1947: The February 28 Incident

1947: The February 28 Incident

An account of the brutal repression of anti corruption and police brutality protests in Taiwan by the Chinese (Republic of China) military and KMT occupation.

Terror in Taiwan
The Nation, May 24, 1947
by Peggy Durdin

On February 27 a policeman of the Taiwan (Formosa) Monopoly Bureau saw a woman selling smuggled cigarettes on the streets of the capital, Taipei. When he tried to seize her tray and money, she pulled away, and he struck her a crashing blow on the head with his revolver butt. She died at his feet. An angry mob gathered, and the police shot into the crowd, killing one person and wounding others. Forthwith a year and a half of gathering hatred for an inefficient, autocratic, corrupt administration exploded into unarmed demonstrations against the mainland Chinese.

China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre. Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders. Foreigners estimate that at least five thousand Taiwanese were killed and executions are still going on.

Governor General Chen Yi has turned a movement against bad government into one against any Chinese government. Nanking has again demonstrated that its chief solution for political and economic crisis is force. In spite of a curtain of censorship and official misrepresentation, the tragic events that took place in Formosa in March are well known here.

The Chinese government owns, controls, and operates -- for government profit and personal squeeze -- almost the entire economy of Taiwan. One of the articles whose importation and sale are rigidly controlled is tobacco. Many Taiwanese street venders sell smuggled cigarettes. It was in the course of a campaign against the sale of smuggled goods that the woman was killed in Taipei.

The rioting which followed was not consciously revolutionary but was against the hated monopoly police which symbolized for the people the government's exploitation of their island. Unarmed processions marched to the government offices to demand punishment of the policemen, compensation for the dead and wounded, and dismissal of the head of the tobacco monopoly. They beat to death two policemen in front of the tobacco monopoly's office and burned the stocks of tobacco. Police guarding the Governor's office raked the crowd with machine-gun fire without provocation.

Barricaded in its offices, the government lost control of the city. Shops closed. Transportation broke down. Mobs of Taiwanese, still unarmed, beat up a number of mainland Chinese and burned their possessions, though not their homes. Truckloads of police rushed through Taipei's streets machine gunning the demonstrators while Governor Chen Yi was busily broadcasting conciliatory promises. During this period not a single foreigner saw an armed Taiwanese.

With calculated trickery Chen Yi continued his efforts to appease the people while he waited for military reinforcements. On March 2, over the radio, he expressed his love for the Taiwanese, and promised that no one would be prosecuted for rioting, that the families of the dead would be compensated, and that he would appoint a committee to settle the incident. This group composed of mainlanders and representative Taiwanese, most of whom have since been shot, was to be known as the "Committee to Settle the February 28th Incident" and was to present to him by March 10 their suggestions for the reform of the administration.

Though efforts of the committee Taipei and the near by port of Keelung became quiet. Students patrolled the streets, keeping order. Many of these students are now dead.

Meanwhile the spark ignited in Taipei had spread down the whole length of Taiwan. In the first few days of March the Taiwanese took over the administration of almost every city. As far as can be discovered, they seized control in most instances without the use of firearms. Violence was usually limited to beatings, though some officials were killed.

On March 7 Chen Yi's committee handed in its recommendations. Reasonably enough, they included the following: that Taiwan be given provincial, not colonial status; that provincial magistrates and city mayors be elected before June; that a larger proportion of Taiwanese be given administrative, police, and judicial posts; that all special police be abolished and no political arrests be permitted; that freedom of press and speech and the right to strike be granted; that managers of all public enterprises be Taiwanese; that committees be elected to supervise these public enterprises and the factories taken over from the Japanese; that the trade and monopoly bureaus be abolished; that the political and economic rights of aborigines be guaranteed; that Taiwanese be appointed to as many army, navy, and airforce posts in Taiwan as possible; that detained "war criminals" be released (Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire for fifty-one years); that the central government repay Taiwan for the expropriated sugar and rice; that garrison headquarters be abolished "to avoid misuse of military might." These proposals were not presented as an ultimatum. They were clearly a basis for negotiation. Chen Yi had already agreed to most of the points.

At noon on March 8 the commander of the Fourth Gendarme Regiment told the committee that its demands for political reform were "proper," but asked that it withdraw its demand for the abolition of garrisons. He said, "I will guarantee with my life that the central government will not take military action against Taiwan." At this point, although most of the island was still in the hands of the people, Chen Yi could have reached an agreement with them which would have insured the Nanking government's continued control of Taiwan and the cooperation of the Taiwanese. He only needed to move honestly toward reform. But he had at no time any intention of establishing peace by compromise. This was revolt; he would crush it. He was obliged to temporize and deceive until his troops arrived.

On the afternoon and evening of March 8, without warning or provocation , the streets of Keelung and Taipei were cleared with gunfire to cover the entry of mainland troops. These reinforcements consisted mainly of the Twenty-first Division, a Szechuan outfit with a reputation for brutality. In the next four or five days more than a thousand unarmed Taiwanese in the Taipei-Keelung area alone were massacred. A year and a half earlier many of them had joyously welcomed the arrival of the Chinese troops. Now truckloads of soldiers armed with machine guns and automatic rifles shot their way through the streets. Soldiers demanded entry into homes, killed the first person who appeared, and looted the premises. Bodies floated thick in Keelung harbor and in the river which flows by Taipei. Twenty young men were castrated, their ears cut off, and their noses slashed. A foreigner watched gendarmes cut off a young boy's hands before bayoneting him because he had not dismounted from his bicycle quickly enough. The radio advised students who had fled from the city to return to their homes, but when they did so they were killed. Any prominent person was in grave danger.

By March 14 the killing had tapered off in Taipei. In other cities the terror followed the same pattern.

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Jul 9 2018 17:56


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Jul 9 2018 17:58

I found this account from this site http://www.uta.edu/accounting/faculty/tsay/feb28hd.htm it has some more background information and further information links.

Jun 27 2020 06:26

In the 1990s when the KMT lost power in Taiwan the process of remembrance of KMT crimes during the 40 year White Terror began and a documentary of the early years of Taiwan's occupation and the February 2/28 incident was made.

It includes footage of executions and graphic witness testimony of atrocities including torture and rape.