- - Sunday, February 26, 2017


This year Beijing will stand in solidarity with Taiwan and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the “228 Massacre.” On Feb. 28, 1947 Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) security forces stopped Lin Jiang-mai, a Taiwanese widow, for illegal cigarette sales. The KMT officers confiscated Mrs. Lin’s cash and wares. They struck her on the head repeatedly for resisting.

This unsavory confrontation between a Taiwanese widow and police from the mainland sparked the indignation of locals. They gathered and protested the treatment of Mrs. Lin. Chiang Kai-shek’s forces fired into a crowd of protesters, killing one and wounding several others. The indiscriminate shooting sparked riots against Chiang’s government in cities throughout the island.

In quashing the unrest, mainland forces killed between 18,000 and 28,000 Taiwanese locals over the next few weeks. This tragedy served as prologue to a 38-year period of martial law rule under the Chiangs that is known as the “White Terror.”

Taiwanese refer to the “228 Massacre” as frequently as mainland Chinese speak of the “Century of Humiliation,” which began with the Opium Wars with Britain in 1839 and only ended with Mao’s military victory over Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in 1949.

In 2016 Taiwan’s President Ma Ying Jeou, then president of Taiwan and KMT party leader, apologized publicly for this brutal crackdown at the 228 Memorial in Taipei’s Peace Park. Still some descendants of 228 victims in attendance refused to shake Ma’s hand because of his KMT affiliation and called for the dismantling of the massive memorial to Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei.

Taiwan’s deep-seeded outrage extends beyond Chiang Kai-shek, however, to his fellow mainlander Chairman Mao and to anyone else who claims that Taiwan must be returned to Beijing. Unlike Koreans who decry the negatives of Japan’s colonial rule there between 1905 and 1945, most Taiwanese have cultivated a favorable view of their 50-year colonial experience (1895-1945) that immediately preceded the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT.

Every year near the city of Tainan, for instance, Taiwanese farmers gather to lay flowers and offer a respectful bow before the stone sculpture of Koichi Hatta, a Japanese colonial official. Hatta is so fondly remembered for changing “the face of agriculture” in Taiwan that a memorial park has been established in honor of him and his wife. Taiwanese newspapers also fondly and frequently recall the contributions of Japan to Taiwan’s architecture, rail system, and irrigation systems. Part of this affinity for Japan stems from the draconian practices of the KMT leaders who followed them. For the Taiwanese, the KMT was far more repressive than Japan.

Although politically Taiwan has trodden ever so carefully in its relations with China, a significant portion of the population have bought into the polemic that Taiwan was never really a part of China. They recognize that the Qing dynasty assumed control of Taiwan in 1683 following four decades of Dutch rule and two decades of Taiwanese independence. However, they maintain that the Qing dynasty never established sovereignty over the western portion of the island and that that only happened when Japan gained control in 1895. They point out that the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty did not specify whether Taiwan should be returned to China or have independence.

While the 1952 Treaty of Taipei signed by Japan and Chiang’s Republic of China did specify that Taiwan was a part of China, supporters of independence argue that it has no validity because it was negotiated and signed by Chiang Kai-shek who was a dictator from the mainland and not Taiwanese. The pro-Chiang mainlanders who arrived in 1949 and their descendants today represent only 15 percent of the total Taiwanese population.

In a March 2016 survey reported by the China Post, 73 percent of polled Taiwan inhabitants self-identified as “Taiwanese” with only 11 percent identifying themselves as “Chinese.” Another 10 percent described themselves as “both Taiwanese and Chinese.”

Only 4% welcomed “early unification!” with the Chinese mainland.

Beijing has ventured into a minefield by deciding to commemorate the 228 Incident. Chinese often remind Americans of the need to understand China’s Century of Humiliation. For their part, the Chinese need to understand the 228 Incident better. For decades that event has influenced Taiwanese attitudes towards the Chinese mainland. Let’s hope that Beijing’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the 228 Massacre can go smoothly and have a positive impact on cross-strait relations.

Thomas J. Ward is dean of the College of Public and International Affairs at the University of Bridgeport and in 2016 was a visiting scholar at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History in Taipei.

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