With tears running down their faces, the Taiwanese people welcomed the arrival of the national army from the land of their ancestors.
But the crowds were surprised to see such skinny "liberators"; the soldiers wore straw sandals and rags, and carried pots and umbrellas on their backs. They defecate openly and spit everywhere. They didn’t know how to use light switches or water faucets, and couldn’t ride bicycles. They didn’t pay at restaurants and didn’t pay for goods. The Taiwanese were truly dumbfounded.
There was friction between the two peoples. Separated by 50 years of Japanese occupation, the Taiwanese were quite different from what the Chinese Nationalist soldiers expected.
“Why do you Taiwanese always act like conquered slaves, ignorant of your own roots?” said the soldiers. “If it hadn’t been for us fighting the Japanese devils for eight years, Taiwan would never have seen its retrocession back to China!"
Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling during their 1946 visit to Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
At the same time, the Chinese Nationalist (KMT) commanders were moving quickly to profit from their new positions. Chen Yi
(陳儀) and his cronies began looting the old Japanese colonial government. Over night, the Republic of China's party-state regime suddenly owned over 20,000 residences in Taiwan, seven banks, 65 airports, nine hundred planes, 2000 tanks and trucks, and hundreds of thousands of guns. The value of their assets was $5.5 billion dollars.
They confiscated modern factories, hydraulic and electrical facilities, highways, railroads and sea ports. They snatched up 175 thousand hectares of farmland and 90 percent of Taiwan’s forested lands. They took the schools, the hospitals and the theatres. They nationalized all the banks, insurance companies, oil and steel firms.
They divided industries into joint ventures, between national and provincial levels, or national and county levels. Some industries were directly controlled by the KMT. They divided the resources again and again, exhausting everything in one fell swoop.
Chen Yi wasn't the KMT's only bandit, there were hundreds of others robbing in broad daylight. The officials responsible for confiscating enemy property all had plentiful quantities of clothing, residences, automobiles, gold and women. They even began registering their names as owners of religious temples.
The former Japanese governor-general of Taiwan bribed Forward Command Control director Ge Jing-en
(葛敬恩) with 120 kilograms of gold to let him escape his war criminal arrest warrant; Ge took the gold, and turned him over to Nanjing anyways.
Taiwan's provincial representatives thought the KMT had gone too far, and brought in the head of the Monopoly Bureau, a man by the name of Ren Wei-chun
(任維鈞). When questioned why certain items like camphor wood and opium had gone missing, Ren said the bureau's entire inventory was eaten by termites. The auditorium roared with laughter.
Ren wasn't the only one who had it easy. Lu Kui-hsiang
(陸桂祥), the Taipei County commissioner at the time, was investigated for embezzling 500 million Taiwan dollars; luckily, county officials and the revenue service got a tip to burn all the accounting records.
A few months later, a satirical comic called "the dogs leave and pigs move in" was pasted to the gate of the old governor-general’s office. Also, the word "a-shan" (阿山) became a substitute for corrupt, lazy and dirty people from China; the word “banshan
” (半山) or “Chongqing beggars” came to describe Taiwanese-born officials who served KMT officials in China.
According to these officials, Taiwan did not have any capable human capital because "Taiwanese people don't understand Mandarin Chinese". These elite KMT officials installed their own flunkies, with a few banshan officials handling minor portfolios.
The Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office's controlled all production and investment. Nothing was provided by the state, and even a primary school pencil and notebook would have been purchased from the public sector.
The cost of daily goods exploded; rice went from 20 cents for a half kilo to 80 Taiwan dollars, rising 400 times its original price. Eradicated diseases like smallpox, cholera and the plague suddenly returned, brought by soldiers from the "motherland".
In just a year and a half, Taiwan turned into a living hell, and then one event captured the zeitgeist of the times.
On the afternoon of February 27th, six agents from the Monopoly Bureau were performing a thorough inspection of the Pegasus Tea House for contraband items; agent Yeh Te-ken (葉德根) came across housewife Lin Chiang-mai (林江邁) selling cigarettes, and struck a pleading Lin in the head. The crowd watching the scene was furious.
As the soldiers looked to flee an increasingly tense situation, bureau agent Fu Hsueh-tung (傅學通) fired his rifle, and killed a pedestrian, Chen Wen-hsi (陳文溪).
The crowd immediately made for the Kencho (建昌) police dispatch station on North Xining Road and demanded the agent be punished. The police said the accused will be handed over to the military police and a part of the crowd rushed off towards the military police legion.
On the 28th at 9:00am, a crowd gathered and moved towards the Monopoly Bureau to demand it return to a righteous path. But first, they smashed the windows of the Yanping North Road police station. By 10:00am, the crowd set a branch of Monopoly Bureau on Chongqing South road on fire, and beat to death a branch clerk. At 1:00 pm, the crowd took their problems to the Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office (the present day Executive Yuan building). They were fired upon from the terrace, resulting in injuries and deaths.
