228 Memorial Day is observed every year in Taiwan on February 28. The number “228” represents the date of February 28, when an uprising led to the massacre of thousands of people in Taiwan. This massacre led to the beginning of the White Terror, a period in which many more Taiwanese were killed, imprisoned, and lost. Memorial Day is a day to remember the victims of that horrible period and sympathize with survivors. These events are now referred to as the February 28 Incident or the 228 Massacre. The Taiwanese government has since offered a public apology for the events of that fateful day. The day is significant in the development of a distinct Taiwanese identity and their call for peace on this day recognizes the country’s tremendous loss. However, the message isn’t as far removed as it seems as it’s a day that unites all of us through the universal lens of compassion for all people, that crosses borders. Each year, Taiwan observes Peace Memorial Day through memorial services, concerts, ceremonies, and exhibitions.
History of 228 Memorial Day
The government of Taiwan declared February 28 as 228 Memorial Day, officially known as Peace Memorial Day.
The story behind Peace Memorial Day comes from a long history of colonialism and oppression. In 1895, Taiwan came under 50 years of Japanese dominion after China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War. When the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II in 1945, the Republic of China (ROC) regained administrative control.
The mood was initially jubilant as the Taiwanese celebrated the end of Japanese rule but this was short-lived. The Kuomintang (K.M.T.) troops from the ROC proceeded to loot the Taiwanese. Over time, the administration monopolized the production and supply of crucial commodities like paper, and tea, and took over mines and factories. The K.M.T. administration’s overall inefficiency and corrupt governance plunged the economy into disarray.
The events that led to the February 28 incident can be traced back to the period after World War II. When the war ended, Taiwan was placed under the administrative control of the Republic of China. Before the war, Taiwan had been ruled by the Japanese and enjoyed significant economic development under their rule.
Subsequently, the economic arrangements between Taiwan and China were temporary, pending the development of permanent solutions. However, the Taiwanese soon became discontent with the corruption and high-handedness of the Chinese government, led by the Kuomintang Party (KMT). At the time, Chen Yi was the Governor-General.
On February 27, 1947, agents of the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau struck a widow suspected of selling tobacco in front of a tea house. Following this, an officer shot into a crowd of angry bystanders, killing a man as a result. The following morning, an outraged crowd of Taiwanese came out to protest. They marched first to the Bureau and when the protest moved to the Governor-General’s office, guards opened fire on the protesters. The violence that broke out lasted for several weeks and led to thousands of deaths. Martial Law was also declared, marking the start of the “White Terror” in Taiwan.
The K.M.T. countered with a brutal crackdown on March 8 on the orders of Governor-General Chen Yi. For three days, the troops went on an indiscriminate looting and killing spree — a massacre that would signal the beginning of the ‘White Terror.’
In March of the same year, reinforcements from the Nationalist Army arrived and the Governor-General ordered the imprisonment and execution of all uprising organizers. This also resulted in the deaths of between 3,000 to 4,000 people.
Following Chen Yi’s dismissal and subsequent execution in 1950, the families of victims received monetary compensation. Yet, even after the lifting of martial law in 1987, the 228 massacres remained a heavily censored topic. Through the years, citizens’ groups rallied to lift the taboo around 228. Their efforts paid off when in 1995, President Lee Teng-Hui issued a formal apology and declared February 28 Peace Memorial Day.
Though the horrible events cannot be reversed, the Taiwanese government showed good faith by offering a public apology. An Act was also signed into law, providing monetary compensation to survivors of the massacre.
228 Memorial Day timeline
At the end of World War II, Taiwan is placed under Chinese Rule.
Thousands of people are killed by the Kuomintang-led Chinese government.
The ROC imposes 38 years of martial law, imprisoning 140,000 and executing 3,000 to 4,000 Taiwanese.
In Taiwan, Martial Law concludes.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “City of Sadness,” the first film to depict the 228 massacres, wins the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.
Taiwan’s President, Lee Teng-Hui, a victim of the massacre himself, issues a public apology and declares February 28 as “Peace Memorial Day”.
228 Memorial Day FAQs
Is Taiwan a country?
Taiwan, also called the Republic of China (ROC), is only recognized by a few states. Officially, it remains a province of China, though they continue to advocate for independence.
Were victims of the massacre compensated?
Victims of the massacre are entitled to compensation under an Act passed in 1995.
Is English spoken in Taiwan?
The official language of Taiwan is Mandarin, although English is widely spoken.
Does Taiwan pay tax to China?
Taiwan residents can only be taxed by the Taiwan authorities.
How to Observe 228 Memorial Day
Find out more about the day
Due to systematic censorship, the international community knows very little about the brutal 228 Massacre. Look up various Taiwanese sources, websites, and journals to learn more about the 38-year reign of terror and share this information widely within your network.
Open up a conversation
Many people don’t know about or know very little about the events that led up to the massacre. Share your knowledge with others and observe the day by creating the space for open dialogue.
Honor those who lost their lives
The lives that were lost are not just figures on a page but people who left loved ones behind. Pay tribute to them by creating a post and using the hashtag #228memorialday.
5 Interesting Facts About Taiwan
Only 2.3% of Taiwan’s population are native Taiwanese.
In Taiwan, similar to the way ice cream trucks play music in other countries, garbage trucks also blare music to alert residents of their arrival.
In Taiwan, white is the color worn at funerals, as it symbolizes death.
Three different colonists
Taiwan has been under the rule of three different countries, namely China, Holland, and Japan.
A progressive and liberal country
In a historic first for an Asian country, Taiwan was the first to legalize gay marriage in 2019.
Why 228 Memorial Day is Important
It’s a day for remembrance
228 Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember and mourn for all the lives lost during this time in history. The day allows the loved ones of the departed to gain closure on the tragedy. Without 228 Memorial Day, the lives and efforts of thousands of people face the risk of oblivion. We remember their courage and sacrifices today and always.
The day is significant in the Taiwanese struggle for independence from the People’s Republic of China. Today, a majority of the country identifies exclusively as Taiwanese, separate from the Chinese national identity.
History cannot repeat itself
Peace Memorial Day reminds us about what’s at stake. In today’s increasingly polarized world, peace needs consistent effort and dialogue.
228 Memorial Day dates