Taiwan Communiqué No. 74, February 1997

"28 February 1947"

Taiwan's Holocaust Remembered

The date "February 28" is etched into the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people like the word "Holocaust" in the history of the Jewish people. On that day, 50 years ago in 1947, an incident took place in Taipei, which led to the massive slaughter of thousands of Taiwanese at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese troops.

After the end of World War II, the Allied Forces left the occupation of Taiwan to Chiang, who was still holding on to large parts of China with his Nationalist forces. The Taiwanese, who had been under Japanese rule from 1895 through 1945, initially welcomed the Chinese Nationalist forces. But their joy soon changed into sorrow and anger, when the new authorities turned out to be repressive and corrupt.

The 28 February 1947 arrest of a woman selling cigarettes without a license was the spark which led to large-scale public protests against repression and corruption. For some ten days, Chiang still on the mainland and his governor Chen Yi kept up the pretense of negotiations with leaders of the protest movement, but at the same time they sent troops from the mainland.

As soon as the troops arrived, they started rounding up and executing people, in particular scholars, lawyers, doctors, students and local leaders of the protest movement. In total between 18,000 and 28,000 people were murdered. Thousands of others were arrested and imprisoned in the "White Terror" campaign which took place in the following decade. Many of these remained imprisoned until the early 1980s.

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. 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.

After Chiang's military collapse and retreat to Formosa the situation became even worse. As American emotional commitment to Chiang became more fervent, Formosan hope for American or United Nations intervention or understanding faded and died.

George H. Kerr, "Formosa Betrayed."

History of Repression

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.

It was the courageous work of an American diplomat, who helped document the event: Mr. George H. Kerr worked at the US Consulate in Taipei at the time of the massacre, and observed many atrocities in person. He later on set out to write down his observations and research, which was published in 1965 as "Formosa Betrayed", published by Houghton Mifflin, and republished in 1992 by the Taiwan Publishing Co., Irvine CA, fax (714) 863-3141.

Other important sources of information on the incident and the massacre are the writings of New York Times journalists Henry R. Lieberman and Tillman Durdin and his wife Peggy Durdin. Tillman Durdin's most extensive article on the tragic events, "Formosa killings are put at 10,000, foreigners say the Chinese slaughtered demonstrators without provocation," was published in the New York Times on 29 March 1947. Peggy Durdin wrote two haunting essays in The Nation: "Terror in Taiwan" on 24 May 1947 and "Taiwan: China's unhappy colony" on 7 June 1947.

Police on trucks roamed Taipeh 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.

Newsweek, 7 April 1947

When the harsh martial law was lifted in 1987, the newly-formed Taiwanese democratic opposition 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).

An inscription for the 2-28 monument

A "2-28 Monument" was unveiled in Taipei in February 1995, which was designed by Mr. Cheng Tze-tsai, a former political prisoner. 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 1995 dedication.

However, recently a committee consisting of scholars from National Taiwan University and the Academia Sinica started to draft a new memorial text, which does hold the Kuomintang government responsible for the massacre. On 22 January 1997, the Liberty Times in Taipei reported that the new text for the memorial had been completed and approved by the board of the 228 Memorial Foundation. It will be inscribed on the 228 monument to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the incident.

The committee which was responsible for drafting the text met more than 20 times to carefully weigh the meaning of each word. The most sensitive issue was whether Chiang Kai-shek's name should be mentioned as bearing responsibility for the massacre. Finally the majority of the committee members voted in favor of including Chiang's name. The following is a translation of the text describing the massacre:

"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."

The military cover-up continues

However, on the side of the military, the cover-up still continues. The democratic opposition has 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. He was subsequently promoted to be governor of Fukien, but was later ordered to be executed by Chiang Kai-shek. Many military men involved in the massacre 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 lived in retirement in Monterey Park in Southern California, and passed away recently.

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 cannot get 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.

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