Peace Memorial Day is a national holiday in Taiwan every year on February 28. A somber remembrance for the thousands of innocent lives lost during a brutal military crackdown by Chinese forces in 1947. 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 Peace Memorial Day (228 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, tea, and took over mines and factories. The K.M.T. administration’s overall inefficiency and corrupt governance plunged the economy into disarray.
On February 27, 1947, agents of the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau took things too far when they assaulted a 40-year-old widow, Lin Jiang-Mai while confiscating contraband cigarettes. As angry crowds gathered, the agents attempted to flee from the scene and, in the process, ended up killing a bystander. On February 28, furious protests erupted, resulting in the Taiwanese people seizing control of military bases and the Taipei administration.
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,’ 38 years of brutal martial law.
Following Chen Yi’s dismissal and subsequent execution in 1950, 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.
Peace Memorial Day (228 Memorial Day) timeline
After the Japanese surrender in World War II, the ROC takes control of Taiwan.
The ROC imposes 38 years of martial law, imprisoning 140,000 and executing 3,000 to 4,000 Taiwanese.
President Lee Teng-Hui formally apologizes and commemorates February 28 as Peace Memorial Day.
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.
Peace Memorial Day (228 Memorial Day) FAQs
Who lived in China before the Chinese?
The Dutch colonized the island in the 1600s, followed by the Hoklo and Hakka immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong. The Spanish also settled there briefly.
Is Taiwan a part of China?
Taiwan is part of the Republic of China (ROC). The history goes back to the Chinese Civil War (1927 to 1949) fought between the Kuomintang government (ROC) and the Chinese Communist Party (or the People’s Republic of China). Presently, the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) controls Mainland China while the ROC controls Taiwan. The P.R.C. still claims Taiwan as part of its territory under the ‘One China Principle.’
Does Taiwan pay tax to China?
Taiwan residents can only be taxed by the Taiwan authorities.
How to Observe Peace Memorial Day (228 Memorial 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.
Visit 228 Memorial Park
When in Taipei, pay your respects at the 228 Massacre Monument in Memorial Park. Read the inscription, and take a moment to acknowledge the suffering that took place during this time. “We must be one, no matter which communal group we belong to; we must help each other with compassion and treat each other with sincerity; we must dissolve hatred and resentment, and bring about long-lasting peace."
Turn to music and books
Discover several artists who have spoken about 228 through their work. Listen to Chthonic, a Taiwanese metal band that has made music influenced by the 228 massacres. Read literary works like the “228 Legacy” by Jennifer Chow or by Julie Wu’s “The Third Son.” “Formosa Betrayed” is a political thriller, published in 1965 that references 228 too.
5 Facts About Taiwan That Will Blow Your Mind
A progressive and liberal country
In a historic first for an Asian country, Taiwan was the first to legalize gay marriage in 2019.
White symbolizes death
The Taiwanese wear white to funerals, not black.
Taiwan’s national sport is baseball
Taiwan has more wins in the Little League World Series than any other country.
Bubble tea originated here
Before becoming a worldwide sensation, the original bubble tea was born in Taiwan in the 1980s.
It’s a small country
You can drive around the entire island in around eight hours.
Why Peace Memorial Day (228 Memorial Day) is Important
Remembering lives lost
Without Peace 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 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.
Peace Memorial Day (228 Memorial Day) dates