The Republic of China (ROC) sounds impressive, but now consists only of Taiwan (formerly the island of Formosa) off the Chinese mainland’s southeastern coast. Formosa was restored to China after World War II, having been seized by Japan in the 19th century. General Chiang Kai-shek’s ROC took possession in 1945, imposing a Kuomintang (KMT) government – the KMT being the ROC’s ruling political party.
The ROC’s arrival was not altogether welcome. The populace – though ethnically Chinese – was accustomed to Japanese rule, spoke a distinct dialect and became less than impressed by the KMT regime. Economic conditions were chaotic in the aftermath of war and the Taiwanese soon observed that their inefficient but authoritarian new government was riddled with nepotism and corruption.
Tension built, the flashpoint coming in February 1947, when agents from the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau raided the premises of a woman selling illegal cigarettes. A crowd gathered as they confiscated her stock, stole her life savings and hit her over the head when she protested. Angry locals surged forward but the agents escaped after firing into the crowd, killing one man. This ignited the spontaneous outbreak of civil disorder and insurrection that erupted the next day, which would become known as the 228 incident.
When security forces fired on peaceful protesters, dissidents took control of the capital city, Taipei, and much of the island. But while ROC authorities pretended to negotiate on the angry population’s demands for better governance, they were secretly gathering a large military force on the mainland. This arrived on March 8 and proceeded to crush the rebellion brutally. The prolonged massacre involved the execution of many thousands of Taiwanese people, guilty or not. The outcome was harsh martial law and repressive one-party rule, known as the ‘White Terror’, that would last for four decades.
When: From February 28 1947
Death toll: Unknown, though estimates start at 10,000 and go up to 30,000 and beyond.
You should know: The 228 comes from the date (second month, 28th day) when the anti-government rising began, with such terrible consequences for so many Taiwanese citizens when the military subsequently arrived to punish them for their temerity in seeking self-determination.