What you need to know
For many in Taiwan, February 28 is a day to reflect on the country’s brutal history, but the somber occasion has been marred by distractions this year.
Taiwanese today commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 228 Incident; the 1947 event sparked a brutal crackdown by the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party), leading to tens of thousands of deaths and marking the start of the White Terror and 38 years of martial law.
Yesterday, hundreds of human rights activists marched in Taipei, calling for more action on the 1947 event. A day earlier, in a bid to advance transitional justice, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced the government would declassify all historical records relating to the 228 Incident.
While a series of exhibitions and ceremonies focusing on 228 have been held across the island-nation today, some Taiwanese, including local media, appear to have been somewhat distracted.
“Compared to commemorations of historical tragedies in other countries, such as the Holocaust in Europe, or September 11 in the United States, the commemoration of 228 has become a mixture of a fun weekend plus commemorative events,” explains Ross D. Feingold, chair of the Chabad Taipei Jewish Center. “Other societies commemorate such tragedies in an environment that is more broadly somber.”
Feingold points to a scandal involving Pizza Hut – the restaurant chain advertised a promotion during what is known as the 228 public holiday – which reflects that for many the focus of 228, a rare public holiday in Taiwan, is the time off work.
“Today's controversy over Pizza Hut offering promotional deals over the four-day holiday weekend is a good reminder that this day is about commemoration and memorial, and not fun,” he says. “Unfortunately for Pizza Hut, and understandably, the promotion was simply consistent with the general environment that this is a weekend for fun and leisure rather than commemoration.”
Feingold also notes that much news reporting in the lead-up to February 28 focuses on traffic, the best way to get out of Taipei and return to family homes in other parts of Taiwan and entertainment options for the holiday period.
“Although mixed into those reports were short segments about President Tsai and other government leaders meeting victims and their descendants, it's unfortunate that for many the commemoration is secondary to having fun.”
The fact that many use the holiday to travel around the country to visit family, further limits the ability of Taiwanese to engage with the serious purpose of the 228 commemorations.
“Although there are commemorative events today, when those events are broadcast many people will be traveling back to the large cities from visiting relatives or other vacation-like activities, thus ensuring a reduced audience for such commemorative events,” Feingold says.
Moreover, the president herself may have drawn attention away from the 228 Incident after reportedly inviting several political leaders from her ruling Democratic Progressive Party to lunch at the official presidential residence yesterday.
“The media coverage of this politics-as-usual gathering might also be seen as detracting from the somber nature of 228 commemoration,” Feingold says.
TNL Editor: Edward White