Our 2.28: 70 Years After the 2.28 Incident
The 2.28 Incident is a political episode that involved people across the social spectrum, and decided the development of contemporary politics in Taiwan. For us, this exhibition is not only a memorial of the Incident, but also a channel facilitating communication between different historical consciousnesses.
The Path Leading to 2.28
Taiwan was once a colony of Japan, but it was taken over by China after Japan surrendered unconditionally at the end of World War II. To deal with the takeover, the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China established the Taiwan Provincial Executive Office. Taiwanese people warmly welcomed the new government, and expressed high expectations of building a new future. However, within just a few months, Taiwan witnessed unprecedented corruption. High inflation was exploited by wholesalers as a means to make greater profits. The price of rice was five times higher than a year earlier, and many young people were unemployed. Military and police officers were breaking laws and abusing powers. In the face of the chaos and corruption of these new institutions, local representatives, news agencies, judges and lawyers often came into conflict with corrupt individuals associated with the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang [KMT]) and the government. The former thus became targets of the future “adjustment.”
Image of the section “The Path Leading to 2.28.” Videos and news reports in this section recreate the era's social phenomena.
The video shown at the entrance was taken by the United States Army. It was filmed on October 17, 1945, when the 70th Division of the Chinese National Revolutionary Army and other officials arrived at Keelung Port with over 40 US naval vessels. You can see how excited the Taiwanese people were when welcoming the Chinese soldiers. The 70th Division was the first part of the Republic of China's army to set foot on Taiwan, as well as the unit that dealt with the takeover work.
Piecing Together 2.28
The 2.28 Incident in 1947 was a forbidden topic for Taiwanese people to discuss during the government cover-up and 38 years of martial law (1949-1987). Given the era's social phenomena, even witnesses and families of victims of the Incident were afraid to speak of these personal experiences as they were under the surveillance of the intelligence agencies. It was only after martial law was lifted in 1987 that the truth of the 2.28 Incident began to emerge, piece by piece, through oral histories and historical documents, which is also why this section is named “Piecing Together 2.28,” to narrate the course of the Incident.
1.How the 2.28 Incident Happened
On February 27, 1947, at around seven o’clock in the evening, agents of the Taiwan Tobacco Monopoly Bureau got into a fight with a vendor selling contraband cigarettes. One of the agents hit the vendor with the stock of his pistol, seized the vendor's valuables, and a civilian was shot. The next day, a crowd gathered at the Governor General’s Office (the administrative center in Taiwan at the time) to protest this violent act. In response, guards shot at the protestors with machine guns, resulting in several deaths. Through the radio, those participating in the protest encouraged people to stand up against the ruling government, and the situation became a full-blown riot. As word of the uprising spread, the rioting drew in many Taiwanese who had served in the Japanese military during World War II, along with hooligans, some of whom were apparently encouraged by Chinese Nationalist intelligence agencies.
During the riot, local Taiwanese political leaders tried to pacify the situation. On March 2, the Committee of the 2.28 Settlement Commission was established, becoming the representative organization of those people dealing with the government. Following that, branches of the committee were founded across Taiwan, representing the people negotiating with the army.
The section of “Piecing Together 2.28” showing the course of the 2.28 Incident from February 27 to May 16, 1947 in animation.
In the section “Piecing Together 2.28,” historical documents are presented to restore the whole picture of the 2.28 Incident.
Facing the protests, Governor General Chen Yi acted to accept the people's political demands, but also turned to the central government at Nanjing to ask for reinforcements to quell the uprising. Senior officials in the government and the army believed conspirators were directing the Incident, and Kaohsiung Garrison Commander-in-Chief Peng Meng-chi even attacked civilians with military forces.
Beginning March 8, Nationalist army units landed at Keelung and began to wipe out armed resistance from the north to the south. Within 10 days, the uprising was brought under control across the island, and only a few areas saw significant combat. With the military dominance of the Nationalist Army, mass killings and looting by soldiers were frequent at such locations as Keelung Port, Badu near Keelung, Taipei’s Niupuzi, and Chiayi’s Liucuo. Meanwhile, core members of different branches of the Settlement Committee were arrested, while many Taiwanese elites who were uninvolved in the Incident were also taken into custody or went missing. Public executions were carried out in such places as Yilan, Tainan, and Chiayi.
