February 28 incident

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February 28 incident
228 Incident h.jpg
People gathered in front of the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau on 28 February 1947
Native name 二二八事件
DateFebruary 28, 1947 (1947-02-28)
TypeAnti-government uprising
CauseHigh-handed and frequently corrupt conduct on the part of the Kuomintang
OutcomeBeginning of the White Terror
Armed soldiers as seen in Tainan by Dr. M. Ottsen who served for the United Nations
Woodcut "The Terrible Inspection" by Rong-zan Huang

The February 28 incident or the February 28 massacre, also known as the 2.28 incident (from Chinese: 二二八事件; pinyin: Èr’èrbā shìjiàn), was an anti-government uprising in Taiwan that was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government, which killed thousands of civilians beginning on 28 February 1947. The number of Taiwanese deaths from the massacre was estimated to be between 18,000 to 28,000.[1] The massacre marked the beginning of the White Terror in which tens of thousands of other Taiwanese went missing, died or were imprisoned. The incident is one of the most important events in Taiwan's modern history and was a critical impetus for the Taiwan independence movement.

In 1945, following the surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, the Allies handed temporary administrative control of Taiwan to the Republic of China (ROC), thus ending 50 years of Japanese colonial rule. Local inhabitants became resentful of what they saw as high-handed and frequently corrupt conduct on the part of the Kuomintang (KMT) authorities, including arbitrary seizure of private property and their economic mismanagement. The flashpoint came on 27 February 1947 in Taipei, when a dispute between a cigarette vendor and an officer of the Office of Monopoly triggered civil disorder and an open rebellion that lasted for days.[2] The violence spread and led to indiscriminate lynching of Mainlanders. The uprising was violently put down by the National Revolutionary Army, and the island was placed under martial law.

The subject was officially taboo for decades. On the anniversary of the event in 1995, President Lee Teng-hui addressed the subject publicly, a first. The event is now openly discussed and details of the event have become the subject of government and academic investigation. February 28 has been designated Peace Memorial Day (和平紀念日; hépíng jìniànrì), an official public holiday. Every February 28, the president of the ROC gathers with other officials to ring a commemorative bell in memory of the victims. The president bows to family members of 2/28 victims and gives each one a certificate officially exonerating any victims previously blacklisted as enemies of the state. Monuments and memorial parks to the victims of 2/28 have been erected in a number of Taiwanese cities, including Kaohsiung and Taipei.[3][4] Taipei's former "Taipei New Park" was rededicated as 228 Peace Memorial Park and houses the National 228 Memorial Museum to commemorate the incident. The museum opened on 28 February 1997, and re-opened on 28 February 2011, with new permanent exhibits.[5][6]

February 28 incident
February 28 Massacre
Traditional Chinese二二八大屠殺
Simplified Chinese二二八大屠杀


The "two-two-eight incident" name derives from the "year-month-day" date format convention used for dates in Chinese. Chinese languages do not have common names for the months, so months are given as numbers and dates are given in the form "a-b-c-d year, x month, y day, with all numbers being read out as cardinals without any leading zeroes. With the incident dated February 28, 1947, the name is rendered "one nine four seven year, two month, two (tens) eight day". For brevity just the numbers are given, and, as a date of significance, the day and month without the year suffices as the name. Other historical events named using the same conventions as the "two-two-eight incident" include the May Fourth Movement (4 May 1919) the "Five-Four Movement", the Tiananmen Incident (5 April 1976) the "four-five movement" and the Tianamen Square protests (4 June 1989) the "six-four incident".


Cover of the first issue of Taiwan Literature Magazine (臺灣文藝; Táiwān wényì) printed in 1934, during Japanese rule

During the 50 years of Japanese rule in Taiwan (1895–1945), Japan developed Taiwan's economy and raised the standard of living for most Taiwanese people, building up Taiwan as a supply base for the Japanese main islands. Consequently, Taiwanese perceptions of the Japanese rule were more favourable than perceptions in other parts of East and Southeast Asia. Taiwanese adopted Japanese names and practised Shinto, while the schools instilled a sense of "Japanese spirit" in students. By the time World War II began, many Taiwanese were proficient in the Japanese language.