When news of these events became known to the public, the popular rage to “beat a-shan” only metastasized. Locals in Taipei took over the radio station at New Park (today’s 228 Memorial Park) to broadcast this message:
“Instead of starving to death, we should stand up and fight, root out corrupt officials, and prioritize our survival.”
That night, cities in Northern Taiwan began their own uprisings. By the second night, towns and cities in central, southern and eastern Taiwan had joined the fight.
On March 1st, local Taiwanese politicians formed a committee to investigate the incident surrounding the tobacco seizure and how it led to bloodshed. Chen Yi instructed some of his confidantes to join the committee, and it was reorganized to become the “228 Incident Settlement Committee.”
Many young Taiwanese leaders, however, had already begun the fight. There was Xie Xuehong
(謝雪紅), a founder of the Taiwanese Communist Party
and a leader of the "27 Brigade
" a guerilla fighting force in Taichung. There was also Tan Chhoan-te
(陳篡地) a medical doctor from Douliu who led a group to capture the air force base in Huwei.
Control was slipping from Chen Yi's grip, and with low troop numbers on the island, he stalled for time. On the 5th, he received a telegram from Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) that reinforcements from Shanghai would arrive soon, and Chen duly made preparations for the coming crackdown. In his reply to Chiang, he pretended as if a crackdown was not the intention of troop reinforcements:
“The greatest virtue of the Chinese people is tolerance without complaining. Shouldn’t we be exercising greater virtue to our Taiwanese (bensheng) comrades?”
In Kaohsiung, where protests had also broken out, fortress commander Peng Meng-chi
(彭孟緝) was losing patience. On the 6th, Peng gave orders to move on protesters that had gathered at the train station, city hall and Kaohsiung Senior High school. Three of Kaohsiung’s most prominent community members were arrested and later executed, including Tu Kuang-ming
(涂光明), Fan Tsang-jung (范滄榕) and Tseng Fengmin (曾豐明).
For three days, military forces killed indiscriminately in the streets of Kaohsiung; Peng was given a new moniker, "the butcher of Kaohsiung".
Meanwhile in Taipei, the 228 Incident Settlement Committee struggled to maintain control. The Committee's head of publicity, Ong Thiam-teng
(王添灯), held one last hope for arbitration and drafted the “32 Demands
But spies were sowing confusion at the 228 Settlement Committee meetings at Zhongshan Hall
; they agitated to add an additional 10 demands, including preferential quotas for Taiwanese in the ROC military, abolishing the Garrison Command and an unconditional release of all war criminals and suspected detainees. Chen used these ludicrous demands as pretext to declare a "rebellion" and carry out mass suppression.
On the 7th at 5:00pm, Chen rejected the "42 Demands". The Garrison Command's secret police chief of staff Ko Yuan-fen
(柯遠芬) was delighted by the turn of events. Ko reported the turn of events on the 28th as a "conspiracy theory" and said "traitors were mixing with the local population to incite chaos."
“Their conspiracy is now exposed, and we are now justified to act. After struggling for 8 days, our dark days are over, and the light is in front of us. We should be rejoicing."
On the 8th at 3:00pm, two battalions landed in Keelung and started firing. The following day, the Chinese Nationalists 21st Division also landed at Keelung. Chen Yi declared martial law for the entire island on the 10th.
The Army then began its "March Massacre
" (3月大屠殺) starting in the north and moving southwards.
By the 17th, the Army were declaring victory. Defense Minister Bai Chongxi
(白崇禧) arrived in Taiwan with the generalissimo's son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), and wired a message to Chiang Kai-shek that "order is mostly restored, and we are in pursuit of the last remaining rebels that joined forces with armed thugs."
In reality, only a few people had taken up arms, most notably, the 27 Brigade in Taichung, and attempts by the public to capture air bases in Chiayi and Huwei. Other 228 participants did not take arms, but were slaughtered all the same by the 21st Division and Peng Meng-chi's troops and state security units.
Why didn't they take up arms? Weren't some of them trained to fight by the Japanese military? Many of them were gentry who did not wish to "betray their country". Their only demand was democratic self-governance. They thought, for over 2000 years, the people of China have only known rule by an authoritarian emperor, and we have never "been masters of own home".
Members of the Taiwanese elite believed they had done nothing wrong by supporting the protests and uprisings, so there was no need to run away. Shortly after, a generation of Taiwan's best lawyers, doctors and professors faced immense suffering without warning.
As for Taiwan's "fighting units", their battle was doomed from the start. They weren't able to communicate or coordinate attacks, and firearms were in short supply. They were beaten down by the onslaught of National Army units, and shot down one after the other.
(To read the Chinese version of this article, please click: 二二八真相