We live in the present, we dream of the future and we learn eternal truths from the past.
~ Madame Chiang Kai-Shek AKA Soong May-Ling/宋美齡 (1898 – 2003)
In 1895, after China suffers a major defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War, as part of the agreement, Imperial Japan annexes the island of Formosa (Taiwan) into its growing empire—inevitably to become one of its most valuable colonies. Half a century later, as the tide of war turns and the Japanese surrender to Allied forces, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek states in an August 15, 1945 address to a now post-WWII China:
I am deeply moved when I think of the teachings of Jesus Christ that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us and love our enemies. My fellow countrymen know that “Remember not evil against others” and “Do good to all men” have been the highest virtues taught by our own sages. We have always said that the violent militarism of Japan is our enemy, not the people of Japan. Although the armed forces of the enemy have been defeated and must be made to observe strictly all the terms of surrender, yet we should not for a moment think of revenge or heap abuses upon the innocent people of Japan. We can only pity them because they have been so sadly deceived and misled, and hope that they will break away from the wrong-doing and crimes of their nation. Let all our fellow citizens, soldiers and civilians remember this.
Within approximately six decades, Japan went from the image of a mighty Asian imperialist aggressor to a humbled yet honorable people, as the late President speaks with pride and assurance for his beloved country. And as I have thought and written in January’s column, “I don’t hate the country or the people—except those individuals involved in the actual brutality. I only hate what the Japanese have done in the past, but I am also equally hoping they will also be willing to come forward and apologize as much as we would want to.”
Continuing with this ongoing idea of re-examining history’s woes in search of truth, February 28th unfortunately marks a dark and dreadful day for the Taiwanese people. On this very day sixty-six years ago, a disagreement between rogue parties—in the midst of a major transition of political power from the Japanese to the Kuomintang—gradually erupts into full-scale revolution across the island, culminating in the KMT’s infamous White Terror period of martial law, interrogation and imprisonment of thousands.
While I am aware many people today may form differing opinions on who or what is to blame for the actual 228 Incident, I do not intend to go into much detail on the events leading up to the uprisings. Preserved historical records can dictate exactly what happened but will do no justice as to blaming one party completely without giving all participants an equal voice in the matter.
I will draw a slight parallel, however, between this Incident and that of the 1905 Bloody Sunday incident in former Tsarist Russia where thousands of peaceful demonstrators and spectators met heavy gunfire and the sabers of the Imperial Guard outside the gates of the Winter Palace.
An old man named Lavrentiev, who was carrying the Tsar’s portrait, had been one of the first victims. Another old man caught the portrait as it fell from his hands and carried it till he too was killed by the next volley. With his last gasp the old man said “I may die, but I will see the Tsar”.
Both the blacksmiths who had guarded me were killed, as well as all these who were carrying the ikons and banners; and all these emblems now lay scattered on the snow. The soldiers were actually shooting into the courtyards at the adjoining houses, where the crowd tried to find refuge and, as I learned afterwards, bullets even struck persons inside, through the windows.
At last the firing ceased. I stood up with a few others who remained uninjured and looked down at the bodies that lay prostrate around me. Horror crept into my heart. The thought flashed through my mind, “And this is the work of our Little Father, the Tsar”. Perhaps the anger saved me, for now I knew in very truth that a new chapter was opened in the book of history of our people.
~ Father George Gapon, an excerpt from The Story of My Life (1905)
As the demonstrators in Russia pleaded for greater social and economic reforms from their beloved Tsar Nicholas II, so too did the initial crowd of people in Taipei on that one day as well.
Despite all of the tragedies that may have occurred, the survivors are here today to stand and honor the deceased while simultaneously moving forward to build a better future for all Chinese, Taiwanese, and even Okinawans.
Many Okinawans whose ancestors had once lived on Heping Island also attended the ceremony — among them was Shiosei Yashumoto, whose great-uncle, Chouzou Uchima, lived on Heping Island from 1905 to 1945, and was the model for the fisherman statue.
“My great uncle lived in Taiwan from 1905 to 1945. He was a good friend of Taiwanese, he taught them some fishing techniques unique to Okinawa and gave his Taiwanese friends fish during wartime when the [Japanese colonial] government prohibited selling fish to the Taiwanese,” Yashumoto said through a translator. “He was even arrested for that, but he was released by arguing that he didn’t ‘sell’ the fish, rather, people took it from him for free.”
~ An excerpt from Statue honors Okinawans who died in 228 Incident, published December 2011 in the Taipei Times (台北時報)
And quite contrary to popular belief, there are even positive stories that can come out of such a horrible tragedy as this one:
The district head, Ding Ming-Nan, was the nephew of the then Administrator of Taiwan, Chen Yi. He had always taken good care of the people in his district; spent his own money to buy text books and story books for the local kids. The residents in the district revered him. When the 228 Incident broke out, the young people took to protect him. They promised him safety if he did not leave his residence. When the 21st Division arrived, he was very worried because he heard the soldiers started shooting people as soon as they landed. He asked the young troop members to give up their weapons and promised their safety. But they were in a high state of agitation and thought he was threatening them because of the imminent arrival of government troops. They raised their guns, switched off the safety, and were going to shoot him on the spot.
Ding Ming-Nan’s tears rolled down unbidden. He pointed at his own chest and said, “If you want to shoot, please go ahead. I mean well. You do not know the brutality of war. It is a horrific experience to kill people. I am just trying to spare you!”
These people who had undergone Japanese military training were moved by his words. Calling him an enemy worthy of respect, they let him go.
Later, Ding Ming-Nan kept his promise. When the army arrived, he assured them that there had been no conflict in the Tsenwen district, and they should move on. The locals suffered no casualty and were grateful to him.
~ An excerpt from Chen Yi (陳儀)’s Nephew Ding Ming-Nan (丁名楠) Saved the Tsenwen (曾文) District.
Since 1995, 228 has been widely discussed with the Taiwanese public, and, beginning with Lee Teng-hui, public commemorations and apologies to surviving members and descendants of people who have experienced the events of the White Terror era firsthand are initiated on an annual basis.
I acknowledge that Taiwan and its people have been through much strife in the past, and I too would like to humbly step forward and apologize—on behalf of the country of my forefathers and mothers, on behalf of the President’s namesake, and on behalf of the Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party.
May we all learn to forgive the wrongdoings of the past, and forgive the people involved in such incidents.
On an unrelated but very optimistic note, I heartily congratulate and commend filmmaker Ang Lee for his Oscar nomination for Best Director for the film Life of Pi!
I believe his acceptance speech shown below speaks volumes of not only the love he has for Taiwan, but the love that I have for the island too. 🙂
Ilha Formosa…In Memoriam of 228. We will never forget.