Even today, the exact number of deaths during the 2.28 Incident is unknown. The foreign media estimated the death toll to be 5,000-10,000, but some scholars suggest it is 20,000 based on population statistics.
On the desk of then-supreme leader of the government, Chiang Kai-shek, all kinds of official documents went back and forth between the local and central administrations regarding the Incident. These shows the process of sending troops to Taiwan and how, after the Incident, Chen Yi was not held accountable for the murders.
2.The disappearance of Taiwanese elites
During the period of the 2.28 Incident, the army and the police arrested and executed members of Taiwan's social elite under various pretexts. Lawyers, doctors, elected officials, reporters, and other intellectuals were hunted down. Chen Cheng-po, an influential Taiwanese contemporary painter, was one of the victims of the 2.28 Incident.
Chen Cheng-po (1895–1947), born in Chiayi, was a painter and an elected city councilor during the early KMT rule in Taiwan. He was arrested for being a people's representative in negotiations with the government, and he was then publicly executed by gunfire at Chiayi Train Station after being paraded through the streets as a prisoner. On the death of Chen, Professor Li Xiao-feng remarked, “The streets of Chiayi, which Chen often sketched, is where he finally died. What the death of a grand Taiwanese painter left us, is a mournful scene in the history of Taiwan....”
After the execution, Chen Cheng-po's wife kept his last will, the clothes he was wearing when executed, and his painting tools as evidence to remember the 2.28 Incident. These objects, which witnessed a vital moment in Taiwan's history, are also featured in this exhibition to commemorate the sacrifice of this master painter in the 2.28 Incident.
The section “Chen Cheng-po and 2.28” exhibits the objects and paintings of Chen Cheng-po.
Chen Cheng-po's last will, in which the first line expresses how honored he was to die for all of Chiayi's citizens.
Forty Years of Silence
The Chinese Civil War and the implementation of martial law soon after the Incident made talking about 2.28 a taboo in Taiwanese society. The government often characterized the groups who had participated in the Incident as "mobs" and their actions as "riots" or "incited by the Communists." Under government surveillance and marginalized by society, the families of victims suffered daily lives filled with darkness.
Starting in the 1960s, Japan-based pro-Taiwan independence magazines run by Shi Ming (Su Beng) and Wang Yu-de (Ong Iok-tek) gave the Incident wide coverage each February and March. After the 1980s, those fighting against the ruling party in Taiwan (the former were known as dangwai, meaning “outside the party”) started to emerge, and magazines founded by dangwai supporters became popular. Through these civic publications, facts about the 2.28 Incident were gradually disclosed. In 1987, Cheng Nan-jung founded the 228 Peace Day Promotion Association, commemorating the 2.28 Incident with public parade. The same year, the government lifted the martial law that had lasted for 38 years, and some victims of the Incident started to speak out about their experiences. Finally, once buried stories of the past were brought before the eyes of the public.
In "Forty Years of Silence" a huge projecting screen shows the testimonies and pictures of over two hundred victims of the Incident and their families.
30 Years of Conversation
After martial law was lifted in 1987, memorial activities and discourses of the 2.28 Incident started to emerge. In 1989, the first 2.28 Incident Memorial erected by civil organizations appeared in Chiayi City. In 1992, the Executive Yuan released a research report on the Incident to correct the insufficient and distorted information in early official publications. In 1995, at the founding ceremony of the 2.28 Peace Memorial Park in Taipei, President Lee Teng-hui apologized for the Incident on behalf of the government, following which a series of reparatory actions began, including passing the Compensation Act, establishing the Memorial Foundation and the Memorial Museum, and declaring February 28 to be Peace Memorial Day. Archives relating to the Incident were also made accessible.
Over the years of conflicts and discussions, various facets of the Incident, together with its current social and political significance, were gradually revealed. By seeing the facets of the 2.28, we are also seeing the historical identity of the Taiwanese.
In the section “ 30 Years of Conversation,” there is a wall of news clips that reflects the process of discussion in the democratization of the Taiwanese society through the newspapers after martial law was lifted.
There is also a "wall of voices" that presents the recordings of interviews between the museum's curating team and those who were involved in the incident. We hope that when you hear the voices of these contemporary thoughts, you can interact with them, reflect on them, and re-examine the Taiwanese history you had previously pictured in your mind.