This year marked the first time that the February 28th Incident of 1947 was commemorated under the auspices of the administration of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). During the years of its evolution and the transition towards a democratic political system on the island, the 1947 Incident was an important rallying call, and a reminder of the repressiveness of the mainlander-dominated Kuomintang, which came over from China after World War II.
During the 1950s through the mid-1980s, the period of Taiwan's repressive martial law, the Kuomintang didn't even allow any discussion of the incident, and any people trying to raise the issue were arrested and imprisoned.
In the period from the second half of the 1980s through the mid-1990s, the native Taiwanese democratic opposition was able to bring the issue to the forefront through demonstrations and annual commemorations, finally prompting President Lee Teng-hui's government to acknowledge that the massacre had occurred and initiating compensation for the families of the victims. In 1998, the day was formally declared a public holiday, 228 Memorial Day.
Earlier this year, the DPP government took a peculiar step backwards when it decided to change the status of the day from formal public holiday to memorial day. The discussion took place in the context of the implementation of a shorter workweek. Under pressure from business and industry the government was reviewing existing public holidays which could be "downgraded."
Fortunately, the decision to change the status of public holidays does require legislative action. However, the cabinet was late in notifying the Legislative Yuan, and the Kuomintang-dominated legislature was too busy trying to impeach the President in the Nuclear Four power plant case. So, this year 228 was still an official public holiday, but if the Taiwanese people don't speak up, next year it won't.
Taiwan Communiqué comment: We fully agree with the Taipei Times when it wrote in an editorial on 26 February 2001:
The 228 incident is, quite simply, the most significant historical event in modern Taiwanese history. The repercussions of this tragic defining moment haunt Taiwan to this day and have been hugely important in creating a Taiwanese national identity, a Taiwanese sense of nationhood. To get this day acknowledged at all under the previous KMT regime took tremendous effort. Now, ironically it is a DPP government that wants to downgrade this landmark in the raising of Taiwanese consciousness to a status as peripheral to this society as Opium Suppression Movement Day (June 3, by the way).
What adds insult to injury is that 228 memorial day is the only national holiday in Taiwan that marks something that actually happened here. Even National Day on Oct. 10 marks something that happened in another country to another people.
The significance of the 228 Incident was also put into words most eloquently in the following article.
By Li Thian-hok. Mr. Li is a prominent member of the Taiwanese-American community who lives in Pennsylvania.
Taiwan's 228 Incident and the Tiananmen Square Incident share a number of similarities. Both derived from movements for reform, rather than outright revolts. In the former, the Settlement Committee, consisting of community leaders from all major cities in Taiwan, had asked for an end to official corruption and the establishment of local autonomy. In the latter, the students in the square merely petitioned for the elimination of corruption and freedom of the press, speech and assembly.
In both cases, however, the government deliberately misrepresented the nature of the protest. General Chen Yi said the Taiwan disturbance was the handiwork of a small group of hooligans and communist agitators. In China, Bo Yibo said: "The people with ulterior motives who are behind this student movement have support from the US and Europe and from the KMT reactionaries in Taiwan."
Both protests were terminated by brute force and the widespread killing of unarmed citizens. The KMT soldiers massacred 28,000 citizens, first indiscriminately and then systematically targeting community leaders. The PLA killed some 3,000 students and civilians in and around Tiananmen Square.
Both events are significant because of the effect they had on the destiny of Taiwan and China. In Taiwan, the massacre after the incident forced Taiwanese to realize that they were quite distinct from the "mainland" Chinese in their value systems and their political culture.
The incident sowed the seeds of the Taiwan independence movement. Given a free choice, without the threat of military invasion by China, a great majority of the people on Taiwan would opt for independence any day. The Communist Party of China (CPC) has lost the mandate of heaven. The Tiananmen massacre marked the beginning of the end for the CPC's monopoly of power.
The regime is unpopular and plagued with endemic corruption and expanding official abuse of power, including the widespread torture of dissidents and religious practitioners. China's environment is deteriorating quickly and thousands of riots and demonstrations involving disgruntled workers and farmers take place across China each year. The Beijing government is clinging to power with brute force.
What lessons can people in Taiwan learn from these two events?
While the CPC regime may be doomed in the long run, it is trying to legitimize its rule by fanning expansionist nationalism and by diverting its people's passion to the "sacred" national goal of liberating Taiwan. A calamity similar to the 1947 massacre could befall the people of Taiwan again, unless they can demonstrate their courage and resolve to defend their hard-won freedom, and thereby win the support of fellow democracies.
On the 54th anniversary of the 228 Incident, it is prudent to ponder the consequences of "political integration with China." First, Taiwan's democracy will be dismantled, just as the Goddess of Freedom was quickly toppled in Beijing. Freedom of expression, religion and assembly will be suppressed. Second, all private property will be confiscated. The standard of living will plunge to the level of the Chinese people. Finally, life under CPC rule will be devoid of dignity. The life of every citizen will be at the mercy of the CPC's coercion.
If Taiwan were to fall into China's grasp, peacefully or otherwise, Beijing's ambitions for hegemony over East Asia and beyond would get a hefty boost. PLA strategists are already openly discussing a war with the US. In such a conflict, Taiwanese youth will be drafted into the PLA and forced to fight on the wrong side of history. Do the people of Taiwan really wish to fight for the hegemony of China and against the forces of democracy and freedom?
If the people of Taiwan want a bright future, then the goal should not be "a future `one China.'" A bright future can only come from an independent existence apart from China. The Chen Shui-bian government's strategy should be to maintain the status quo indefinitely while preserving free choice based on the principle of self-determination. This requires courage, wisdom and fortitude. Active preparation to resist Chinese military aggression is also vital. Failure to adopt such a policy portends a disastrous and dark future for Taiwan.
The people of Taiwan can best honor the memory of the fallen heroes of 228 by resolutely defending their sovereignty and democracy. By doing so, they can also hasten the day that the dreams of the Tiananmen victims are realized in China.
This article was first published in the Taipei Times on 28 February 2001. Reprinted with permission.
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