Taiwan Independence and the 2-28 Incident
February 24, 2000
February 28, 1947
Executive Summary: Four days from now it will be February 28th, 2000. Fifty-three years ago, in 1947, the infamous “2-28 Incident” began as a street riot and ended with the death of thousands. With the ROC’s presidential elections scheduled for March 18, a mere two weeks later, you can bet your life the Taiwan separatist elite is going to milk the tragic occasion for all it’s worth.
The only problem is, the Taiwan separatist elite is going to be milking the wrong date.
What am I talking about? Read on.
The Vaclav Havel of Taiwan
Former political prisoner Li Ao, Taiwan’s foremost scholar and historian, hosts two nightly political talk shows on cable TV. A few years ago Li, a cross between Vaclav Havel and Rush Limbaugh, published a history of the 2-28 Incident, entitled “The 2-28 You Don’t Know,” in which he turns the conventional wisdom surrounding the tragedy upside down, or more accurately, rightside up. During Chiang Kai-shek’s White Terror Li was a guest of Taiwan’s “Club Fed” for eight years. He was imprisoned for “subversive activities,” i.e., authoring or publishing op-ed pieces denouncing the late Generalissimo as a dictator. Li spent his time in prison reading voluminously, and became a walking encyclopedia of Chinese history, including the history of post WWII Taiwan.
Fomenter of Taiwan Independence?
One of the charges levelled against Li was “fomenting Taiwan independence.” The charge was utterly ludicrous. Li has never harbored anything but undisguised contempt for both the Taiwan “independence” leadership and its ideology.
Li however has alway harbored a deep and abiding respect for untrammelled freedom of expression. While the current crop of opportunistic, Radical Chic Taiwan separatists were hiding out in America, safe from Chiang’s White Terror, the iconoclastic Li stubbornly remained in Taiwan and fought tooth and nail for the release of political prisoners, including former DPP Chairman Shih Ming-teh, former DPP Chairman Hsu Hsing-liang, and former DPP Taipei Mayor Chen Sui-bian.
Even militant Taiwan separatists dare not treat Li Ao with anything but respect and deference. They owe him, big time, and they know it. No, the opinionated, obnoxious, egotistical Li Ao cannot be dismissed as an apologist for the Chiang Kai-shek/Chiang Ching-kuo controlled KMT, much less a “holocaust denier.”
Currently three of the four former political prisoners: Li Ao, Hsu Hsing-liang, and Chen Shui-bian, are candidates for president of the Republic of China.
[Note: I later learned that Chen Shui-bian was never a “political prisoner.” He was convicted in civil court of falsely accusing a rival of plagiarism. He later spun his conviction as “political persecution.”]
Chen Shui-bian is the separatist DPP’s candidate. Chen now pays hypocritical lip service to reunification in public in order to deceive moderate voters whom he desperately needs to win. Meanwhile, away from the attention of the international media, surrounded by rabid Taiwan independence crowds, he shouts “Long live Taiwan independence!”
Former DPP Chairman Hsu Hsing-liang, who once colluded with KMT Chairman Lee Teng-hui to eliminate the Taiwan Provincial Government, in flagrant violation of the ROC Constitution, has since undergone a genuine “Road to Damascus” conversion. Hsu now denounces Chen Shui-bian’s obsession with Taiwanese separatism as a menace to Taiwan’s economic future and East Asian regional peace and stability.
Li Ao is the reformist and pro-reunification New Party’s candidate. Li and the New Party have long advocated a wide range of eminently sensible and far-sighted cross-Straits policies, which the rival political parties on Taiwan have only recently come to realize they must endorse, however reluctantly. Li and the New Party’s thanks for being ahead of the curve? Kneejerk demonization as “traitors to Taiwan.”
The 2-28 You Don’t Know
Li’s book, available in Chinese only, is entitled “The 2-28 You Don’t Know.” In it he supplies critical key missing pieces of “lost” history concerning the 2-28 Incident which DPP propagandists and Taiwan independence websites conveniently forget to mention. Li Ao reveals that the 2-28 Incident is a misnomer. The militant separatists who want to play up Ming Nan Taiwanese victimization are playing up the wrong date, and hence the wrong name for the incident.
Chen Shui-bian, former DPP Mayor of Taipei, upon asssuming office promptly declared that henceforce February 28 would be known as “2-28 Memorial Day” and played up the victimization of “Taiwanese” with a “2-28 Memorial Museum” and “2-28 Monument” in a “2-28 Memorial Park.” The Taiwan separatist elite alleges that 10,000, 20,000 or even 30,000 “Taiwanese” died at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT troops. Well, Li Ao asks some rather pointed questions about this factoid surrounding 2-28.
