Each February, I find myself thinking about my parents’ native Taiwan and the history of their country that has seemed so removed from my own experiences and identities as an America Born Taiwanese. Before books of historical fiction like Julia Wu’s The Third Son or Jennifer Chow’s recent 228 Legacy, there were few popular resources in existence, allowing people to learn about the historical trauma of the 228 Incident, which has marked Taiwan’s past.
On February 28, 1947, a major anti-government uprising took place in Taipei, which was violently suppressed by Chinese Nationalists under the direction of General Chen Yi. The incident sparked a wide-scale purging of Taiwanese citizens and intellectuals, with some sources citing more than 30,000 people killed in events related to the political revolt. Martial Law was established as a result of the tensions on the island, ushering in a period of “White Terror” that lasted for nearly four decades, during which political dissidence and freedom of speech remained violently suppressed.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I first learned about these darker aspects of Taiwanese history. My folks decided it was time to send me on a “cultural” tour of their homeland. As they dropped me off at Los Angeles International Airport, my father unceremoniously disclosed that my trip “home” was sponsored by the founder of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party. I would find out later that the Chairman’s family members had been murdered in retaliation for his political activities.
The tour’s first stop was at a memorial shrine for Chairman Lin’s family, which was followed by the journey to the Chairman’s hometown of I-lan, where my group viewed documentary films on the 228 Incident. We passed the rest of the tour visiting cultural sites and national parks, including a stop at the 228 Memorial Peace Park and Museum. Upon returning to the United States, I had endless questions for my parents. My mother and father described their own experiences of growing up in post-war Taiwan under Martial Law—my father recalled soldiers squatting in the properties on his family’s land. My mother refused to marry her college sweetheart because her parents disapproved of his involvement in political activities, which could endanger her life and family. But without a Taiwanese community around us to confirm or contexualize my parents’ experiences, their stories remained abstract and far away.
I would spend the next fifteen years trying to make sense of my parents’ experiences. I read academic papers, historical treatises, and traveled back to Taiwan on two different occasions to try and learn what I could about 228, but without Chinese-language proficiency, my efforts were futile.
In 2011, I decided to interview Taiwanese American immigrants of my parents’ generation, in English, on their thoughts on Taiwanese identity and public memory. The stories that I collected were nothing short of remarkable in their remembrances of post-war Taiwan. My interview subjects, Taiwanese elders in their 70s and 80s, shared visceral stories of beloved teachers disappearing from school; fathers, grandfathers, and uncles taken away in the middle of the night by soldiers. One narrator remembered the public execution of a well-known lawyer in her hometown, his body left to rot in a public square.
As I revisit and reread the transcripts of my narrators’ recollections, which are now archived at The Wing Luke Museum, I’m reminded of one story in particular:
In the aftermath of 228, two brothers and their friend gathered together to visit. The three men occupied positions of relative status—Lee Zui-han and Len-Chong were both lawyers, while Lee Zui-fong served his community as a doctor. The men were taken by KMT soldiers in the middle of a meal of squid congee. Lee Zui-Han’s wife waited for her husband’s return, “day after day, year after year, for 67 years,” commented one of my interviewees. As a community, the Taiwanese people of Seattle gather together annually to serve a meal of seafood porridge to remember those who were taken.
This February 28 marks the 67th anniversary of the historic 228 Incident. The Formosan Association of Public Affairs (FAPA) Seattle hosts a commemorative potluck event on Friday, February 28, from noon to 2:00 p.m. at Seifu Garden House located at 16623 SE 112th Street in Renton. All-you-can-eat seafood congee will be provided, with a program led by C.Y. Chiu and John Chou.
For more information, contact Mark Hong at (206) 244-1261 or Bob Sheen at (425) 255-5270.