Ma Ying-jeou, president of the Republic of China in-exile, again apologized for the murderous rampage by Kuomintang troops during 1947, the second year of Chinese occupation of Taiwan, known at the time as Formosa. Ma’s remarks on Feb. 28 marks the sixty-sixth year since the bloodbath that occurred as the Chinese Nationalist regime, imposed on Taiwan in 1945 by the United States, quelled a spontaneous Taiwanese uprising. Recognition of the anniversary is a defining point in political discourse on the island continues today.
Ma Ying-jeou spoke at 228 commemoration ceremonies in Yilan where he bowed to the audience vowing never to see the horror repeated. However, Ma’s role as KMT apologist highlights the deep division in Taiwan between those who identify themselves as Chinese or Taiwanese. The 228 Massacre and the following White Terror period represents the Republic of China at its worst and makes the imposed caretaker government, exiled to Taiwan since 1949, unacceptable to many Taiwanese.
Peter Wang, the shoe-thrower who tossed two shoes at Ma Ying-jeou on International Human Rights Day, was on hand to toss another pair and demand Ma’s resignation. However, Peter Wang was carried from the event by Ma’s security forces before the Taiwanese activist could get a shoe off his foot.
Ma Ying-jeou stirred up public emotion recently by what many see as an effort to whitewash the past regarding Peng Meng-chi, the infamous “Kaohsiung Butcher” who ordered mass killings in Kaohsiung. Ma’s office sent a memo to Academia Sinica which recommended the institution’s Institute of Modern History review the Kaohsiung killings and uncover the “real facts” of the matter.
Meanwhile, at the National Park located in Chiayi and dedicated to the 228 Massacre, nothing is happening. The lack of 228 recognition ceremonies at the park has entered the debate. Critics have blamed the government for failure to plan activities at the new park, opened in 2011. There will be a memorial event at the Chiayi Railway Station where eleven Chiayi residents were executed in public in 1947.
One memorial ceremony, not attended by Ma Ying-jeou, was held in a Yilan cemetery. Former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Lin I-hsiung and his wife, Fang Su-min, attended a service to commemorate their twin daughters and Lin’s mother. Lin’s mother and daughters were killed in a still unsolved crime in 1980 on Feb. 28. Lin was in jail facing a long sentence for his political activity during the martial law era when his family was murdered. Although police never made any arrest in the brutal murders, Lin’s house had been under constant surveillance by ROC security forces.
Perhaps the sharpest irony of the sad holiday was an evening memorial concert at the Chiang-Kai shek shrine in Taipei. Chiang, who imposed dictatorial measures on the Taiwanese population, had ordered his battle-hardened Kuomintang soldiers to the island to impose a terror campaign.
The decades-old “strategic ambiguity” that surrounds Taiwan’s international status also clouds much of Taiwan’s political history. But once a year, on Feb. 28, the window to the past and the door to the future both swing open and the political divide deepens.