Taiwan Shows the Way for China to Address the Tiananmen Square Massacre

The massacre at Tiananmen Square is never discussed in China. (Image: thierry ehrmann via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )
The massacre at Tiananmen Square is never discussed in China. (Image: thierry ehrmann via flickr / CC BY 2.0 )

During the 1989 student protests conducted at Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government initiated violent repression of the protestors. Today remembered as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, more than 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the incident and resulting crackdown. Discussion about the Tiananmen Square Massacre is severely restricted in China.

Many Chinese often wonder how to move ahead and get people talking about the massacre. Neighboring Taiwan also saw a violent repressive crackdown against anti-government protestors in the infamous “228 Incident.” However, the island nation has encouraged discussion on the topic, showing China a way to address the issue.

The 228 Incident

After Japan surrendered at the end of the Second World War in 1945, control of Taiwan was handed over to the Republic of China (ROC), with the Kuomintang (KMT) as the ruling party. The locals became quickly resentful of the KMT, as they saw the Party authorities engage in economic mismanagement and the seizure of private property. On February 27, 1947, a couple of investigators from KMT beat up a widow, suspecting her of selling contraband cigarettes. This incident triggered widespread anger among residents and the investigators ended up opening fire and a man was killed.

People were killed by the thousands in the 228 Incident. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

As news got out, violence started to spread across Taiwan. Starting on February 28, the government enacted harsh measures against civilians and violently cracked down on protestors. By the time everything was brought under control, almost 5,000 to 28,000 Taiwanese were estimated to have been killed by authorities. Thousands were reported to be missing. Since the incident started on February 28, the massacre came to be known as the “228 Incident.”  

The Taiwanese government tried to keep the incident quiet and denied that there had ever been a massacre. In the 70s, several groups started asking that a proper investigation on the matter be done. But no action was taken. In 1987, martial law finally ended in Taiwan and the KMT allowed the establishment of opposition parties.

Lee Teng-hui from the KMT was selected as the president in 1988. He had participated in the massacre and was even arrested as an instigator. In 1995, Lee made a formal apology on behalf of the government to victims of the massacre. He declared February 28 as the day to commemorate the event. Several memorials were erected all across Taiwan and the Taipei National Park was renamed 228 Memorial Park.

In 1995, President Lee Teng-hui (on the right) finally made an apology on behalf of the government to victims of the 228 Incident. (Image: wikimedia / GNU FDL)

The CCP and Tiananmen

Today, discussion on the 228 Incident is encouraged among the public so that the Taiwanese never forget the horrors that arise due to an authoritarian government. The Chinese can also address the Tiananmen Massacre incident if the government wishes it. The question is whether the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will allow for a discussion on a topic that will criminally implicate it?

The KMT went from a totalitarian government to a democratic party for the 228 incident to become a public topic. But seeing the CCP’s obsessive control over China, it does not look like the Party will allow democracy anytime soon. As such, chances of Tiananmen becoming publicly debatable in China will likely not happen over the next few decades.

It is a shame that the CCP spends so much time criticizing Taiwan. The island country has at least made peace with its demons. On the contrary, the CCP seems determined to unleash horrors worse than the Tiananmen Square massacre or the 228 Incident.

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