28
Feb
07

228

My computer and camera seem to have reconciled– so here are shots from tonight:

The 228 Memorial in Taipei this evening.

 

The scent of the lilies was fragrant and the sound of running water was everywhere– it drips all around the circle enclosing the open pyramid of sorts, and within the pyramid it falls down into a well.

The inside circle of the open pyramid has handprints around the middle– they’re adults, mostly bigger than mine.

The water falling down the center well almost looks solid in this photo.

The water streaming under the edge of the pool.

People of all ages were there. These people were looking at this:

The translated text is at http://www.taiwandc.org/228-intr.htm

We had off work today to commemorate the 228 (er er ba) incident, which was the spark that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Taiwanese people at the hands of the Kuomintang (KMT) government, headed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek. It was the beginning of martial law, when people would be taken to police stations never to return, and was the sort of incident that is remembered in whispers, for fear of reprisals.

My mother tells me politics in Taiwan was always shunned in conversation, because it was such a dangerous topic. My grandfather (her father) was brought to the police station, and for one tense evening, my family didn’t know if he would become one of those who “disappeared” in those days. He was a surgeon, and a KMT soldier he was trying to save died. There were questions as to whether he had provided adequate care, and thanks to the testimony of other observers, he was released. Reading about the “White Terror” as it seems to be called, when many educated men were rounded up and executed, I feel so very lucky that he was able to watch his children grow up and that I was able to know his voice, the clack of his wooden slippers on the floor, and the feel of his old hand in mine as we walked to the park.

I got my history from tenth grade “World Cultures” with Mr. D. The only mention of Taiwan in the history book was when the KMT fled the mainland and came to Taiwan in 1949. The only knowledge I had of my own family history was that we were “Han people”– from China, so for a while, I had the mistaken idea that my family had come over with the smiling Chiang Kai Shek. (He’s always smiling. On the coins, in most of his statues that I’ve seen, he has a sort of benign grin that belies the order to kill thousands of people. Mao tends to have a grin on his posters, too. Lenin tends to look stern. Hitler always looks scary or deranged. Stalin’s moustache hides his mouth, but he generally looks stern or slightly squinty too. One Google image search of Saddam Hussein and propaganda shows a propaganda poster of him grinning too. The facial expressions worn by tyrants in propaganda to the oppressed and the rest of the world is probably fodder for a blogpost in itself, but I resent that smile. I don’t know what my paternal grandfather looked like when he smiled, but I know what Chiang Kai Shek’s smile looks like– this seems wrong, when my paternal grandfather also was someone who cared for people, while CKS was ordering the deaths of thousands.) This article in the Taipei Times talks about CKS and the fate of some of his smiling statues.

“Kill them all, keep it secret.” was CKS’s reported telegram to the then-governor of Taiwan, when asked what to do about the protests by the native Taiwanese. My family was native Taiwanese. My mother’s side has been in Taiwan for eleven generations (with my cousin’s children, I think), having come over in the 1700s (Check me on this, Mom). My father’s side has been in Taiwan since the 1800s. So in 1945, when the Republic of China regained control of Taiwan from the Japanese, my family actually had been in Taiwan for a very long time already.

“We were Japanese.” My aunt told me. Japan had run Taiwan as a colony for fifty years, building railroads, planning urban areas (some of those plans are still used as guidance for development), and banning spoken Taiwanese in schools. However, my grandparents’ first language was Japanese. My grandfathers and several of my uncles received medical training in Japan. To this day, my dad is more commonly referred to in the family by his Japanese name. My aunt tells me they didn’t have to lock their doors when Japan ruled the island. Japan allowed them to be educated as long as they stayed out of politics (Taiwan had no representation in the Japanese government, in spite of petitioning for it). Taiwanese men were drafted to fight with Japan in WWII and some of their remains are in veterans memorials in Japan. My grandfather was an officer in the Japanese army in Taiwan. Food got short as supplies went to the WWII soldiers in China. My mother tells me that my grandfather refused to eat sweet potato with his rice after those times.  It was the only option since the rice was so scarce.  The sweet potato in the rice was dried in the sun and tasted moldy.  Although I have heard that Japan was also brutal in putting down the resistance to their rule in the early stage of colonization, and resentment that they forbade Taiwanese language in schools, their rule seems to have been indisputably organized and ordered.

The soldiers who came from China in 1945 reportedly dug up the paved roads for latrines and used chamber pots for their rice (this is hearsay, which may or may not be true).

Frustration with the KMT rule bubbled out in protests sparked when KMT soldiers beat a woman for selling contraband cigarettes on February 27th, 1947. The following day, protesters were killed by the KMT. Protests arose all over the country, and many more people died. There is a 228 Museum, close to the memorial, which chronicles all of this. I haven’t been inside yet, but its existence is significant in and of itself.

The KMT ruled Taiwan undisputed until martial ended and democracy came with Lee Teng-Hui in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Until then, 228 was a forbidden topic. Though the KMT is still a very powerful political party, the change to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has opened discussion about the role of the KMT in Taiwanese history and 228 and its White Terror aftermath.

The CKS Memorial is down the street from the 228 Memorial, and tonight it was filled with people and light for the lantern festival, which was kind of incongruous, but uplifting. When I was sitting by the 228 Memorial, I thought about it and all the other memorials and museums there are for the massacres of innocents– the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge’s massacre in Cambodia, and so forth. And these are just government-instituted massacres. The numbers of the dead are often disputed or incomprehensible. Even if they’re not, each number is a person enmeshed in a place, connected to friends and family.

To treat life as if it were worthless, without regret –
those in power are letting this happen.
  from “Zhan Zuo-zhou’s Complete Works” by Zhang Rui-he

After writing these two poems, the elderly doctor was imprisoned for over 90 days in 1950 on falsified charges. After he was released, Dr. Zhan spent most of his leisurely time growing chrysanthemums.

— from the 228 Museum website.

Buckets of chrysanthemums surround the 228 monument. They also happen to be one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers, and her namesake.

Being in Taiwan now, I really miss members of my family that have died and are no longer around to explain a photograph or answer my questions. It’s like a part of the world is missing and now there’s a hole with no one alive to explain what went there in some cases. There’s also possibilities lost– to learn how to cook from my grandmother, or hear about my grandfather’s experience as a soldier, or even know if my paternal grandfather would actually smile off-camera. They all died of natural causes, and I can’t quite imagine the feelings of the survivors of someone murdered by the government, which is theoretically supposed to protect you. I want to see this film, Taiwan’s Love about the survivors and their experiences, though I’ll need to wait for an English subbed version at some point (or the drastic improvement in my Chinese skills).

Anyway, I know it’s just another day off of work, but I share the hope that remembering 228 will somehow help people remember that a peaceful democracy isn’t easy to achieve and maintain. I was so amazed at the amount of involvement in the protests of this past fall against President Chen Shui Bian, but considering the history of protest in Taiwan and the human cost of the democracy he has been honored with the responsibility to guide, it isn’t as surprising.

I hope that Taiwan will be able to keep peace, and I am humbled by those who have suffered and died for that peace.

More on 228, etc.:

http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article-eastasia.asp?parentid=64424 talks about the museum, and more.

http://www.taiwandc.org/228-60.htm talks more about the 228 incident and White Terror.

Formosa Betrayed is the eyewitness account of American about 228.

Island in the Stream: A Quick Case Study of Taiwan’s Complex History by April C.J. Lin and Jerome F. Keating is my quick and dirty start into learning about the book-version of Taiwanese history.

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