More than 70 years after the nationalist government of General Chiang Kai-shek massacred up to 28,000 people, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged to finally reveal the truth of what happened during the so-called “White Terror.”
Speaking at a gathering of surviving victims in Taipei on Tuesday, Ms. Tsai pledged to take a “rigorous and precise attitude” in assigning blame for the campaign of harsh repression that was launched by Chiang Kai-shek on February 28, 1947.
“After 70 years, I believe that Taiwanese society now has the mature democratic mechanisms to discuss this matter,” she told victims, families, and supporters at the 228 Peace Memorial Park in central Taipei, named after the date of the uprising. For decades following the 228 Incident, the topic of what happened remained taboo in Taiwanese society, as victims and their families feared political persecution if they discussed it publicly.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed after General Chiang dispatched his Kuomintang (KMT) troops to massacre participants at largely peaceful protests, many of whom came from the Japanese-educated elite. Japan had ruled the island as a colony for a half-century until the end of WWII.
The KMT is the party which took power on Taiwan in the aftermath of Chiang’s defeat in the Chinese civil war by the forces of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Red Army. He and the KMT would eventually withdraw completely from mainland China to set up a military dictatorship on Taiwan.
Ms. Tsai said during her inauguration last May that she expected to see a full report on the suppression of the protests. According to experts, however, many documents relating to the incident may have been destroyed. The government never issued a death toll and school textbooks barely mention the massacre. It was only in 2002 that a law was passed requiring the preservation of government records.
Many more were imprisoned and killed in the decades of political persecution that followed the 228 Incident. For 38 years – from 1949 to 1987 – the KMT government enforced a system of martial law that placed strong penalties on any type of political activity. Disappearances, long prison sentence, and execution were the hallmarks of the period.
Reacting to public pressure, authorities have now closed the landmark Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in the capital. The government is drafting legislation to rename it and to remove the dictator’s statue from the premises.
228 Memorial Foundation chief executive officer Yang Chen-long said: “We are pretty dissatisfied and feeling impatient.”
His family received 6 million Taiwanese dollars ($195,000 USD) in compensation for the persecution of his father and two other relatives.
“The compensation for me isn’t that important,” he said. “Chiang Kai-shek should take responsibility.”
Marches have been held this week from the site where the initial protests broke out to Memorial Park, demanding swifter action on the government’s promises of justice.