An Incident by Any Other Name
An event termed the “2-28 Incident” most certainly did happen. During this 2-28 Incident thousands of innocent people most certainly were murdered.
The problem is that the 2-28 Incident should be commemorated not by the Taiwan independence victimologists, but by the surviving family members of “mainlanders.” Mainlanders, not “Taiwanese” were the primary victims of the 2-28 Incident.
“Taiwanese,” so-called, were the main victims of a subsequent incident which began on March 10, and which ought to be termed, but is not, the “3-10 Incident.” That’s when mainland troop reinforcements from Fujian arrived to suppress the rioting and began a My Lai/Tiananmen style massacre of rioters.
Cigarettes May Be Harmful to your Health
Between February 28 and March 10, 1947, Taiwanese separatists, including fanatical diehards of Japanese descent who resented giving back Taiwan to China, went on a rampage murdering mainland” Chinese. The mindset of these Japanese diehards was remarkably similar to that of fanatical holdouts discovered decades later holed up in dark caves on remote South Pacific islands.
What touched off this massacre was an attempt on February 27 by a “mainlander” policeman to confiscate black market cigarettes from a elderly “Taiwanese” woman street vendor in Taipei, who resisted. The policeman and the woman scuffled, and an indignant crowd gathered. The crowd surrounded the policeman and threated to overpower him. He pulled out his handgun and fired a warning shot into the air to force them to back off. The shot went wild, accidentally killing a curiosity seeker who had emerged from a neighboring house to see what the commotion was about. Contrary to usual tellings of the story the woman was not the person shot. The crowd quickly turned into a mob, chased the officer to his precinct station and surrounded it. They demanded the precinct captain hand him over to be lynched on the spot. The captain refused.
In yet another bitter irony, the cigarette and liquor taxes which played such a central role in sparking the riots, were an unrepealed vestige of Japanese colonial rule. China traditionally never had government restrictions on either the private manufacture of tobacco products or alcoholic beverages. For thousands of years it has been completely legal for private citizens in China to make their own “homebrew” or “moonshine.”
Rodney King and Reginald Denny
Prior to this, mutual resentment had simmered for two years, somewhat akin to the undercurrent of animosity between Korean merchants and African-American store customers in Los Angeles. The February 27 altercation was all it took to ignite the fuse. For four straight days angry Taiwanese rioters ran beserk through the streets of Taiwan’s major metropolitan areas, somewhat akin to the way rioters ran beserk through South Central L.A. following the Rodney King verdict.
Like the L.A. rioters who dragged truck driver Reginald Denny from his vehicle and smashed him over the head with bricks merely because he was white, Taiwanese separatists accosted anyone on the street who couldn’t speak Japanese and was, ipso facto, considered a “mainlander.” They murdered them and threw their bodies into the then ubiquitous drainage ditches.
Some ultramilitant Taiwanese Quislings and Japanese diehards even donned occupation era Japanese uniforms, samurai swords, and wafted Japanese battle flags with sunray designs through the streets, while rounding up mainlanders to be slaughtered.
Ann Frank and Oskar Schindler
Decent Taiwan Chinese who chose their friends on the basis of personal affinities (the “content of their character”) and not primitive tribal affiliations, hid mainlander friends and neighbors in their closets, the way sympathetic Gentiles hid Ann Frank and her family from Nazi house to house sweeps, and Oskar Schindler saved the lives of Jews assigned to his factories.
Following Japan’s unconditional surrender, Koreans wreaked perfectly understandable vengeance against their former Japanese overlords, thousands of whom were killed by angry mobs who had lost loved ones during Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula.
Meanwhile Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, in a gesture of extravagant and in retrospect, ill-considered magnanimity, forgave defeated Japan for all her war crimes. Former Japanese colonial occupiers on Taiwan were given a choice. Be repatriated to Japan, or stay on Taiwan, only as immigrants. The choice was theirs. Either way, they would remain unmolested.
Some Japanese chose to return to Japan. Some chose to stay on in Taiwan. Among those who chose to stay, many Japanese, instead of being grateful, turned to fomenting Taiwan independence.
When mainland troops finally arrived on March 9 to quell the riots and saw what was going on they were apoplectic. They had just endured a war of naked Japanese aggression during which fascist Japan had slaughtered 30 million Chinese, including 300,000 civilians in a single prolonged incident, the infamous Rape of Nanking.
