New Taiwan government marks 1947 crackdown

Reuters, South China Morning Post, 28 February 2001.

Taiwan’s new government on Wednesday marked the anniversary of a 1947 crackdown in which thousands of people were killed, and promised to compensate victims and open long-secret archives on the incident.

Two years before Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists were defeated by Communist forces on the Chinese mainland and fled to Taiwan, Nationalist troops crushed rioting triggered when an alcohol and tobacco inspector beat an unlicensed woman cigarette vendor.

Thousands of Taiwanese people were killed in the crackdown, known as the 2-28 incident, but public discussion of it was suppressed during the Nationalists’ first four decades in power when the island was under martial law.

The island’s first native-born president, Lee Teng-hui, also a member of the Nationalist Party, lifted the lid on the incident and apologised on behalf of the state in 1995.

The Nationalist Party was unseated from the presidency by Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party last year.

Mr Chen said in a speech at Taipei’s 2-28 Memorial Park that Taiwan needed to learn from the 1947 tragedy to move beyond it.

He said his government had the responsibility to do more than the previous ruling party to heal victims’ wounds.

The less burdened new government has a responsibility to go a step further, and make a higher level of effort, Mr Chen said. The government will strive to reach international standards of human rights.

He said efforts to move beyond the tragedy would include compensating victims, including the incident in history textbooks and opening relevant government archives.

The 1947 riot erupted after the woman cigarette vendor was beaten and enraged residents chased the alcohol and tobacco monopoly inspector, who fired shots at his pursuers in panic.

Records show that thousands of Taiwanese were killed in the subsequent crackdown, leaving a legacy of deep mistrust towards what was seen as an occupying Nationalist Government and the hundreds of thousands of displaced mainlanders who flooded the island.

The cabinet’s Research Development and Evaluation Commission will exhibit government documents related to the 2-28 incident at the national library beginning on March 1, many of the documents are being declassified for the first time.