Everything You Need to Read About 228

Thursday, February 28, 2019


"Need to Read" is obviously a bit clickbait-y, since there are infinite causes and cultures to stand by, and CL and I happen to be Taiwanese Americans who champion Taiwanese sovereignty. (Are there #TaiwaneseAmerican influencers? @TECO let's make something cute happen.) There's some sort of troll profile on the TaiwaneseAmerican.org Facebook page that recently mocked 228 as a "DPP holiday," referencing Nationalist insistence that the massacre had been exaggerated for political sympathy by the Democratic Progressive Party. And while I disagree fundamentally, I think there's something to be said for how the anniversaries of tragic events do serve as opportunities for discourse that would otherwise feel out of place. Grief is funny in the way it plants itself squarely on our calendars. I don't ever "celebrate" the anniversary of Anthony's death in the traditional sense; but I look forward to this one day a year that I can openly mourn and reflect on how much his life changed mine. I don't ever expect others -- Taiwanese or not -- to care as vehemently and stubbornly as CL and I do about Taiwanese history and heritage. You have your own homeland saudade, your own cultural traumas, your own shit to deal with. But in case you're curious, here's (not even close to) everything to read about 228.

Film & Videos
Formosa Betrayed (Full Movie) | Directed by Adam Kane
The full-length movie is on YouTube! Formosa Betrayed is an American political thriller based on 228 and the White Terror (period of martial law that ensued), and though it's obviously told from the perspective of a Westerner, I think this is a really thoughtful, "easy" way to access historical context. Also, my aunt is in it (as one of the protesters)! I highly recommend this movie to anybody who doesn't quite have the personal investment to read all of the other articles (and I totally understand), but would like a bit of background knowledge.
Inspired by two actual events, one surrounding the death of Professor Chen Wen-chen of Carnegie Mellon University[2] in 1981,[3] and the other the 1984 assassination of journalist Henry Liu in California by Chen Chi-li and his fellow Bamboo Union members, Formosa Betrayed is the story of FBI Agent Jake Kelly's (James Van Der Beek) investigation of the murder of Henry Wen (Joseph Foronda), a Taiwanese professor in Chicago. With the help of his partner Tom Braxton (John Heard) and a sharp Chicago police detective (Leslie Hope), Agent Kelly discovers that the murderers have fled to Taipei, capital of Republic of China (Taiwan).

The 228 Incident | Taiwan Bar
This one's in Mandarin, but there are English closed captions!

Blacklist | Documentary by Christina Hu
For many Taiwanese, the memory of military crackdown from the first 228 incident in 1947 remains a painful subject.  When a political dissident, Lin Yihsiung's daughters and mother were found murdered on February 28 in 1980, the old wounds of 228 incident became fresh again.  Professor Bruce Jacobs, a political science and Asian studies professor, recalls his experience on that fateful day and his subsequent dealings with security agencies in 1980.

Three Perspectives pieces I commissioned and edited in my role as editor-in-chief of TaiwaneseAmerican.org -- I really recommend these as they're genuinely personal and diverse takes.