Severe inflation led the Bank of Taiwan to issue of bearer's checks in denominations of 1 million Taiwan Dollars (TW$1,000,000) in 1949.

After World War II, Taiwan was placed under the administrative control of the Republic of China to provide stability until a permanent arrangement could be made. Chen Yi, the Governor-General of Taiwan, arrived on 24 October 1945, and received the last Japanese governor, Ando Rikichi, who signed the document of surrender on the next day. Chen Yi then proclaimed the day as Retrocession Day to make Taiwan part of the Republic of China, although there were questions about the legality of doing so.[7]

The Kuomintang (KMT) troops from Mainland China were initially welcomed by local inhabitants, but their behaviour and the KMT maladministration led to Taiwanese discontent during the immediate postwar period. As Governor-General, Chen Yi took over and sustained the Japanese system of state monopolies in tobacco, sugar, camphor, tea, paper, chemicals, petroleum refining, mining and cement, just the way the Nationalist treated people in other former Japan-control areas (people nicknamed him robber "劫收").[8] He confiscated some 500 Japanese-owned factories and mines, and homes of former Japanese residents. Economic mismanagement led to a large black market, runaway inflation and food shortages. Many commodities were compulsorily bought cheaply by the KMT administration and shipped to Mainland China to meet the Civil War shortages where they were sold at very high profit furthering the general shortage of goods in Taiwan. The price of rice rose to 100 times its original value between the time the Nationalist took over to the spring of 1946, increasing to nearly 4 times the price in Shanghai. It inflated further to 400 times the original price by January 1947.[9] Carpetbaggers from Mainland China dominated nearly all industry, political and judicial offices, displacing the Taiwanese who were formerly employed. Many of the ROC garrison troops were highly undisciplined, looting, stealing and contributing to the overall breakdown of infrastructure and public services.[10] Because the Taiwanese elites had met with some success with self-government under Japanese rule, they had expected the same system from the incoming ruling Chinese Nationalist Government. However, the Chinese Nationalists opted for a different route, aiming for the centralization of government powers and a reduction in local authority. The KMT's nation-building efforts followed this ideology based on unpleasant experiences with the centrifugal forces during the Warlord Era in 1916–1928 that had torn the government in China. Mainland Communists were even preparing to bring down the government like the Ili Rebellion.[11] The different goals of the Nationalists and the Taiwanese, coupled with cultural and language misunderstandings served to further inflame tensions on both sides.

Uprising and crackdown[edit]

Today's 228 Memorial Museum in Taipei is housed in a broadcast station that played a role in the incident.
"Terror In Formosa", a news article from The Daily News of Perth, reported the status in March.
Angry residents storm the Yidingmu police station in Taipei on February 28, 1947
Painter and Professor Chen Cheng-po was killed in Chiayi
Medical doctor and Taipei City Councilor Huang Chao-sheng lost and murdered in Taipei

On the evening of 27 February 1947, a Tobacco Monopoly Bureau enforcement team in Taipei went to the district of Taiheichō [zh] (太平町), Twatutia (present-day Nanjing West Road), where they confiscated contraband cigarettes from a 40-year-old widow named Lin Jiang-mai (林江邁) at the Tianma Tea House. When she demanded their return, one of the men holding a gun hit Lin's head with a pistol, prompting the surrounding Taiwanese crowd to challenge the Tobacco Monopoly agents. As they fled, one agent shot his gun into the crowd, killing one bystander. The crowd, which had already been harboring many feelings of frustration from unemployment, inflation and corruption of the Nationalist government, reached its breaking point. The crowd protested to both the police and the gendarmes, but was mostly ignored.[12]

Violence flared the following morning on February 28. Security forces at the Governor-General's Office tried to disperse the crowd. Some fired on the protesters who were calling for the arrest and trial of the agents involved in the previous day's shooting, resulting in several deaths.[13] Formosans took over the administration of the town and military bases on March 4 and forced their way into local radio station to protest.[14][15] By evening, martial law had been declared and curfews were enforced by the arrest or shooting of anyone who violated curfew.

