Remembering ``28 February 1947''

A Memorial to Taiwan's Holocaust

On 28 February 1995, a monument was unveiled in Taipei in remembrance of the ``February 28 Incident'' of 1947, when Chiang Kai-shek sent troops from the mainland to suppress public protests by the native Taiwanese against the corruption and repression of the occupying Kuomintang regime, which took control of the island following the end of World War II. The troops murdered between 18,000 and 28,000 people, many of them scholars, lawyers, doctors, students and local leaders, and imprisoned many more in the ``White Terror'' campaign which took place in the following decade.

February 28 monument
The new "February 28" Memorial in Taipei

Until a few years ago, the events of 1947 were a taboo subject on the island. The Kuomintang authorities did not want to be reminded of their dark past, and the people did not dare to speak out for fear of retribution by the KMT's secret police.

However, in 1987 the democratic opposition of the DPP and the courageous Presbyterian Church started to push the Kuomintang authorities to stop covering up the facts, and to come to a full airing of the matter. It wasn't until 1990 that the Kuomintang finally decided -- albeit reluctantly -- to open the records. In 1992 President Lee asked for reconciliation and decided that a monument would be built in Taipei (other memorials had been built earlier by DPP County Magistrates, the main ones in Chiayi and Pingtung).

Another reason to commemorate February 28th is to remind the Kuomintang authorities that the Lin family murder remains unsolved: on this day in 1980 the mother and twin-daughters of Mr. Lin Yi-hsiung were murdered in their home in Taipei in broad daylight. Mr. Lin is a prominent opposition leader, who was imprisoned at the time for his involvement in Formosa Magazine, a publication which was pushing for democracy and human rights on the island. Until now the Kuomintang authorities have failed to resolve the murder, although there were clear indications of involvement of the KMT's secret police.

The February 28 Monument which was unveiled in Taipei was designed by Mr. Cheng Tze-tsai, a former political prisoner.

President Lee apologizes

During the ceremonies on February 28, President Lee Teng-hui finally made an apology to the families of the victims of the incident. President Lee in his speech acknowledged ``mistakes made by the government'' and expressed his ``most sincere apology.'' He asked for ``forgiveness,'' so that ``we can transform hostility and sadness into harmony and peace.''

He also admonished that ``this memorial serves as a warning to keep us vigilant so that we never make the same mistake again.'' He promised to continue the process of healing by ``opening up historical records, offering compensation to the families of victims, and proclaiming February 28 as a memorial day.'' It was a significant step in the direction of reconciliation between the native Taiwanese majority on the island and those who came over from the mainland after World War II.

However, the event was marred by a controversy over the inscription for the monument: families of the victims found the inscription prepared by the Executive Yuan unacceptable because it tried to whitewash the incident and attempted to rationalize the policies of the KMT on the bloody 1947 crackdown. Thus, the plaque was left blank on the day of dedication.

The Legislative Yuan passes Compensation

On 22 March 1995, the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, after a heated debate, approved a proposal to grant compensation of up to NT$ six million (US$ 230,000) to relatives of persons who were killed, injured, or imprisoned in 1947 and subsequent years. The law that was passed also stipulated that February 28 would be declared a ``Peace Memorial Day.''

The democratic opposition of the DPP had pressed for a higher compensation amount, and argued that the compensation should be paid from the Kuomintang bulging party coffers and not by the taxpayers.

The cover-up continues

The DPP also urged the government to identify those responsible for the massacre and to prosecute those who are still alive. According to historical records the then-Governor Chen Yi was a key figure, and many military men involved in the murders later rose to high positions in the Kuomintang hierarchy. Most of these are now in retirement, some in the United States.

According to a report in the Far Eastern Economic Review (Past Time, 23 March 1995), a former body guard of Governor Chen Yi, Mr. Shu Tao, also implicated Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek himself: Mr. Shu recently told a press conference in Taipei that he was present when the then Governor received a telegram from Chiang ordering him to suppress any opposition. According to Shu, the message was chillingly concise: ``Kill them all, keep it secret.''

Mr. Shu was then ordered to pass the telegram on to general Ke Yuan-fen, then chief of the Command of State Security, the forerunner of the infamous Taiwan Garrison Command. Mr. Ke is considered one of the people primarily responsible for the atrocities during and after the 1947 Incident. Historians in Taiwan believe the document could be among the personal papers of general Ke, who is living in retirement in Monterey Park in Southern California.

Another person responsible for the tragedy, General Peng Meng-chi, is living in retirement in Taiwan. He conducted a reign of terror in the southern city of Kaohsiung, and was often referred to as the ``Butcher of Kaohsiung.'' Up until now the Kuomintang authorities have failed to charge him for the crimes he committed.

Scholars who want to conduct research about the February 28 incident complain that they do not have direct access to a number of government archives. Although the Executive Yuan's Ad Hoc Committee on 2-28 Incident has so far issued two volumes of findings from the archives, the Department of Defense continues to refuse to make public records in its archives covering the period from 1945 to 1950.

Back to: Taiwan's 400 years of history

Last modified 2 June 1996