Taiwan’s 2-28 Incident

On the evening of February 27 [1947], six police officers attempted to arrest a women selling cigarettes illegally in Taibei. A policeman struck the woman, an angry crowd gathered, and violence broke out after an officer fired his weapon, killing a bystander. The next day, 2,000 to 3,000 Taiwanese marched to the [cigarette] Monopoly Bureau Headquarters, and hundreds moved on to [Nationalist administrator and garrison commander] Chen Yi’s office. Besides protesting the beating and shooting, islanders complained of unemployment, food shortages, inflation, political repression, and corruption. That afternoon, a soldier or police officer at the office fired into the crowd, sparking an islandwide uprising. Vandalism and violence against police, soldiers, bureaucrats, and any mainlander unfortunate enough to be on the streets spread beyond Taibei.

The provincial administration had badly underestimated the willingness of Taiwanese to transform their discontent into concrete action. Incident turned into uprising as urbanites and government forces battled over buildings, railroad stations, and police stations in large towns and cities. Taiwanese gained control of most of the island since Nationalist soldiers, almost exclusively young draftees from the mainland, had little stomach for a fight. Many mainland officials and businessmen abandoned their posts and stayed home throughout the crisis. In some cities, officials and police sought safety together in local military outposts. Railroad, telephone, and telegraph traffic throughout the island ground to a halt in the first days of March. After two or three days of conflict, the situation calmed, although occasional shots were still heard in Taibei.

This crisis was not simply a revolt against the state. Many different groups used the opportunity created by the temporary power vacuum to pursue their own agendas. For example, while educated youth sought immediate political and economic reform, secret society and gang members took advantage of the chaos for personal profit. Urban workers and youth wanted economic recovery and jobs. Youth who had received Japanese military training reconstituted their old units in many of the island’s cities and took to wearing their old uniforms, singing wartime songs, and sporting swords. This naturally served to justify the suspicions of mainlanders that the Taiwanese had been “Japanized.” Ironically, many of these youth had joined the [Sun Yat-sen’s] Three Principles of the People Youth Corps after retrocession. Just as they had done immediately after Japan’s surrender, these young men helped maintain public order.

As had been the case under Japanese rule, the elite’s political agenda placed them between the state and Taiwanese society. They sought the restoration of order and reform of the provincial administration, but found themselves dragged into a maelstrom by the actions of less wealthy Taiwanese. In fact, Taiwanese politicians had frequently raised the problems of poor and homeless islanders in the town, county, and islandwide consultative assemblies. Their solution, however, was reform to facilitate greater Taiwanese control of the island’s resources. In late February and early March, prominent islanders often attempted to limit violence between Taiwanese and mainlanders. For example, Xie E, one of the few Taiwanese women involved in politics at that time, tried to calm islanders through a broadcast that suggested soldiers had not fired on the crowd on February 28. [Prominent Japanese-era reformer on Taiwan] Lin Xiantang personally protected Yan Jiagan, a Nationalist official, from angry Taiwanese. In another instance, some Taiwanese sheltered the Taizhong county magistrate from an angry crowd that wanted to cut off his nose.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 75-76

Let’s hope Lebanon’s “2-28 Incident” achieves better results sooner than Taiwan’s 2-28 Incident did in 1947 or Beijing’s Tiananmen Incident did in 1989.

UPDATE: Reader David of One whole jujuflop situation recommends a U.S. diplomat’s account, entitled Formosa betrayed of the bloody aftermath of the 2-28 Incident in Taiwan.

Leave a comment

Filed under China

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.