All Quiet: An American's Perspective on 228 in Taiwan | Joyce Chen for TaiwaneseAmerican.org
February 28, 1947 seems so long ago when you’re only eighteen. But the shadow of the martial law remains, and I see it in my grandparents and in my parents. For my peers, whose families never left Taiwan, martial law defined their lives and informed their memories. They weren’t allowed to talk about it. The government distorted the facts. And now that cracks are forming in the propaganda, they no longer know how to talk about it. It’s one thing to learn about a politically fractured country. It’s another to live in it, to have a shattered sense of history and identity.
Green Island Secrets | Dr. Chung-Chih Li for TaiwaneseAmerican.org
 But no history can be simplified in this way. The pretext of the 228 incident and all that followed began long before corrupt Chinese governance. It had been a moment five hundred years in the making. From the first European expedition to the coast of the island, every person who set foot on Taiwanese soil has had their own agenda for her resources, her people.  Those who decided to stay for good became Taiwanese. From European explorers and colonizers to missionaries and traders, from Japanese settlers to Chinese refugees after their defeat in the civil war, the Taiwanese have opened their arms for these ostracized and displaced to make a home. But the Taiwanese themselves have never had a chance to their own country.
The 228 Inheritance: Taiwan's Revolution Is Here | Catherine Chou for TaiwaneseAmerican.org
The Taiwanese Revolution has no single declaration of independence, but rather dozens: President Tsai Ing-wen’s resounding rejection of ‘one country, two systems’; full-throated defense of democratic rights; the 2016 Sunflower Movement and the coming-of-age of a generation ‘born independent’; the ubiquitous refrain of ‘建國’ in Taiwanese commentary; vandalism of Chiang Kai-shek’s statues; solidarity with victims of Chinese imperialism in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang; the establishment of a transitional justice commission; so-far-unfulfilled promises to return land to indigenous communities; passage of legislation to protect non-Mandarin languages; the vigorous lobbying work of diasporic communities, especially in the United States; flags and passport stickers proclaiming the Republic of Taiwan; and the decision of the ROC’s diplomatic offices, at the end of last year, to use the name Taiwan in their social media profiles.
10 Facts About 228 | Outreach for Taiwan
The 228 Incident impacted everyone in Taiwan, including Hakka, Mainland Chinese, and Aborigines; to ignore them and their experiences disregards the still-ongoing process of healing among all people of the melting pot we call Taiwan.
Taiwan's 228: Remembering the 228 Incident | Thomas J. Shattuck for FPRI
Due to a massive cover-up and the destruction of government documents, no one knows exactly how many people died. Some estimates are as high as 28,000 or as low as 18,000. The scars from the White Terror are still felt throughout Taiwan today. Martial Law did not end in Taiwan until 1987; the first free and fair legislative elections took place in 1992; and the first fully democratic presidential election was held in 1996. Now, for the first time in the country’s history, the Democratic Progressive Party, not the KMT, controls both the executive and legislative branches of government—something that protesters never would have imagined possible during the White Terror. People outside of Taiwan often forget how recently the country democratized—accomplishing its peaceful transformation to a political system consistent with international democratic norms without being a member of the United Nations or having official diplomatic relations with a majority of the world’s countries. Such progress and feats are impressive, especially under the shadow of the White Terror.
Taiwan Kuomintang: Revisiting the White Terror Years | Catherine Lee for BBC News
The night before Huang Wen-kung was executed, he wrote five letters to his family, including his five-month-old daughter whom he had never seen.
It was the first and last time he had communicated with her.
"My most beloved Chun-lan, I was arrested when you were still in your mother's womb," said the 1953 letter.
"Father and child cannot meet. Alas, there's nothing more tragic than this in the world."
His daughter only got the letter 56 years later.
"As soon as I read the first sentence, I cried," Huang Chun-lan said. "I finally had a connection with my father. I realised not only do I have a father, but this father loved me very much."
Taiwan Families Receive Goodbye Letters Decades After Executions | Paul Mozur for The New York Times
The letters are not just documentary evidence, though; they are also last expressions of love from beyond the grave. They offer words of comfort to children who grew up not knowing their parents and final apologies to spouses who would raise children alone.
These Are The Tyrants And Robber Barons Of The 228 Massacre | The Taiwan Gazette
At the same time, the Chinese Nationalist (KMT) commanders were moving quickly to profit from their new positions. Chen Yi (陳儀) and his cronies began looting the old Japanese colonial government. Over night, the Republic of China's party-state regime suddenly owned over 20,000 residences in Taiwan, seven banks, 65 airports, nine hundred planes, 2000 tanks and trucks, and hundreds of thousands of guns. The value of their assets was $5.5 billion dollars.
They confiscated modern factories, hydraulic and electrical facilities, highways, railroads and sea ports. They snatched up 175 thousand hectares of farmland and 90 percent of Taiwan’s forested lands. They took the schools, the hospitals and the theatres. They nationalized all the banks, insurance companies, oil and steel firms.
They divided industries into joint ventures, between national and provincial levels, or national and county levels. Some industries were directly controlled by the KMT. They divided the resources again and again, exhausting everything in one fell swoop. 
Black Lives Matter, Taiwan’s ‘228 Incident,’ and the Transnational Struggle For Liberation | Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein for Black Youth Project
But Eric Garner’s story resonates across the continents and the decades. The story above could have been describing not his death but instead an incident that occurred decades earlier in another hemisphere, with the death of an unnamed man in a crowd that gathered when the cigarette seller was attacked by police on February 27, 1947 in Taipei, Taiwan.
