Taiwan Confronts Its Past

Michael Rand Hoare probes the truth behind a little-known massacre which is reverberating in Taiwanese politics today.

When the Cairo Conference in November 1943 endorsed the return of Taiwan to China on the eventual defeat of the Japanese, none of the participants, perhaps least of all the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, seem to have foreseen the tragedy that the return of the 'beautiful island' to mainland government would create. Yet, within two years of the 1945 surrender many thousands of islanders were to be slaughtered by their fellow Chinese in a bloodbath that ranks high in the list of massacres which punctuate Asian history.

The long aftermath of the '228' events, as the Taiwan rebellion of February 28th, 1947, has become known, and their virtual excision from official history is a complicated story. Taiwan had not been a conquest of the Pacific War; for the half-century before 1945 it was a Japanese colony, ceded by the failing Ching dynasty, with little reluctance, following the defeat of 1895 and the treaty of Shimonoseki. As a consequence, the island population, though related in language and customs to the coastal province of Fukien, from which their forefathers had emigrated over the centuries, differed considerably from their mainland counterparts. Relatively well-educated and literate by Chinese standards, they had experienced two generations of Japanese indoctrination under a severe, but efficient colonial administration. Some served willingly in the Imperial Army in the South Pacific.

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