of military might." These proposals were not presented as an ultimatum. They were clearly a basis for negotiation. Chen Yi had already agreed to most of the points. >>>

“At noon on March 8 the commander of the Fourth Gendarme Regiment told the committee that its demands for political reform were "proper," but asked that it withdraw its demand for the abolition of garrisons. He said, "I will guarantee with my life that the central government will not take military action against Taiwan." At this point, although most of the island was still in the hands of the people, Chen Yi could have reached an agreement with them which would have insured the Nanking government's continued control of Taiwan and the cooperation of the Taiwanese. He only needed to move honestly toward reform. But he had at no time any intention of establishing peace by compromise. This was revolt; he would crush it. He was obliged to temporize and deceive until his troops arrived.” >>>

Mass Slaughter After the 2-28 Incident

Peggy Durdin wrote in The Nation, “On the afternoon and evening of March 8, without warning or provocation , the streets of Keelung and Taipei were cleared with gunfire to cover the entry of mainland troops. These reinforcements consisted mainly of the Twenty-first Division, a Szechuan outfit with a reputation for brutality. In the next four or five days more than a thousand unarmed Taiwanese in the Taipei-Keelung area alone were massacred. A year and a half earlier many of them had joyously welcomed the arrival of the Chinese troops. Now truckloads of soldiers armed with machine guns and automatic rifles shot their way through the streets. Soldiers demanded entry into homes, killed the first person who appeared, and looted the premises. Bodies floated thick in Keelung harbor and in the river which flows by Taipei. Twenty young men were castrated, their ears cut off, and their noses slashed. A foreigner watched gendarmes cut off a young boy's hands before bayoneting him because he had not dismounted from his bicycle quickly enough. The radio advised students who had fled from the city to return to their homes, but when they did so they were killed. Any prominent person was in grave danger. By March 14 the killing had tapered off in Taipei. In other cities the terror followed the same pattern. [Source: Peggy Durdin, The Nation, May 24, 1947 >>>]

Ambassador Stuart's memorandum to Chiang Kai-Shek: read: Beginning March 9, there was widespread and indiscriminate killing. Soldiers were seen bayonetting coolies without apparent provocation in front of a Consulate staff residence. Soldiers were seen to rob passerby. An old man protesting the removal of a woman from his house was seen cut down by two soldiers....Young Formosan men were observed tied together, being prodded at bayonet point toward the city limits. A Formosan woman primary school teacher attempting to reach her home was shot in the back and robbed near the mission compound. Anyone thought to be trying to hide or run was shot down. Looting began wherever the soldiers saw something desirable. In the Manka area, near the Consulate, a general sacking by soldiers took place on March 10; many shopkeepers are believed to have been shot. [Source: Ambassador Stuart's memorandum to Chiang Kai-Shek on April 18, 1947]

Tillman Durdin wrote in the New York Times, “Foreigners who have just returned to China from Formosa corroborate reports of wholesale slaughter by Chinese troops and police during anti-Government demonstrations a month ago. These witnesses estimate that 10,000 Formosans were killed by the Chinese armed forces. The killings were described as "completely unjustified" in view of the nature of the demonstrations.The anti-Government demonstrations were said to have been by unarmed persons whose intentions were peaceful. Every foreign report to Nanking denies charges that Communists or Japanese inspired or organized the parades. Foreigners who left Formosa a few days ago say that an uneasy peace had been established almost everywhere, but executions and arrests continued. Many Formosans were said to have fled to the hills fearing they would be killed if they returned to their homes. [Source: Tillman Durdin, New York Times, March 29, 1947 ><]

“An American who had just arrived in China from Taihoku said that troops from the mainland arrived there March 7 and indulged in three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen on the streets was shot at, homes were broken into and occupants killed. In the poorer sections the streets were said to have been littered with dead. There were instances of beheadings and mutilation of bodies, and women were raped, the American said. Two foreign women, who were near at Pingtung near Takao, called the actions of the Chinese soldiers there a "massacre." They said unarmed Formosans took over the administration of the town peacefully on March 4 and used the local radio station to caution against violence. ><

“Chinese were well received and invited to lunch with the Formosan leaders. Later a bigger group of soldiers came and launched a sweep through the streets. The people were machine gunned. Groups were rounded up and executed. The man who had served as the town's spokesman was killed. His body was left for a day in a park and no one was permitted to remove it. A Briton described similar events at Takao, where unarmed Formosans had taken over the running of the city. He said that after several days Chinese soldiers from an outlying fort deployed through the streets killing hundreds with machine-guns and rifles and raping and looting. Formosan leaders were thrown into prison, many bound with thin wire that cut deep into the flesh. ><

“The foreign witnesses reported that leaflets signed with the name of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek promising leniency, and urging all who had fled to return, were dropped from airplanes. As a result many came back to be imprisoned or executed. "There seemed to be a policy of killing off all the best people," one foreigner asserted. The foreigners' stories are fully supported by reports of every important foreign embassy or legation in Nanking. Formosans are reported to be seeking United Nations' action on their case. Some have approached foreign consuls to ask that Formosa be put under the jurisdiction of Allied Supreme Command or be made an American protectorate. Formosan hostility to the mainland Chinese has deepened. Two women who described events at Pingtung said that when Formosans assembled to take over the administration of the town they sang "The Star Spangled Banner." ><

