Photo Credit: 228 Memorial Museum
LAST YEAR, for the first time since 1947, the city government of Keelung planned a memorial with NGO groups to hold a memorial service for the Keelung Massacre which occurred on March 8, 1947, several days after the nation slipped into chaos over the 228 Massacre. The memorial service was held at the city’s Maritime Plaza, near where the troops landed 69 years ago.
The Keelung Massacre is less well-known than the 228 Massacre, but is among the major crimes committed by the KMT, or rather, the Republic of China government which was synonymous with the KMT at the time. In fact, some of the local residents of Keelung goes so far to claim that Keelung was a stronghold of the KMT for such a long time because of the massacre has taught them not to revolt against the ROC government for fear of death. WIth the switch of the city’s political affiliation to DPP, DPP city mayor Lin You-chang (林右昌) expressed his plans to remove statues of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) from the city’s school and public offices, taking the first steps towards transitional justice to acknowledge the atrocities committed by the ROC government committed by the KMT. But what exactly happened on March 8, 1947?
The cover of Formosa Betrayed by George H. Kerr
George Kerr’s book, Formosa Betrayed (1965), recounts the incident on March 8, stating that indiscriminate killing by the KMT troops took place upon disembarking at the Keelung. Some sources went as far as to claim that the indiscriminate machine-gun shooting occurred even before the troops disembarked, and bodies of the wounded and dead were all thrown into the sea afterward. The troops arrived en masse and came well-equipped, an indication that major violent repression was about to take place. According to Kerr, reliable sources estimated about an army of 2,000 police, followed by about 8,000 troops with light equipment including U. S. army jeeps, and it is reported that about 3,000 men, all landed at Takao (Kaohsiung) simultaneously.
The request for military mobilization came from Chen Yi, then acting governor of Taiwan “province”. Chen Yi requested Chiang Kai-Shek to mobilize troops after the ROC government was unable to control the people over their demands for political reform in Taiwan after the 228 Incident. In fact, before March 8, Chen Yi made a promise to the people on Taiwan that mainland troops would not be deployed to Taiwan if there were to be room for negotiations, but rumours that Chiang would deploy troops to Taiwan circulated widely during the time and would, of course, later be proven to be correct. Kerr includes in his book a statement revealing Chen Yi’s promise to the people on the island, via the words of Chang Wu-tso, Commander of the Fourth Gendarme Regiment at noon on March 8th. The statement says:
“I can guarantee that there will be no social disturbances if the people do not try to disarm the soldiers. I want especially to report to you that the demands for political reforms in this province are very proper. The Central Government will not dispatch troops to Taiwan. I earnestly entreat the people of Taiwan not to irritate the Central Government, but to cooperate to maintain order. I can risk my life to guarantee that the Central Government will not take any military actions against Taiwan. I speak these words out of my sincere attachment to this province and to the nation. I hope Taiwan will become a model province after these political reforms.”
(Hsin Sheng Pao, March 9, 1947)
Yet, the troops arrived nonetheless, showing that Chen Yi reneged on his promise. Beginning from March 9th, widespread and indiscriminate killing occurred, starting from Keelung. Other violent measures such as bayoneting, robbing and looting also occurred.
If anything, the Keelung Massacre marks the actual start of military repression of the ROC over Taiwan. Interestingly, as pointed out by Kerr, America played an indirect role as well: “With these troops came suitable equipment, most of it of American origin. This was China, now, but a hasty paint job did not hide the clearly marked original lettering on the vehicle.” Yet, to be able to get hold of such military equipment is because that Chiang was still in the midst of the civil war with Mao Zedong. This then brings us to ask, what would the fate of Taiwan be if the Americans, did intervene against Chiang’s decision to mobilize weapons provided to him by America to be used against Taiwanese during the massacres which took place during this time? The question is an interesting historical hypothetical.
Today, voices calling out for the removal of Chiang’s statues from all over school and public spaces are growing ever louder. In fact, students from schools all over Taiwan are mobilizing themselves, without much help from older civic organizations, to protest against the presence of Chiang statues on school campuses.
It is interesting to point out an incident at National Cheng Chi University (NCCU), the university known for its roots as the “party school” of the KMT. Student bodies and organization were raising awareness of 228 victims by pinning poster with stories about them on the university’s bulletin boards. An alleged member of the disciplinary committee removed the posters and verbally attacked the students in the capacity of being an “authority” figure in the school. This incident sparked a nationwide controversy, with some comments calling out for more respect from the students since NCCU, is after all, known as the “party school” of the KMT.
Confrontation between students and administration at National Cheng Chi University. Photo credit: National Cheng Chi University Wildfire Front
Of course, the concept of “When in Rome, do what the Romans do,” should not be the argumentative basis of whether you should call out the traces of authoritarianism that are still lingering around corners of Taiwan. The call for transitional justice would mean to rooting out these traces of past authoritarianism, and to point out to the problems of the system that inculcate the doctrine of “respecting” the roots of an established institution as a form of political brainwashing which still occurs in the present. As it seems, the path towards transitional justice, is, still a rocky one.
Transitional justice came very late for Taiwan, though it is better late than never. Looking back at the beginning of memorials for 228 Massacre, it was not until 1990 when the legislature first decided to commemorate 228 with a minute of silence. In 1991, the Executive Yuan created a special “228 Incident Research Committee”–notice the use of “Incident” in place of “Massacre”—and the first official report on the 228 “Incident” came out in 1992. In 1996 Taipei New Park changed it’s name to the 228 Peace Memorial Park, marking a significant step forward in acknowledgements of the incident.
Indeed, much effort has been put into calling for the recognition of human rights and justice on Taiwan, but the fact is that actually very little has been accomplished, and one wonders if anything has been done at all. The failure for the government is to recognize that transitional justice can only be achieved through recognizing the systematic and constitutional problems of the ROC government, which is the foundation of the education and cultural institutions of Taiwan. These are the main pillars impeding transitional justice, and the failure to recognize these deep rooted problems only goes to show the failure for progressive reforms in Taiwan.