Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The 2-28 Incident

A series of events began February 28, 1947 that have greatly affected the political and spiritual life of Taiwan. The event that triggered it is disputed:

Based on my research, here is a summary of what happened and why.

In 1895, China lost a war with Japan and as a consequence gave Japan sovereignty over Taiwan. Japan developed Taiwan as an economic colony and treated the Taiwanese, not as equals, but better than those territories they captured in war. Everyone had to learn Japanese and Japanese culture intermingled with Chinese. The elite would go to Japan or America for further study. Taiwan was relatively untouched by World War II, although a few allied bombs were dropped on the island.

In 1945, at the end of the war, the Allies forced Japan to give Taiwan back to China (this action was formally recognized in 1951). China which had just survived a brutal war with Japan looked on the natives of Taiwan with suspicion. Furthermore, the Nationalist Republic of China (ROC) led by General Chang Kai Shek, was in the process of losing a great civil war against the Communists, led by Mao Tse Tung. The ragtag force sent to govern Taiwan was considered undisciplined, corrupt and uncivilized compared to the former Japanese colonial government.

After a year of perceived misrule, "Taiwanese" anger over the recently arrived "Mainlanders" reached a flashpoint in the 2-28 Incident. A Mainlander police officer arrested a Taiwanese woman selling cigarettes without a license. This led to large scale riots all over Taiwan. Taiwanese in the streets attacked anyone who couldn't speak Japanese.

The government appeared to negotiate with the 2-28 leaders, but when additional troops arrived from the mainland they began shooting anyone in the streets. After regaining control, the Nationalist government rounded up suspected leaders and killed them. Many of the Taiwanese elite were killed or imprisoned including: lawyers, doctors, professors and students; beginning a ten year campaign called the "White Terror."

In 1949, the Communists won their civil war against the Nationalists. Chang Kai-Shek fled for Taiwan with 2 million soldiers, enacted Martial Law and banned all opposing political parties. The 2-28 Incident was covered up and the secret police ensured the people would be afraid to discuss it.

Martial law was lifted in 1987 and today Taiwan is peaceful and prosperous. The "Mainlanders" and the "Taiwanese" have been living together for over 50 years. People can discuss the 2-28 Incident openly and in fact it is now a national holiday of remembrance. As the world considers China's ambitions for Taiwan, the Taiwanese hear the echoes of 2-28.

Next I will show how all this affected the church in Taiwan.