Today is February 28th. Much like 9/11, this date is known in Taiwan simply by it’s numbers: “228”, and is recognized each year by the Taiwanese for what happened there 56 years ago. If you think 9/11 was bad, read on.
On February 28th, 1947, there was a protest in Taiwan against the ruling Kuomintang. The Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) were in the process of losing control of the Mainland to the Communist Party. Taiwan, which had previously been a Japanese territory since 1895, was now under the new leadership of the Kuomintang in a deal struck between Chiang Kai Shek and the members of the Allied forces at the end of World War II.
What sparked the protests was the arrest of an old woman in Taipei for selling cigarettes without a license, but the anger ran deep among the Taiwanese and any incident could have triggered the following widespread demonstrations against Kuomintang rule. The mainland government was corrupt, oppressive, and was treating the Taiwanese with unfairness and contempt.
What followed was a brutal, horrific suppression of dissent on the island. When word of these uprisings reached the mainland, Chiang Kai Shek ordered troops to quell the resistance. The Kuomintang then proceeded to massacre thousands of people, moving from city to city and killing civilians indiscriminately. Cultural figures, such as leaders, scholars, doctors, teacher, musicians, and students, were all rounded up and shot so as to attempt to blot out any sense of identity among the Taiwanese. Up to 30,000 Taiwanese were killed during this massacre. Taiwan was ruled with an iron fist by the Kuomintang afterwards. A period of martial law known as the “White Terror” was in place for some 40 years, and dissent against the ruling Kuomintang was met with arrests, imprisonment, and executions.
Today, 228 is a national holiday in Taiwan. Taiwan’s current president, Chen Shui-Bian, a former political dissident himself, is now the first democratically-elected president from an opposition party in the nation’s history. After decades of silence, people are now able to talk about what happened, and are able to learn and understand the truth.
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