Historical Significance of the 2-28 Incident

According to a committee assembled by National Taiwan University and the Academia Sinica to create the 228 Memorial Foundation: "Governor Chen Yi asked for the dispatch of troops from Nanking. The chairman of the Nationalist government Chiang Kai-shek, without conducting a thorough investigation, responded by sending troops to Taiwan to crack down on (the protesters). On March 8, the 21st Division of the army under the command of general Liu Yu-ching landed (in Keelung) and as the troops moved down to southern part of Taiwan, they began to shoot indiscriminately. On March 10, martial law was declared. The chief of staff of the Garrison Command, general Ke Yuan-fen, the commander of the fort of Keelung, general Shih Hung-hsi, the commander of the fort of Kaohsiung, general Peng Meng-chi, and the chief of the commander of the military police Chang Mu-tao were responsible for the death of many innocent people during the subsequent crackdown and purges. Within a few months, the number of deaths, injured and missing persons amounted to tens of thousands. Keelung, Taipei, Chiayi and Kaohsiung suffered the highest number of casualties. It was called the February 28 Incident." [Source: taiwandc.org]

Dr. Li Thian-hok wrote: “The historical significance of the February 28 Incident may be considered in various different contexts. Viewed against the unique historical heritage of Formosa, the February 28 Incident reflects the ultimate culmination of the evolution of a Formosan race over a period of three centuries. Many factors have contributed to this slow process of evolution. First, the heterogeneous racial, social, and cultural origins of the early settlers. To our promised island came Polynesians, Chinese, Japanese, of Oriental origins; Portuguese, Spaniards and Dutch of Occidental extraction. Although later Chinese blood and cultural pattern became predominant, the absorption of other racial elements in the remote past is indisputably a factor in differentiating the present-day Formosan from the Chinese both in race psychology and physical appearance. Second, the modifying influence of geographical environment. By crossing the Formosan Straits and settling in a wild country, the early immigrants led a very different life from their cousins left behind. In Formosa they worked as pioneers in constant contact and conflict with aboriginal tribesmen and therefore had to be more alert, frugal and industrious than the Chinese people. [Source: Dr. Li Thian-hok, "The February 28th Incident," Newsletter of Formosans for Freeformosa, January 1956 through April 1956]

Thirdly, the strategic geopolitical position of Formosan had made the island historically an object of contest among strong powers. Thus "the history of Formosa reflects a history of endurance by the Formosan people to combat and destroy the control of alien races." This turbulent past has also implanted in us an inherent disposition to fight for our liberty. Fourth, through half century of Japanese rule, despite all its entailing evils, Formosans had come to enjoy a much higher standard of living, literacy, technical advancement, and a rule of law, all of which were virtually unknown in China. (Have you ever heard of the Chinese soldiers who stole bicycles but, unable to ride, carried them on their backs, or the Chinese army communications unit which strung a field line across a main railroad track without allowance for the passing of trains On account of these factors and also because of the fact that Formosans have been isolated from China most of the time since the seventeenth century, the inhabitants of Formosa have slowly transformed into a new race, although they never had an opportunity to discover their new identity. The postwar events and the February 28 Incident served as an impetus to the self-discovery of the Formosans.

In his article "Earth is Thicker Than Blood", which appeared in December, 1955 issue of the Bungei.Shunju, Mr. Shimizu of Japanese Foreign Service narrated an illuminating episode. "Once I made a trip to Takao where I stayed overnight. Because a maid in the hotel spoke such excellent Japanese, and looked like Japanese, I asked: 'Are you a Japanese?' 'No.' She answered. 'A Chinese, then?' ‘No, certainly not!', then I further inquired: ‘Then what are you? If you are neither Japanese nor Chinese'. She suddenly became serious, and declared: 'I am a Formosan'."

Viewed against the background of the Chinese Civil War, the February 28 Incident and the ensuing March Massacres also proved with brutal finality that the Chinese Communists did not win China, but that Chiang Kai-shek and his entourage lost it by their corruption, inefficiency, suppression and murder. The island, when Chiang Kai-shek took over, was a going concern with little or no Communist influence. A few months later, it was little more than a prison house, a paradise turned into a Devil's island Said Mr. George Kerr, American Vice Consul in Taipei in 1947,".... Chen Yi and the Generalissimo have given the Chinese Communists immense advantages in Formosa without Communists having lifted a finger, .. Every educated Formosan now have ample reason to tremble for his life and property; they anticipate a period of violent military suppression, complete economic disruption, uprising and anarchy, all making a fertile field for communism where before Communism was practically non-existent".

However, it is in worldwide perspective that the February 28 Incident has its REVOLUTIONARY significance. Prime Minister U Nu of Burma said at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, on July 3, 1955: "The ideas and ideals, the ringing words and slogans of the American Revolution, have a tremendous emotional importance to all men who struggle for Liberty. In all parts of the world where men live under tyranny, or under foreign domination or in feudal bondage, those who dream and plot and fight for freedom, do so in the name of the eternal principles for which your (American) Revolution was fought. In those parts of the world, the ideas of the American Revolution are today the most explosive of all forces, more explosive in their capacity to change the world than B-52' 5 or even atomic bombs". This is what Adini Stevenson called the "revolution of rising expectations among the awakening people of the world", which prompted more than 635 million people to fight for, and attain their independence after the Second World War.

For us Formosans the February 28 Incident marked the beginning of our struggle for Third Independence, which is actually a part of the global revolution of this mid-century. Although we have a glorious historical past, in which we were the first Asian people to defeat and expel Western colonialism (First Independence of 1661) and the first Asian people to build a republic in the Far East (Second Independence of 1885) and again declared independence on the 9th anniversary of the February 28 Incident by the Provisional Government of the Republic of Taiwan established in Tokyo on February 28, 1956, our eight million fellow Formosans are still suffering under the yoke of Chinese colonialism. In Asia, Mid-East and Africa the peoples of the former colonies are striving for peace, freedom and betterment of human life. This is a century of awakening, a century of revolution. Let us not be left behind! let us again make our beautiful island the country of the free and home of the brave!

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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