Immediately following Chinese New Year, Taiwan commemorates perhaps its most important + historically controversial national holiday: 2/28.
Here, I will attempt to explain the history of the date + holiday in the simplest possible way (with help from various sources including wiki).
In February of 1947, Taiwan was in a state of flux. Japan, Taiwan’s colonial ruler for 50 years, had lost WWII + when Japan’s empire fell apart in 1945, the USA + Allied Forces handed over control of Taiwan’s government to the Kuomintang (KMT)-led Republic of China. By 1947, many Taiwanese were unhappy with the corruption that they were witnessing within the KMT + resentful that they were being treated as second-class citizens by their new government.
The 228 Massacre (also known as the 228 Incident) was set off when a KMT official pistol-whipped a businesswoman during a dispute about contraband cigarettes. The surrounding crowd took issue, had words with the officials + a shot was fired by an official, killing someone in the crowd. An uprising followed + violence raged for days.
The exact number of people who lost their lives at this time is unknown as records are incomplete, but 10,000-30,000 civilians were killed by the ROC military during the 228 Massacre.
The incident prompted the beginning of the White Terror, the KMT’s 40-year martial rule of Taiwan, during which time thousands more Taiwanese vanished, died, or were imprisoned. It also gave rise to the Taiwanese independence movement, also furiously crushed by the KMT during the White Terror. I have discussed some of these things in an earlier post about family friend, Milo Thornberry’s book, The Fireproof Moth.
The 228 Massacre was a taboo subject until 1995, when President Lee Teng-hui became the first Taiwanese head of state to address the event. Now, February 28 is known as Peace Memorial Day (和平纪念日, hépíng jìniànrì) + there are 228 monuments + parks throughout Taiwan in memory of those who lost their lives during the massacre.
The 2/28 Parade in Taipei kicks off each year with the current President (this year, President Ma, pictured above) honoring the family members of the 228 victims by bowing + presenting them with certificates that exonerate the victims of crimes they might have been charged with, many having been blacklisted as enemies of the state. According to Mo Yan-chih of the Taipei Times, this year those honored were, “The family of 228 victim Chiang Shih-chin (蔣時欽)…and son of Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), an important figure in Taiwan’s resistance against Japanese colonial rule.”
Upon presenting the certificates, President Ma (a member of the KMT) promised that he would urge the Ministry of Education to focus on including more information about the incident in Taiwan’s school curricula. He also promised that the truth of the tragedy would be uncovered + that he would promote human rights.
In Taipei on 2/28, there were also concerts, speeches + other festivities. While I did not attend those, I was lucky enough to get to CKS Memorial (the incredibly ironic end point for this year’s parade) just before the parade came in.
I was very moved by the small, yet powerful group marching on 228. I feel very lucky to have been able to witness this event.
I am currently obsessed with this song by new artist, Laura Mvula. I wish this much joy for all. Peace, friends.