In other words, what happened to Eric Garner and what has happened to Black Americans so many times is, in fundamental ways, not that different from how the Taiwanese 228 Incident — as it is known for the mass violence that started on February 28 — began. On February 27, 1947, representatives from the recently self-installed Republic of China government in Taiwan went to a tea shop to confiscate cigarettes from a woman who had been selling them illegally. The authorities hit her in the head with the butt of a gun and injured her, causing a crowd to form. An agent shot into the crowd, killing one bystander. Thus began a night of unrest that would be quelled in the subsequent months and years through extreme violence. The exact number of Taiwanese who were disappeared is not known, but it is believed 30,000 or more people were murdered and many others who were incarcerated for decades before returning unrecognizable to their families.
Green Island | Shawna Yang Ryan
February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, just after midnight as the city is plunged into martial law. In the following weeks, as the Chinese Nationalists act to crush the opposition, Dr. Tsai becomes one of the many thousands of people dragged away from their families and thrown into prison. His return, after more than a decade, is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community — conflicts that loom over the growing bond he forms with his youngest daughter. Years later, this troubled past follows her to the United States, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family — the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.
As the novel sweeps across six decades and two continents, the life of the narrator shadows the course of Taiwan’s history from the end of Japanese colonial rule to the decades under martial law and, finally, to Taiwan’s transformation into a democracy. But, above all, Green Island is a lush and lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, raising the question: how far would you be willing to go for the ones you love?
Book of Cord | Leona Chen
Is it awful of me to include my own book? 228, martial law, the decades of colonization preceding these, and the authoritarian regime that followed were all the impetus for Book of Cord. On a micro level, my grandparents -- the ones on my mom’s side -- passed away when I was very young and I felt I never did anything worthy of them. So I wrote this book and dedicated it to them.
On a macro level, I wanted to create something for Taiwanese America that would transcend boba and night markets and make Taiwanese history feel intensely personal. As a Taiwanese American, my activism and my work has never been about speaking on behalf of my community; it is about doing work that will not leave our mothers behind. For as much as I love a good tiger mom meme, I don’t ever want to create something that suggests my parents did not give me everything they had, that they didn’t try to love me in the right ways. I am Taiwanese because my parents and their parents protected that identity for me. This book honors that.
Fun fact: Shawna Yang Ryan very generously wrote its introduction!
In her debut collection BOOK OF CORD, Leona Chen confronts the loss of Taiwanese identity through colonization and emigration. As she acknowledges her heritage and claims herself as Taiwanese American, "a radical act" with "profound implications," her poems explore histories both recognized and erased. She composes her narrative by way of a series of fragmentary lyric poems in English that is interspersed with Taiwanese Hokkien. BOOK OF CORD is Chen's protest, journey of self- discovery, and rallying cry for the Taiwanese American community. Or, as novelist Shawna Yang Ryan writes in her comprehensive introduction: "The history she depicts is implied and embodied, making it emotionally accessible to readers unfamiliar with Taiwan's history and deeply affecting to those who are familiar. This is a powerful inscription of an effaced history."
Representing Atrocity in Taiwan: The 2/28 Incident and White Terror in Fiction and Film | Sylvia Li-chun Lin
In 1945, Taiwan was placed under the administrative control of the Republic of China, and after two years, accusations of corruption and a failing economy sparked a local protest that was brutally quashed by the Kuomintang government. The February Twenty-Eighth (or 2/28) Incident led to four decades of martial law that became known as the White Terror. During this period, talk of 2/28 was forbidden and all dissent violently suppressed, but since the lifting of martial law in 1987, this long-buried history has been revisited through commemoration and narrative, cinema and remembrance.
Drawing on a wealth of secondary theoretical material as well as her own original research, Sylvia Li-chun Lin conducts a close analysis of the political, narrative, and ideological structures involved in the fictional and cinematic representations of the 2/28 Incident and White Terror. She assesses the role of individual and collective memory and institutionalized forgetting, while underscoring the dangers of re-creating a historical past and the risks of trivialization. She also compares her findings with scholarly works on the Holocaust and the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Japan, questioning the politics of forming public and personal memories and the political teleology of "closure." This is the first book to be published in English on the 2/28 Incident and White Terror and offers a valuable matrix of comparison for studying the portrayal of atrocity in a specific locale.
Formosa Betrayed | George H. Kerr
The very same book that inspired the eponymous movie.
George Kerr, largely through his insightful observation of the tragedy of the Feb. 28 Incident, 1947 and its aftermath, clearly identified the forces at work which led to the subjugation of Formosa. His careful, accurate and balanced reports went to Nanking and thence to Washington, The truth revealed in those reports, the truth about the KMT's policy and activities in Formosa, shocked those in government who saw the reports. It is regrettable that, because of the propaganda counterattack launched by the China Lobby in the United States, his reports did not gain wider public exposure. It was only in 1965 that George Kerr managed to publish Formosa Betrayed which drew much of its content from those first hand reports of his observation and encounter in Formosa during and after the Incident of February 28, 1947. 
Other Resources & Materials
The Thirty-Two Demands, presented to Governer-General Chen Yi