To now be confronted with the sight of Chinese Quislings and Japanese Fifth Columnists brazenly flaunting Japanese uniforms while murdering fellow Chinese was too much to take. Some of them reportedly opened fire with machine guns “My Lai/Tiananmen style,” on sight, on every suspected Quisling they encountered. Some shooting victims may even have been mainlanders. Chaos was complete.
The ROC Bureau of Justice has been actively soliciting surviving family members to come forward and claim wrongful death compensation for the last decade or so. Just over two thousand families have applied for and received compensation. So where are the tens of thousands of casualties routinely cited? Some militant Taiwan separatists allege that the low number, by several orders of magnitude, merely mean that survivors are terrified of reprisals.
Reprisals? From Taiwan separatist President Lee Teng-hui, who considers himself Japanese? Spare me.
A Darker Explanation
An alternative, darker, more plausible explanation, one considerably less palatable to Taiwanese separatist victimologists suggests itself to Li Ao and former Justice Minister Ma Ying-jeou. Namely that the remaining alleged 8,000, or 18,000, or 28,000 victims were mainlanders, many of whom were unmarried laborers from Fujian, without relatives in Taiwan. Once their corpses were dumped into the Tamsui River and floated out into the Taiwan Straits that was the end of it. Family members on the mainland assumed they died in the “fog of war” against Japan. Number inflation may well be a double-edged sword. If that is indeed the case, for manipulative Taiwan separatist demagogues like Chen Shui-bian to add mainlander victims to the column labelled “Taiwanese” victims is insult added to injury.
Just the Facts, A-Bian, Just the Facts
If Chen Shui-bian, known to his acolytes as “A-Bian,” had any intellectual integrity whatsoever, he would publicly acknowledge his historical ignorance, innocent or otherwise, and make correct his mistake.
Chen can do any of the following.
One: He can retain the names “2-28 Memorial Day,” “2-28 Memorial Museum,” “2-28 Monument,” and “2-28 Memorial Park,” but reverse the role of victim and victimizer. If you believe Chen Shui-bian would do this, I have some land in the Everglades I’d like to interest you in.
Two: He can change the names of “2-28 Memorial Day,” “2-28 Memorial Museum,” “2-28 Monument,” and “2-28 Memorial Park” to “3-10 Memorial Day,” “3-10 Memorial Museum,” “3-10 Monument,” and “3-10 Memorial Park.”
What do you imagine the odds of this are? After all, this would require Chen to concede not simply that he had gotten a date wrong, but again, that his smug Good versus Evil dichotomy was inverted. I wouldn’t want to hang by a rope while Chen considered this option.
Three: He can keep doing what he’s been doing. Continue to foment ugly hatred against all “mainlanders.” Pretend that “mainlander” Li Ao, who visited Chen in prison and brought him books to read, never exposed the 2-28 Incident for what it was, a Joseph Goebbels Big Lie.
As 2-28, 2000 approaches, we shall see soon enough whether Chen and the Taiwan separatist elite take the high road, or the low road.
I’m betting on the latter. Any takers?
Appendix: The 2-28 Incident
by L. J. Lamb, J. D.
Author’s Note: This article contains data from “A Tragic Beginning” and other sources. It was never intended to be an academic article, but is balanced and shows both sides of the issue. No one was lily white during the period. Chen Yi has been blamed, but he may not be the one at fault.
On December 1, 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed to the Cairo Declaration, which stated in part: “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.”
Even before the Cairo Conference, the ROC central government had established a Taiwan Study Committee to collect information and begin to develop plans for governing Taiwan. General Chen I, former governor of Fujian province, was eventually chosen to head the government team in Taiwan. In September 1945, General Chen told reporters that he would “act in accordance with the teachings of the Republic of China’s founding father to carry out the Three Principles of the People, liberate our Taiwan brethren from slavery, and then persevere to build a strong, healthy, prosperous Taiwan.”
Taiwan was officially retroceded to the Republic of China on October 25, 1945. Unfortunately, General Chen’s stated intentions proved extremely difficult to put into practice. Conditions on the both Chinese mainland and Taiwan in late 1945 were abominable, at best. In many ways, the situation on Taiwan mirrored that of the Chinese mainland, with high rates of unemployment and inflation, shortages of basic necessities and raw materials, widespread destruction, and a dispirited populace.
With major Japanese naval bases and up to 65 Japanese air bases on Taiwan and the Pescadores, Taiwan had been a prime target for allied bombing during the latter stages of World War II. In addition to the military facilities, the transportation infrastructure was high on the hit list. Even before the central government took over Taiwan, prices had begun to increase rapidly. By 1945, food grain prices had increased over 20 times their pre-war levels. Between 1944 and 1945 alone, prices increased over three times.
