Taiwan Communiqué No. 90, March 2000

Taiwan's holocaust

2-28 Commemorations in Taiwan

On 28 February 2000, Taiwan commemorated the 1947 massacre of native Taiwanese by Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist troops, who came over from China and brutally murdered as many as 28,000 to 30,000 Taiwanese, many of whom were leading members in the community and academia.

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Thousands of Taipei's inhabitants flocked to the newly-established 228 Memorial Museum, and hung paper lily flowers and yellow ribbons in the garden around the museum in memory of those who died.

Until just a few years ago, discussion of Taiwan's equivalent of the Holocaust was prohibited by the Chinese Nationalist rulers. Only in 1997 did President Lee Teng-hui make a public apology to the victims' families at the unveiling of the 2-28 monument.

We wish to ask US and European policymakers, legislators, and all citizens to be aware of this dark page in Taiwan's history. Please take a moment and read the two following articles, which were published on 28 February 2000 in the Taipei Times. They present a clear understanding of Taiwan's past, and its future.

228 and cross-strait relations

Taipei Times Editorial (reprinted with permission)

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the 228 Incident _ 228 massacre some might call it, though the actual massacres came later — when a ham-fisted attempt to confiscate smuggled cigarettes on Taipei's Yenping North Road sparked an islandwide rebellion against KMT rule, which was suppressed with extreme brutality by soldiers rushed over from the mainland. Though estimates of how many people were killed vary between 10,000 and 30,000, perhaps much more important than the numbers is the fact that the suppression encompassed the liquidation of a generation of Taiwanese intellectuals and community leaders.

Those who read this newspaper via our Website, and might never have dwelled in Taiwan, would have difficulty understanding the trauma caused by the events of spring 1947. They might especially find it difficult to appreciate the legacy of bitter ethnic hostility between descendents of early immigrants to Taiwan — who now think of themselves as ethnic Taiwanese — and the minority of "mainlander" carpetbaggers and, later, exiles who began arriving in 1945, that cleaves Taiwan society to this day. Yet they should. Because it has a direct impact on the state of cross-strait relations.

It's not that easy, admittedly. Of all the world's countries, Taiwan strikes outsiders as being among those with the least historical baggage. Yet this is due less to the absence of accurate accounts of its past than it is to the suppression of those accounts in the aftermath of the 228 Incident. The event simply has had no closure, partly because for 40 years mention of it was forbidden, on pain of torture and jail.

It wasn't the excesses of the crushing of the rebellion that made 228 such an incendiary subject, though these, of course, were the origin of much of the ethnic hostility that exists to this day. Rather, it was the reason for the uprising. Following Taiwan's reversion to Chinese control at the end of WWII, it took the KMT authorities just 18 months to convince the people of Taiwan that their new masters were vastly inferior, more corrupt, more lawless, and more arbitrary, than their Japanese predecessors. But the KMT was not about to be reminded of this.

Taiwan is now a democracy, the KMT has been localized, the mainlanders' political hegemony is a thing of the past and Taiwan has become one of the most open and pluralistic societies in Asia.

Tragically, however, Taiwanese are as much prisoners of their past as anyone else. The lack of closure — still — on 228 convinces most of them that nothing is to be got from China but violence and terror. The last time Taiwan was "reunited with the motherland" the consequences were terrible. The regime which now covets Taiwan doesn't even pretend to share the values of Taiwan society and has only one clear argument for reunification — a gun to the head, as manifested in last week's now notorious white paper.

Days of remembrance usually have a moral point to them, something along the line of "never again." And many Taiwanese see the best way of avoiding repetition of the events of 1947 is to keep intolerant Chinese governments at arm's length. Thus, those who talk of reunification as if it were viable as an option, even a mere consideration — Lien Chan, James Soong, US foreign policy mavens — have to counter a collective historical memory according to which Taiwan has already been there, done that, and bitterly rued the consequences.

