President Tsai Ing-wen, who has pledged to foster reconciliation and national unity, has announced that a new independent body will be set up to promote transitional justice.
Healing old wounds from past injustices, Ms Tsai said yesterday, will allow Taiwan to move forward into the future. She stressed that her government is pursuing transitional justice to achieve the goal of reconciliation, and not political struggle.
Ms Tsai was speaking at a memorial to mark the 70th anniversary of the Feb 28 uprising - known as the 2/28 Incident - that led to a bloody massacre of thousands by troops under then Kuomintang (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek.
Held at Taipei's 228 Peace Memorial Park under a light drizzle, the hour-long memorial was attended by survivors of the tragedy and family members of the victims.
In her speech, Ms Tsai promised a "rigorous" probe, starting today, into how the KMT government under Chiang quelled the uprising, and to hold those responsible for the killings accountable. The investigation will last three years.
1947 incident that sparked revolts
TAIPEI • The 2/28 Incident was an uprising that flared up on Feb 28, 1947. It soon spread to other parts of Taiwan, and was crushed in the massacre of up to 30,000 Taiwanese by troops under Kuomintang (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek.
The uprising was followed by four decades of martial law and divisions between Taiwanese whose roots in the island predated the arrival of the KMT in 1945 and the Chinese who came after.
The Feb 28 episode began the daay before, outside the Pegasus Teahouse in Dadaocheng, old Taipei's commercial district.
A widow selling cigarettes illegally was confronted by inspectors and the police. After an inspector struck her head with his pistol, enraged passers-by surrounded the officers, one of whom shot and killed a bystander before all of them escaped.
Unable to pressure the authorities into giving up the officer that night, hundreds of protesters gathered the next morning to march to the office of Taiwan governor Chen Yi to demand justice.
They reached the governor's office and soldiers opened fire, killing several protesters. A group fled and took over the provincial radio station, calling for an uprising against the KMT. Revolts broke out in all major cities.
Taiwanese anger at the KMT had been building for months. Locals were aghast at the unruly behaviour of KMT troops, while KMT officials seized public and private property.
After the revolts, Taiwanese people were in charge, managing government offices and keeping order in the streets.
Then, military reinforcements arrived from mainland China and the killing began.
Ms Tsai's push for transitional justice comes after the National Archives Administration declassified all documents related to the 2/28 Incident, which began after an inspector beat a female trader in Taipei for selling untaxed cigarettes. In the ensuing crackdown branded the "White Terror", the KMT government tortured and killed as many as 30,000 people.
Noting that "reconciliation is built on truth", Ms Tsai said: "I hope that one day (when) the truth is fully clarified, the perpetrators will be willing to apologise, (while) the victims and their families will also be willing to forgive."
She responded to criticisms from some quarters that the tragedy's painful past should not be revisited and that the government, already grappling with reviving the flagging economy, might be spreading itself thin by pushing for transitional justice. "The past will never go away unless we find out the truth... and the co-existence of prosperity and justice in Taiwan is a worthy goal," she added.
Ahead of the commemoration, the government announced plans to revamp, and possibly rename, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and remove Chiang's statues. The hall, a popular tourist attraction, will be closed on Feb 28 every year.
Professor Lee Hsiao-feng from the National Taipei University of Education, an expert in democratic movements, called removing Chiang's statues a bold move by Ms Tsai. "There isn't a democracy around the world that honours or celebrates a dictator, much less have a memorial hall named after him. So it is timely that she is upholding this democratic value," Prof Lee told The Straits Times.
In China, the anniversary was marked in a low-key manner with seminars. Last week, Beijing called the uprising a part of the Chinese people's struggle for liberation, and accused Taiwan's separatist elements of distorting historical facts for "ulterior motives".
A commentary in the overseas edition of the Communist Party's People's Daily said yesterday that the 2/28 Incident should be marked by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait "joining hands to oppose Taiwan independence".