Monday, February 28, 2011

Remembering 2-28: Chinese or Taiwanese?

What I knew from books, I learned from experience soon after my arrival in Taiwan in the mid-60s: the U.S. view of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s government as “Free China” was a myth. When enough trust was established with Taiwanese individuals and we were out of earshot of the big ears of government agents, again and again I heard the same thing: “We don’t want Chiang and we don’t want Mao [Tse-tung, Chairman of the People’s Republic on mainland China].” The sentiment, I learned, had little to do with political ideology, but rather control of Taiwan by Mainlanders.

Had I not been appointed to work in Taiwan, I would doubtless have perpetuated the ignorance of the American public about the history of the island; how it had been a colony of Japan for 50 years before it was turned over to the Chinese Nationalist Government for administration by the Allies at the end of World War II, and what happend after.

Taiwanese old enough to remember will tell you that most of the people welcomed replacement of the Japanese overlords by the Chinese Nationalists. They were soon turned off by the corruption and brutality of the occupying force from the Mainland. They had a saying,
“The Japanese were like dogs; they barked and sometimes they bit. The Chinese were like pigs; they just wallowed.”
A year and a half into the occupation, an incident on February 28, 1947 occurred that became etched into the hearts and minds of Taiwanese people like “Pearl Harbor” had been for Americans six years earlier. Chiang’s response to a peaceful protest was the massive slaughter of thousands of Taiwanese. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from 10,000 to 30,000 or more. The Incident marked the beginning of the Kuomintang's White Terror period in Taiwan, in which thousands more inhabitants vanished, died, or were imprisoned. The number "228" refers to the day the massacre began: February 28, or 02-28.

While most all Taiwanese knew about Pearl Harbor within days of the event, it is safe to say that few Americans knew anything about 2-28. Under martial law imposed by Chiang’s government, it was illegal to attend or conduct any observances of the massacre. And the U.S. government that supported the anti-communism of the Nationalists and created the “Free China” myth was not about to tell the American public.

For Taiwanese, 2-28 was a defining moment. Their ancestors might have come from the Mainland in the 17th and 18th centuries, but their history of separation from it and the disastrous experience with Chiang and the Nationalists forged a separate identity.

The new identity gave them a will to survive during the years of White Terror. It was celebrated after the end of martial law and the democratization of the island. Now, with the KMT [the political party of the Nationalists who were in power in 1947] back in power in Taipei and tilting toward the People’s Republic, there are questions about Taiwan’s identity today.

There were memorial observances today all over Taiwan. I have not lived in Taiwan for forty years and so cannot speak to the issue of the people’s identity, but thanks to Michael Turton who does live there, I learned about a new poll in Taiwan reminding us that most of the people there are wary of ties to the Mainland.
Q10. Some people say that the policies of the Ma Ying-jeou government are tilted towards mainland China. Do you agree or disagree?
53%: Agree
39%: Disagree
9%: No opinion

Q11. What is your attitude towards unification versus independence?
61%: Maintain the status quo
21%: Lean towards independence
9%: Lean towards unification

Q12. If the choice exists, would you want Taiwan to become an independent nation or to be unified with China?
68%: Taiwan independence
18%: Unification with mainland China
14%: No opinion

Q13. In our society, some people think that they are Chinese while others think that they are Taiwanese. What do you think you are?
72%: Taiwanese
17%: Chinese
11%: Don't know/refused to answer

Q14. What would you say that you are? Taiwanese? Chinese? Both?
50%: Taiwanese
43%: Both Taiwanese and Chinese
3%: Chinese
5%: Don't know

I hope somewhere in their busy schedules today, President Obama and members of his administration are pausing long enough to take note of this day in Taiwan’s history; and, like the democratic aspirations he has been affirming for the peoples of the Mid-East, he will consider affirming for the people of Taiwan.
- Milo


OhioTex said...

Bravo! The martyrs of 2/28 deserve to be long remembered. So do the citizens of Taiwan today. I'm sharing this on Facebook.

dan said...

very good post, sir. sadly, Neither Obama nor Biden have ever heard of 228 and they never will. If someday Hollywood or Taipei makes a movie about it, maybe directed by Ang Lee, the events of 228 might trickle out to the rest of the world, but not until then. Even in Japan, they never heard of it. I never heard of it till i moved here.

But IT SHOULD be a world-recognized day, it's the history not just of Taiwan but of la condition humaine, the story of all of us, there but for the grace of G-d could have gone we.....

This was, 228 was, in a way, Taiwan's Holocaust. To see the black and white photos on the walls of the 228 museum today is to see what monsters men can be. In Chiayi, the KMT lined up the best and the brightest of the city, doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and SHOT THEM all execution style in cold blood in broad daylight. A different kind of ethnic cleansing but ethnic cleansing just the same. It won't ever happen again in Tiwan, though. I am sure of that. Taiwan has now evolved. But it took a lot of blood shed and tears and toil to reach this day. it's a real country now, and 228 is a major part of its history.