Initially, the local people welcomed the new government, but this was soon to change. Mainlanders and Taiwanese had difficulties in communicating with each other, often aggravating misunderstandings and animosity between groups. Military personnel regularly got into arguments with local shopkeepers and refused to pay. Soldiers were accused of stealing bicycles and otherwise disturbing the populace, undermining any goodwill that existed at the beginning of the new government.
With the departure of the Japanese, the Chinese government authorities had the responsibility of taking over Japanese-owned lands, factories, mines, houses, etc. Local Taiwanese were seriously disappointed, when administrators from the Chinese mainland took control or outright ownership of the former Japanese possessions, which Taiwanese saw as their entitlement. Taiwanese further accused the mainlanders of corruption, nepotism, diverting what was left of Taiwan’s wealth to the Chinese mainland, and profiting from their positions in the new government at the expense of the local people.
Whereas the Taiwanese had referred to the Japanese as dogs, they referred to the mainland Chinese as pigs, on account of their greed. Conversely, many mainland Chinese saw the Taiwanese as willing collaborators with the Japanese, who had devastated China, beginning in 1931. In fact, some Taiwanese, perhaps with nothing more, still wore their Imperial Japanese Army uniforms, adding fuel to the discord.
On an even more serious level, crime increased dramatically. Taiwan’s cities and coastlines had long been home to hoodlums and gangsters (liu-mang), and one estimate indicates that their numbers had increased to 100,000, shortly after the departure of 11,000 Japanese police and approximately 200,000 Japanese military personnel, who had kept tight social control on Taiwan.
Although social unrest was smoldering just below the surface, the minor province of Taiwan was hardly a major concern of the central government of China, which was engaged in a full-scale civil war with the Chinese Communists in the late 1940s. Most Chinese military personnel, who had been initially sent to Taiwan, had been withdrawn, and those that remained were stationed outside the cities. Less than 8,500 policemen and 5,000 troops were left to maintain order in a population of 6.25 million.
One observer stated that there was factionalism and bitter struggle everywhere, including within the provincial administration. Regardless of any good intentions, the Governor-General was out of touch with the rapid economic deterioration and the growing social violence.
Governor-General Chen’s interpretation of Sun Yat-sen’s Principle of People’s Livelihood, was highly socialistic, favoring state control. Unfortunately, the government authorities were in unfamiliar territory and were not particularly efficient in administering the newly obtained state enterprises and promoting economic stability. The public was constantly complaining about real and imagined corruption among mainland officials sent to Taiwan.
Thwarting market forces further complicated the economic situation, multiplied shortages, and increased inflation. Not surprisingly, this led to rampant smuggling, which, combined with a variety of other social and economic ills, touched off the debacle known as the “2-28 Incident,” occurring on February 28, 1947.
Although the 2-28 Incident has often been referred to as a taboo topic, perhaps no event in the history of Taiwan has been more discussed both publicly and privately. The 2-28 Incident is still used to this day as a major motivating force of vote-seeking politicians to incite controversy and antagonism between ethic groups.
The 2-28 Incident actually started on the morning of February 27, 1947, when the Taiwan City Monopoly Bureau received a secret report that cigarettes and matches were being smuggled on board a boat near the post of Tamsui. Investigators found only five boxes of cigarettes, but a later report indicated that the missing contraband was being sold at the Tien-ma Tea Store on Tai-ping Street, an area known to be a frequent hangout for smugglers.
By the time investigators arrived at the tea store, the smugglers had fled, but a 40-year old widow was peddling what investigators thought were smuggled cigarettes. When investigators attempted to seize the cigarettes, the woman resisted, and she was hit on the head by the investigator with his pistol. An angry crowd gathered and began to taunt the investigators, one of whom, trying to flee the scene, fired his pistol and killed bystander Chen Wen-hsi, thought to be the brother of a major hoodlum.
Although the investigators escaped to a nearby police station, their abandoned vehicle was burned. The crowd converged on the police station and demanded that the investigator be summarily executed. Soon, a crowd of six to seven hundred went to the Police Bureau and again demanded that the investigator be executed.
The head of the Monopoly Bureau told the crowd that the matter would be dealt with in accordance with law, but the crowd was not satisfied. They began chanting, “The Taiwanese want revenge now” and “Anyone who does not come out and assemble is not a real Taiwanese.” On Friday morning, February 28, the animosity further increased. The characters for “China” on the China Hotel and the Bank of China were removed, and a banner in Japanese appeared: “Down with military tyranny.”