For several weeks after the February 28 incident, the Taiwanese civilians controlled much of Taiwan. The initial riots were spontaneous and somewhat violent. Within a few days the Taiwanese were generally coordinated and organized, and public order in Taiwanese-held areas was upheld by volunteer civilians organized by students, and unemployed former Japanese army soldiers. Local leaders formed a Settlement Committee, which presented the government with a list of 32 Demands for reform of the provincial administration. They demanded, among other things, greater autonomy, free elections, surrender of the ROC Army to the Settlement Committee, and an end to governmental corruption.[15] Motivations among the various Taiwanese groups varied; some demanded greater autonomy within the ROC, while others wanted UN trusteeship or full independence.[16] The Taiwanese also demanded representation in the forthcoming peace treaty negotiations with Japan, hoping to secure a plebiscite to determine the island's political future.

Outside of Taipei, it was less peaceful. Mainland Chinese received revenge attacks of violence. Public places like banks and post offices were looted. Some had to flee for Military Police protection. A few smaller groups formed, including the Communist-inspired "27 Brigade". They looted 3 machine guns, 300 rifles, and hand grenades from military arsenals in Taichung and Pingtung.[17] The armed Taiwanese shot or injured around 200 Nationalist Army soldiers which quickly precipitated the house arrest or execution of those who participated in the rebellion.

The Nationalist Government, under Chen Yi, stalled for time while it assembled a large military force in Fujian. Upon its arrival on March 8, the ROC troops launched a crackdown. The New York Times reported, "An American who had just arrived in China from Taihoku said that troops from the mainland China arrived there on March 7 and indulged in three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen on the streets was shot at, homes were broken into and occupants killed. In the poorer sections the streets were said to have been littered with dead. There were instances of beheadings and mutilation of bodies, and women were raped, the American said."[1]

By the end of March, Chen Yi had ordered the imprisonment or execution of the leading Taiwanese organizers he could identify. His troops reportedly executed, according to a Taiwanese delegation in Nanjing, between 3,000 and 4,000 people throughout the island. The exact number is still undetermined, as only 300 Taiwanese families applied for another compensation as recently as 1990.[18]Detailed records kept by the KMT have been reported as "lost". Some of the killings were random, while others were systematic. Taiwanese elites were among those targeted, and many of the Taiwanese who had formed self-governing groups during the reign of the Japanese were also victims of the 228 incident. A disproportionate number of the victims were Taiwanese high school students. Many had recently served in the Imperial Japanese Army, having volunteered to serve to maintain order. Mainland Chinese civilians who fled were often beaten by Taiwanese.[15]

Some Taiwan political organizations participated in the uprising, for example Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League, was announced "communist" and illegal. Many members were arrested and executed. Some of these organizations had to move to Hong Kong.[19]

The initial 228 purge was followed by discovery of communist infiltrators from communist mainland China under one-party rule, in what was termed "White Terror," which lasted until the end of 1987. Thousands of people, including both mainland Chinese and Taiwanese, were imprisoned or executed for their dissent, leaving the Taiwanese with a deep-seated bitterness towards what they term the Nationalist regime and, by extension, all Chinese not born in Taiwan or anyone supporting the KMT or CCP. Disappearances were common, and the people feared being be captured and executed.[citation needed]


Today, a memorial plaque marks the exact location where the first shot was fired
228 Memorial Day, 2008 in Liberty Square
228 Memorial Park in Taichung
President Ma Ying-jeou addresses the families of the victims during the 228 Incident
Former Vice President Annette Lu, once a political prisoner, gave a speech at the 228 Memorial

For several decades, it was taboo to openly criticize the 228 massacre incident. The government hoped that the execution of Governor Chen Yi and financial compensation for the victims had quelled resentment. In the 1970s the 228 Justice and Peace Movement was initiated by several citizens' groups to ask for a reversal of this policy, and, in 1992, the Executive Yuan promulgated the "February 28 Incident Research Report."[20] Then-President and KMT-chairman Lee Teng-hui, who had participated in the incident and was arrested as an instigator and a Communist sympathizer made a formal apology on behalf of the government in 1995 and declared February 28 a day to commemorate the victims.[21] Among other memorials erected, Taipei New Park was renamed 228 Memorial Park.

Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, the government has set up the 228 Incident Memorial Foundation, a civilian reparations fund supported by public donations for the victims and their families. Many descendants of victims remain unaware that their family members were victims, while many of the families of victims from Mainland China did not know the details of their relatives' mistreatment during the riot.[citation needed] Those who have received compensation more than two times are demanding trials of the still-living soldiers and officials who were responsible for the summary executions and deaths of their loved ones.

Prior to the 228 massacre, many Taiwanese hoped for a greater autonomy from China. The failure of conclusive dialogue with the ROC administration in early March, combined with the feelings of betrayal felt towards the government and China in general are widely believed to have catalyzed today's Taiwan independence movement and subsequently the Taiwan Name Rectification Campaign after democratization.[15]

On 28 February 2004, thousands of Taiwanese participated in the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally. They formed a 500-kilometer (310 mi) long human chain, from Taiwan's northernmost city to its southern tip, to commemorate the 228 incident, to call for peace, and to protest the People's Republic of China's deployment of missiles aimed at Taiwan along the coast of Taiwan Strait.

In 2006, the Research Report on Responsibility for the 228 Massacre was released after several years of research. The 2006 report was not intended to overlap with the prior (1992) 228 Massacre Research Report commissioned by the Executive Yuan. Chiang Kai-shek is specifically named as bearing the largest responsibility in the 2006 report.[22] However, some hardline academics have tried to confuse these conclusions, stating the departing Japanese colonial government was responsible by creating food shortages and causing inflation.[23]


A number of artists in Taiwan have addressed the subject of the 2-28 incident since the taboo was lifted on the subject in the early 1990s.[24] The incident has been the subject of music by Fan-Long Ko and Tyzen Hsiao and a number of literary works.


Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness, the first movie dealing with the events, won the Golden Lion at the 1989 Venice Film Festival.[25] The 2009 thriller Formosa Betrayed also relates the incident as part of the motivation behind Taiwan independence activist characters.


Taiwanese-American Julie Wu's novel The Third Son describes the event and its aftermath from the viewpoint of a Taiwanese boy.[26] In her 2013 novel, The 228 Legacy, author Jennifer J. Chow brings to light the emotional ramifications for those who lived through the events yet suppressed their knowledge out of fear. It focuses on how there was such an impact that it permeated throughout multiple generations within the same family.[27]

Shawna Yang Ryan's novel, Green Island (2016)[28] tells the story of the incident as it affects three generations of a Taiwanese family.


In 2017, Taiwanese game developer Red Candle Games launched Detention, a survival horror video game created and developed for Steam. It is a 2D atmospheric horror side-scroller set in 1960s Taiwan under martial law following the 228 incident. The game also incorporates religious elements based on Taiwanese culture and mythology. The game has received favourable reviews from critics. Rely On Horror gave the game a 9 out of 10, saying that "every facet of Detention moves in one harmonious lockstep towards an unavoidable tragedy, drowning out the world around you."[29]


