07.03.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Taiwan: “Incident 228” commemoration

This year, the tragic events that had begun on February 28, 1947 and then lasted several days, were commemorated on an unprecedented large scale with the participation of Taiwan’s highest officials. There is still no consensus on the number of casualties in what later became known as “Incident (Massacre) 228” (in the 2nd month, on the 28th day). But it is quite possible that it runs into the tens of thousands.

It was a de facto uprising of the local population against the government apparatus, which comprised officials of the Chiang Kai-shek regime established in China at the end of World War II and that ruled the country until 1949. That is, the said bureaucracy consisted mainly of members of the Kuomintang party who came to the island from the territory of the “mainland”.

The relations of “native Taiwanese” with the new authorities, as they say, did not get on well, and the former recalled with obvious nostalgia the times of the Japanese colonialists. It should be noted, by the way, that the nostalgia is still there today, which makes it much easier for contemporary Japan to solve the problem of certain restoration of its presence in Taiwan.

The prevailing view today is that “Incident 228” was a chaotic outburst (for a subsidiary reason) of dissatisfaction accumulated among the Taiwanese during the year and a half of the new government’s rule. It cannot be ruled out, however, that there was also a factor in the ensuing struggle between the CCP and the Kuomintang in the country, which was already worsening. In the end, the former triumphed in the mainland and the latter’s power space was narrowed down to Taiwan.

It is noteworthy that one of the most revered politicians in Taiwan today, Lee Teng-hui, who served as president from 1988-2000 and who passed away (at age 97) on June 30, 2020, participated in the said uprising. His turbulent life underwent a remarkable metamorphosis. He served as a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army at the end of World War II, and he took part in the rebellion against the Kuomintang as a member of the Communist Party. He only admitted this when he stepped down as president of Taiwan. He said that he left the CCP immediately after Incident 228 (“for ideological reasons”) which he had joined “out of hatred for the Kuomintang.”

After the war, Lee spent many stays in universities in the U.S., where he developed a reputation as a scientist specializing in modern agricultural practices. Upon his return to Taiwan, he joined the “hated” Kuomintang in the early 1970s, clearly aiming for higher administrative positions.

However, the current commemoration of what happened 76 years ago does not include Lee Teng-hui, but mainly Chiang Kai-shek (in the most negative terms), who ruled the island with what they call an iron hand until the day he died in 1975. If one can speak of a dictatorial form of power in parts of the divided territory of China, it refers primarily to the rule of the Kuomintang in Taiwan during the period when the party was led by Chiang Kai-shek. His memory is treated without any piety and rather sharply negatively by the current opponent of the Kuomintang, the Democratic Progressive Party, and the current president, Tsai Ing-wen, who represents the latter. One of the DPP’s founders, incidentally, was Lee Teng-hui, who left the Kuomintang immediately after leaving office as president of Taiwan.

Acts of some form of vandalism against the numerous sculptures of Chiang Kai-shek had occurred both during the DPP’s previous period (2000-2008) in power and since its return in early 2016. Each time refusing to acknowledge any involvement in any such actions, the party leadership has persistently pursued the Taiwanese version of “debunking the cult of personality.” In this case, that of Chiang Kai-shek.

As part of the ongoing events during the commemoration of yet another anniversary (let us emphasize, not a particularly remarkable one at all) of “Incident 228”, which, we repeat, have taken place on an unprecedented scale, various (including “spontaneous” street) manifestations of the mentioned “debunking” have occupied a prominent place. On the eve of another march held on the streets of Taipei that day by a number of civic organizations, the daughter of a certain “democracy fighter” who in 1989 self-immolated to protest against the “tyranny of the Kuomintang” appealed to the mayor of the capital Chang Wang-an to pay due attention to the “dark past” as a prerequisite for winning popularity with the Taiwanese.

However, the addressee himself does not mind this “appeal,” but evidently does it, as opponents believe, not sincerely enough, as he is the great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek. Therefore, this time he was banned from participating in the mentioned general procession and was forced to separately express the feelings of “love, peace and justice” in very uncomfortable conditions.

Let us note, however, that even with the current level of this very “sincerity,” Chan Wan-an is already quite popular. At least among the capital’s residents. The recent local elections, in which the Kuomintang achieved an almost triumphant victory over the DPP, provided ample evidence of this. That success could well be the prologue to the Kuomintang’s victory in next year’s general election. In turn, it is hard to overestimate the significance of the results of the latter not only from a domestic political point of view, but also from the standpoint of the current stage of the “Great World Game”. And since the mayor of the capital is seen as one of the Kuomintang candidates for the next president, it is a good time to remind him of his “objectionable” kinship.

So it is not so much the tragic history as the actual (however, also quite dramatic) present and near future that has determined the scale of events on the occasion of the events of 76 years ago. As for the upcoming elections, the situation for the DPP is exacerbated by the inability of the current president, Tsai Ing-wen, who is no less bright and charismatic politician than the late Lee Teng-hui, to stand for a third time. And her successor as leader of the DPP (after Tsai Ing-wen, who took full responsibility for the party’s heavy defeat in the election, stepped down), William Lai has little time left to gain the political clout that the current president still has in the eyes of voters.

Meanwhile, the latter is not leaving the field of the de facto electoral struggle that has already begun and is doing everything in her power for the future victory of her party. And of course she and her administration have not missed such a good opportunity to throw shade on her main rival, the Kuomintang, which the anniversary of “Incident 228” has provided. First, analytical articles on the culprit of the then uprising and its tragic consequences appeared using archival documents. These articles reject the current Kuomintang’s attempts, as they say, to shift the blame from its predecessors to some allegedly surviving Japanese agents and communists. Second, Mrs. President herself laid a wreath at the Incident 228 memorial and briefly referred to the “authoritarian regime” as the main culprit for everything that happened back then.

It should also be noted that the current Kuomintang party bears little resemblance to its Chiang Kai-shek period predecessor, with which it is perhaps only linked by its declarative adherence to the so-called “Three People’s Principles” of Party (and contemporary China) founder Sun Yat-sen. On the basis of these principles, the prospect of ever having “two Chinas” in the international arena is implicitly unacceptable to the Kuomintang.

Again, this does not imply that if the Kuomintang returns to power in a year, the process of administrative and political annexation of the island to the Mainland will begin. Because the party has its own (not very publicized) idea of what a “united China” should look like.

But there is no doubt that the prospect of removing the current “separatists” and “traitors of the interests of the Chinese people” as represented by the DPP from the levers of power on the island looks much more preferable to Beijing. With the help of the Kuomintang, at least. And this preference was once again quite clearly expressed during the recent long trip through the territory of China by a delegation of the Kuomintang led by the Vice Chairman of the Party.

Finally, we again note the presence in real life of facts of amazing metamorphosis. In comparison to which all the most sophisticated products of art-culture pale into insignificance. A few decades ago, it was hard to imagine Beijing condemning acts of vandalism against the memory of its worst enemy, Chiang Kai-shek.

But it is perfectly understandable why this is happening today.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.