The situation continued to deteriorate, and by noon a mob attacked a branch of the Monopoly Bureau, beat two officials to death, and burned stocks of cigarettes, matches, a vehicle, and some bicycles. The radio station was occupied and broadcasts were made to assemble at the Taiwan Provincial Executive Office. Two more people were shot, as police tried to disperse the crowd.
Taiwanese began questioning people in Japanese or Taiwanese, and anyone who could not speak the language was beaten, often to death. Shops, hotels, and even a hospital were attacked, and furniture and goods were burned in the street. “Resolution Committees” were set up by disaffected Taiwanese in various cities and towns.
Initial efforts at conciliation failed and violence continued to mount, resulting in over 1,000 deaths and serious injuries to mainlanders. After a conciliatory radio broadcast by Governor-General Chen, Resolution Committee member Wang Tien-teng broadcast a rejection of the message and praised as “revolutionary martyrs,” those who died attacking stores owned by mainlanders or while beating or killing them. Meanwhile, the violence spread to other cities, where mainlanders were beaten and killed.
Some Resolution Committees moved to set up a “self-defense corps” or made increasingly bold demands on the government, including the disarming of troops when outside their military camps. In Panchiao, Taiwan provincial councilmen led crowds in attacking the government. In I-lan, squads of students attacked an air force warehouse. Military camps and weapons depots were attacked in Lotung and Suao.
In Tainan, activists took over police weapons and seized the radio station. They passed resolutions that all students should form the No. 1 Fighting Team and any Taiwanese hiding mainlanders should be taken to the student military units immediately and have their households searched.
A plan by activists and ex-Japanese military personnel to attack the Makung police bureau and seize weapons failed, when the district police chief ordered all weapons placed in a storehouse.
In Taichung, mainlanders were rounded up, and an encampment of provincial government troops was attacked. Calls were made to “Organize a Democratic Army,” as military bases and police stations were attacked and weapons stolen. One of the few known Communists Hsieh Hsueh-hung led attacks against the Taichung police bureau, seizing 28 rifles and 100 knives. She then ordered the takeover of the Taichung Radio Station and forced the surrender of the Third Aircraft Factory.
Taichung activists of the “27th Militia Corps,” an armed unit that repaired weapons and vehicles for an eventual battle with government forces, left the city and set up headquarters in the Puli elementary school to fight the government.
In Chia-yi, activists organized fighting units of aborigines, gangsters, and a variety of other people. They threatened to attack the airport if their demands were not met: that ROC military units should surrender, the airport radio system should be handed over to the Resolution Committee, all police weapons should be surrendered, and military police weapons should be given to the Resolution Committee.
The uprising, violence against mainlanders, and calls by radical elements for the overthrow of the government, were all too similar to the Communist rebellion that had plagued the Chinese mainland since 1927. The Governor-General called for reinforcements from the mainland.
On March 9, troops arrived in Keelung, two divisions arrived in Kaohsiung on March 10, and troops were airlifted to Chia-yi on March 11. Military forces quickly put an end to the uprising after a few days of pitched battles and intermittent skirmishes. When news of the impending arrival of troops from the mainland began to circulate, the Resolution Committees quickly toned down their inflammatory rhetoric, retracted some of their more outrageous demands, or simply disbanded. It became quickly apparent that once superior force was established, the uprising was over.
Typical was the situation in Ilan. Attacks had occurred on military installations began on March 3, but, when government troops entered the city on March 13, ROC flags soon filled the city. All fighting had ended by March 21, with a total of 6,317 listed as killed and wounded, a figure apparently includes those who had been arrested and executed, after the uprising was put down.
A significant number of people were later arrested, and trials dragged on for extended periods of time. The subsequent repression of political dissent, directed particularly against the Taiwan independence movement and communism, is known as the “White Terror” and continued under a weak form of martial law until 1987.
Some politically motivated groups have stated that up to 100,000 people were killed, and the government wiped out the Taiwan elite… A total of 46 members of Taiwan’s elite, including doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, professors, councilmen, principals, and other government officials were listed as killed, and 34 other members of the elite were known to have been arrested.
Regardless of how many mainlanders and Taiwanese were killed in the fighting or how many Taiwanese were arrested and executed or imprisoned afterwards, the 2-28 Incident soured relations between native Taiwanese and first, second, and even third generation mainland Chinese to this day. Although the government has made significant efforts to ease the tension by promoting understanding and reconciliation between the ethnic groups, it appears that many more years will have to pass before the incident is either forgotten or forgiven.