Taiwanese metal band Chthonic's album Mirror of Retribution also makes several lyrical references to the 228 massacre.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Forsythe, Michael (July 14, 2015). "Taiwan Turns Light on 1947 Slaughter by Chiang Kai-shek's Troops". New York Times. Archived from the original on 24 April 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-22.
  2. ^ Kerr & Stuart (1947), p. 4: "On the evening of February 27 certain armed Monopoly Bureau agents and special police agents set upon and beat a female cigarette vendor, who with her two small children had protested the seizure of her small cash as well as her allegedly untaxed cigarettes. She is reported to have died soon after as a result of the beating at police hands. An angered crowd set after the agents, who shot at random, killing one person before they escaped into a civil police station."
  3. ^ 二二八紀念碑 Archived June 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ 新新聞521期:比較全台灣各地二二八紀念碑的碑文與形式[dead link]
  5. ^ Ko, Shu-ling; Chang, Rich; Chao, Vincent Y. (March 1, 2011). "National 228 museum opens in Taipei". Taipei Times. p. 1. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  6. ^ Chen, Ketty W. (February 28, 2013). "Remembering Taiwan's Tragic Past". Taipei Times. p. 12. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "Charter of the United Nations". Chapter XII: International Trusteeship System. United Nations. June 26, 1945. Archived from the original on 28 August 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  8. ^ "大「劫收」与上海民营工业". 檔案與史學. 1998-03-01.
  9. ^ "Formosa After the War". Reflection on the 228 Event—The first gunshot. 2003. Archived from the original on 6 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-06.
  10. ^ "This Is the Shame". Time Magazine. 1946-06-10. (Subscription required)
  11. ^ "The Taiwan province working committee organization of the CCP(1946~1950) in Taipei city". National Tamkang University. 11 January 2010.
  12. ^ 延平路昨晚查緝私煙隊,開槍擊斃老百姓 (民報社), 民報社 (in Chinese), Taiwan Ministry of Culture:National Repository of Cultural Heritage, 1947-02-28, archived from the original on 2012-07-15
  13. ^ "Seizing-cigarettes incident". Reflection on the 228 Event—The first gunshot. 2003. Archived from the original on 6 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-06.
  14. ^ Durdin, Peggy (May 24, 1947). "Terror in Taiwan". The Nation. Archived from the original on 24 April 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-22.
  15. ^ a b c d Smith, Craig A (2008). "Taiwan's 228 Incident and the Politics of Placing Blame". Past Imperfect. University of Alberta. 14: 143–163. ISSN 1711-053X. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  16. ^ Durdin, Tillman (1947-03-30). "Formosans' Plea For Red Aid Seen". New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 February 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-06.
  17. ^ 反抗蔣家暴虐統治,臺灣人民武裝起義 蔣政府駐臺機關普遍遭受襲撃 起義人民已奪取了中南部政権(東北日報), 東北日報 (in Chinese), 東北日報社, 1947-03-13
  18. ^ "DPP questions former Premier Hau's 228 victim figures". The China Post. Taipei. February 29, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  19. ^ *Wang, Xiaobo (February 2004). Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League and the February 28 Incident. Taipei: Straits Academic Press.
  20. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (April 3, 1992). "Taipei Journal; The Horror of 2-28: Taiwan Rips Open the Past". The New York Times. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  21. ^ Mo, Yan-chih (February 28, 2006). "Remembering 228: Ghosts of the past are yet to be laid to rest". Taipei Times. p. 4. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  22. ^ Chen, Yi-shen (February 2005). "Research Report on Responsibility for the 228 Massacre, Chapter II: Responsibility on the part of the decision-makers in Nanjing". 228.org.tw. The 228 Memorial Foundation. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  23. ^ Shih, Hsiu-chuan (February 28, 2007). "Hardline academics blame Japan for 228 Incident". Taipei Times. p. 1. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  24. ^ "228 Massacre, 60th Commemoration". Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  25. ^ "A City of Sadness". 21 October 1989. Retrieved 12 March 2017 – via IMDb.
  26. ^ Winterton, Bradley (May 7, 2014). "Book review: The Third Son". Taipei Times. p. 12. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  27. ^ Bloom, Dan (Aug 19, 2013). "US author probes 'legacy' of the 228 Incident in novel". Taipei Times. p. 3. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  28. ^ "Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan - PenguinRandomHouse.com". Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  29. ^ "Review: Detention - Rely on Horror". Retrieved 12 March 2017.


External links[edit]