228 also known as the February 28 Massacre occurred in 1947 where the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) led government of the Republic of China (ROC) violently suppressed an anti government uprising in Taiwan.
Background: What was causing the tension leading up to 228?
- From 1895 to 1945, Taiwan was ruled by Japan. The Japanese developed a lot of the existing infrastructure in Taiwan, as well as helped build its economy. This raised the standard of living for most Taiwanese people, therefore why the Taiwanese had more favorable perceptions of the Japanese compared to elsewhere in Asia at the time.
- At the end of World War II in 1945, following the victory of the Allied forces, Japan surrendered Taiwan to General Chiang Kai-Shek (leader of the ROC), through General Order No.1, and placed it under ROC governance.
- The KMT Governor, General Chen Yi, took over Japan’s system of state monopolies for a lot of different crops and commodities. He then used his influence in these monopolies to sell and ship cheaper goods back to Mainland China to meet the Civil War shortages.
- The Japanese government granted opportunities for the Taiwanese to govern themselves; however, after the ROC government took over after WWII, the ROC officials from Mainland China took office.
- ROC troops were undisciplined and were looting, stealing, and breaking down the infrastructure that the Japanese had built.
- On the night of February 27, 1947, a Tobacco Monopoly Bureau enforcement team in Taipei confiscated contraband cigarettes from a 40-year-old woman at a tea house.
- She asked for them to be returned, however one of the team members hit her in the head with a pistol, causing the surrounding Taiwanese crowd to confront the Tobacco Monopoly team.
- As the team fled, one agent shot his gun into the crowd, subsequently killing a bystander.
- Feeling the frustration from the unemployment rate, inflation, and corruption of the new Nationalist government, the crowd protested against the police, but was ignored.
- On the morning of February 28, 1947, violence broke out when the security at Governor-General Chen Yi’s office tried to disperse the crowd.
- The security fired at the protesters who were calling for the arrest and trial of the agents involved in the previous day’s shootings.
- This resulted in an open rebellion that lasted for several weeks and ended with tens of thousands of deaths.
- Martial law was officially declared and curfews were enforced on this day, marking the beginning of the White Terror period.
- Local leaders formed a Settlement Committee which presented the ROC government with a list of 32 demands for reform of the provincial administrations.
- They demanded greater autonomy, free elections, and an end to government corruption.
- On March 8, 1947, the ROC troops led by Chen Yi launched a crackdown on the rebels throughout Taiwan.
- By the end of March, Chen Yi had ordered the imprisonment or execution of the Taiwanese organizers he could identify and executed somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 people throughout the island.
Why isn’t this a well-known event in history?
Upon lifting the martial law in 1987, government records of the incident were classed as top secret and it was considered taboo to speak about the event.
The event went unacknowledged for 48 years until 1995, when President Lee Teng-Hui, a victim of 228, issued a formal apology on behalf of the government. He declared February 28th as a national holiday, officially known as Peace Memorial Day, meant to honor and remember its victims.
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