228 has come and passed. On this particular day schools are closed and adults don’t have to go to work, with news about statues of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正) getting pulled down and portraits getting splashed with red paint being broadcast all day. Yet people are beginning to forget why we have the holiday in the first place.
71 years ago a tragedy occurred, a series of conflicts between the Kuomintang (KMT) government and the people of Taiwan that would be later known as the 228 incident. It all started on February 27th, 1947 because a government official accidentally killed a citizen when investigating illegal cigarettes. Outrage broke out in Taipei and on the very next day with people protesting in front of government buildings, demanding police to bring the suspect to justice. However, what waited there was military police opening fire on the crowd. People in Taipei were enraged by the government so they occupied Taipei Broadcast Station. Then things just went from bad to worse.
Protests sprung across the island like wildfire with Taiwanese beating new Chinese residents, resulting a few deaths. The government felt the situation was out of hand so they passed an emergency law and started to negotiate with elites and local leaders. From the meetings with both sides, some demands were made by the people and promises were made by the government. As things began to settle down, the government secretly called for military support from across the Strait. Although the central government clearly stated that military force must not be used on civilians, the leader of the time, Chen Yi (陳儀), disobeyed orders and started eliminating dissidents on the island. This massacre continued for more than 60 days, and the result was unforgivable. What made it worse was that when the Republic of China (ROC) government lost its control over the Mainland and retreated to Taiwan, in order to remain in power, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正) initiated harsh martial law over the island. This era known as the “White Terror” and lasted for three decades. The White Terror came to an end at the beginning of the 90s as freedom started to grow across Taiwan.
As freedom of speech became a right, people started to talk about 228 again, and began repairing their lives and recovering from the pain. First the legislature prayed for the victims, and in 1996 the President finally apologized for the horrible things the KMT had done. From that time on people started to hold memorial meetings and built monuments to remind us not to repeat history.
Yet more than three decades have passed since the 90s, and people are starting to forget why there is a holiday on the last day of February. As the media focuses on minor local news, there were few reports on the central memorial meetings of 228. With the victims of the tragedy slowly fading into history and 228 turned into more of a political discussion rather a pain that Taiwanese bear together, history might just repeat itself again.
In order to prevent tragedy from ever happening again, Taiwanese people need to wake up, because there is no better way to change a person than changing his or her perspective. Education is the best way to do this; current textbooks scratch the surface of the history in that era. Students need to know what exactly happened during 228 in details. Also, the KMT should apologize for what they had done as they are the people who were in power during that time. Furthermore, the government should put in more resources into 228 research and compensate the family members of the 228 victims. Last but not least – all the people on this island need to cooperate to keep 228 as an day for regret and sorrow, definitely not a day for you to talk about your political opinions.
With people knowing the importance of 228 and taking action, the wounds might someday heal, although there is no way of changing the past. The only thing we can do is prevent history from repeating itself and hope that those who follow us will do just the same. That’s the reason why 228 still matters.