Lessons for current politics

By Li Thian-hok Li, board member at large of FAPA and chair of the Diplomacy Committee of WUFI-USA. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on February 28th 2000. Reprinted with permission.

Today is the fifty-third anniversary of the 228 Incident. As we remember the events of March 1947 and pay homage to the many heroes and victims who sacrificed their lives, what lessons can we draw for today's Taiwan?

The spontaneous islandwide revolt against the corruption and incompetence of General Chen Yi and his cohorts was accompanied by an ardent desire for self-rule. Taiwanese leaders from all major cities set up a committee and worked hard to present Chen Yi with a series of proposals to eliminate government abuses and to institute local autonomy.

Playing for time, Chen Yi agreed to negotiate while he secretly called for reinforcements from China. On March 8 1947, Chiang Kai-shek's troops arrived. What followed was a wanton massacre which included many community leaders.

Taiwan faces a similar situation today. China is anxious to acquire Taiwan as a strategic base to fulfill its expansionist ambitions in East Asia and beyond. For the next couple of years it cannot be sure of victory if it invades Taiwan. However, by 2005, according to the US Department of Defense, it will have the capability to overwhelm Taiwan's defenses. So Beijing is presenting "generous" terms under the "one country, two systems" scheme, while at the same time preparing for a massive, multi-pronged military assault against Taiwan.

So what policies do the three presidential candidates propose to cope with the looming conflict? They all seem to be proposing measures which are the exact opposite of the measures needed to protect Taiwan's security. Instead of informing the people of the stark dangers facing the country and uniting the people in a common resolve to defend Taiwan's freedom, we hear instead of unrestricted investment in the China market, establishment of the three links and dialogue on the ultimate status of Taiwan. The topic of unification is often raised, but that of independence is generally ignored.

Chances are China will invade once it is ready, regardless of the Taiwan government's China policy stance at the time. A war can be averted, of course, if the Taiwanese elect to capitulate first. However, there is no assurance that a massacre, perhaps on a scale far larger than that of 1947, can be avoided after the surrender. The Taiwanese will again find themselves at the mercy of a brutal conquering army from China.

To preserve their political and economic achievements, the Taiwanese will have to clearly demonstrate to the rest of the world their determination to maintain their democracy. Unilateral gestures of goodwill and deference to Chinese leaders in the face of continuing Chinese intransigence can only hurt the dignity and morale of the Taiwanese.

Taiwan is a thriving free market economy and a promising, emerging democracy. It is a de facto independent state with modern armed forces. For the first time in its 400 years of history, the Taiwanese have a realistic opportunity to be masters of their own destiny. To live with dignity and free from fear, the Taiwanese must be willing to fight for their hard-won freedom.

This generation of Taiwanese needs to rediscover the courage exhibited by the many heroes of the 228 incident.

New Zealander's 2-28 manuscript donated

One of the highpoints of this year's commemoration was the visit to Taipei of Colin Shackleton, the son of a Allan Shackleton, a New Zealander who wrote a gripping account of the 2-28 events after serving on the island in 1947 as an United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation (UNRRA) officer. Mr. Shackleton donated his father's manuscript titled "Formosa Calling, an Eyewitness Account of Taiwan's 2-28 Incident", to the 228 Memorial Museum in Taipei.

"It's a great pleasure to donate this manuscript to the people of Taiwan. If my father were here today, I am sure he would be greatly honored," said 63-year-old Colin Shackleton at a ceremony held in the 228 Memorial Museum. Also donated to the museum were his father's photos taken during his stay in Taiwan from 1946 to 1947, and the typewriter he used to produce the manuscript.

The English-language edition of the book was published in 1998 by Taiwan Communiqué (see issues no. 79 p. 18 and no. 81 p. 23). It is available by sending $US 15.-- to our address in Chevy Chase, MD. Other countries add US$ 3.-- for airmail postage.

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