Why is China Attempting to Commemorate the 228 Massacre? | Brian Hioe for New Bloom
Yet we can perhaps view China’s attempt to incorporate Taiwanese history in its own as simply an age old tactic of colonizers the world over, in which it is hoped that symbolic claims about territorial integration will lead the way to something more substantive. We find something similar, for example, in that when the KMT came to Taiwan it attempted to claim Taiwan had been part of its version of China since time immemorial, in order to legitimize its political control over Taiwan as the purportedly rightful “Chinese” government-in-exile. Attempts at incorporating Taiwanese history into a broader Chinese history occurred through the use of figures such as Chinese-Japanese Ming loyalist Koxinga (downplaying Koxinga’s Japanese heritage), or attempts to paint the 1930 indigenous uprising against the Japanese, the Musha incident, as an incidence of Taiwanese indigenous rising up against the Japanese motivated by Han patriotism.
The Public Narratives Behind 228 | Kevin Hsu for Ketagalan Media
Draws comparisons between present-day Hong Kong and 1947 Taiwan
The events in Taiwan snowballed into state-sanctioned slaughter: Chinese Nationalist troops killed thousands of civilians to quell popular protest. In Hong Kong, enforcement remains a police action. While 2-28 represents one of the darkest extremes of a government’s response to citizen outrage, the confrontation in Hong Kong, though uncomfortable, has only begun.
 A Slap In The Face | Jenna Lynn Cody for Ketagalan Media
Those who venerate Chiang [Kai Shek] as a hero and view the authoritarian period with nostalgia do so not because of an intellectually honest assessment of the evidence. They do so out of a deeper instinct to protect their identity, which they have taken for granted as the default for themselves and for Taiwan: as the rightful, ‘superior’ leaders of a Mandarin-speaking, Chinese country where all citizens ought to aspire to be more like them. In this mindset, there is no room to consider that most Taiwanese have never identified this way, and that this ‘default’ identity was in fact forced on them both socially and politically by the KMT. In recent decades, as Taiwanese society has pushed for greater equality and more clearly defined itself in terms of Taiwanese, not Chinese, cultural heritage, people like Ms. Cheng perceive this change as a threat to their status, and therefore their identity.


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