April 13: The 228 Incident and Transitional Justice

April 13: The 228 Incident and Transitional Justice

Thursday, April 13, 2023 from 2:00PM – 3:40PM (ET)

In-Person (RSVP here) and Webcast

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a seminar discussion titled “The 228 Incident and Transitional Justice.” This event is presented in partnership with the Memorial Foundation of 228.

With the liberal international order facing unprecedented difficulties, the international community is paying increasingly close attention to the authoritarian coercive pressure directed against Taiwan. While military, diplomatic, and economic power will be key in addressing the complex issues connected to Taiwan’s security, Taiwan’s soft power capabilities will also play a critical role in determining the island’s future course.

The values of freedom, democracy, and human rights are crucial for enhancing Taiwan’s soft power. In order to most effectively demonstrate these values abroad, however, Taiwan must first reckon with the authoritarian legacies of its own past. Transitional justice research not only allows for the re­examination of historical events, but it also increases the awareness among people across the globe, so that they may learn from the lessons of history and work together to defend these important values.

This seminar will focus on the 228 Incident, a significant event in Taiwanese history that serves as an important entry-point to understanding transitional justice in Taiwan. The speakers will also discuss their new book, The Tragedy of 228: Historical Truth and Transitional Justice in Taiwan.

The event will be preceded by opening remarks from Memorial Foundation of 228 Chairman Hsueh Hua-yuan. Panelists will include: Shiu Wen-Tang (Memorial Foundation of 228), Chen Chia-hao (Memorial Foundation of 228), and Michael Fonte (Democratic Progressive Party Mission to the United States). The event will be moderated by GTI Program Manager Marshall Reid.

Doors will open at 1:30 PM, and the event will begin at 2:00 PM. If you plan on attending in-person, please RSVP by April 11, as seating is limited. Light refreshments will be provided. Please direct questions or concerns to Program Manager Marshall Reid at mreid@globaltaiwan.org.

**Media: Please contact Marshall Reid at mreid@globaltaiwan.org if you would like to bring additional crew members or equipment, so that we can be sure to accommodate you.

COVID Procedures: Proof of vaccination will be required at check in. Attendees unable to provide documentation will be required to wear a mask. Masks are optional for vaccinated individuals who are able to provide proof of vaccination. 

The Speakers:

Dr. Shiu Wen-Tang is the director of the Memorial Foundation of 228 in Taiwan. He is also an associate research fellow at the Institute of Modern History at Academia Sinica. He earned his PhD from the University of Paris-Diderot. 

Dr. Chen Chia-hao is an associate research fellow at the Memorial Foundation of 228, Taiwan. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Taiwan History at National Chengchi University. He earned his PhD from the Graduate Institute of Taiwan History at National Chengchi University.

Michael J. Fonte is the director of the Democratic Progressive Party Mission in the United States, where he facilitates engagement between Taiwan’s DPP and policymakers in Washington. His connection to Taiwan goes back to 1967-70, when he served as a Catholic missionary working in central Taiwan. Before joining the DPP Mission as liaison in 2002, he was senior policy analyst at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA). At FAPA, he was responsible for tracking US policy toward Taiwan, Taiwan security issues, and developments in Taiwanese political affairs, as well as producing opinion pieces, journal articles, and a member newsletter on these questions. He also lobbied the US Senate on Taiwan-related concerns. From 1993-1999, Fonte served as executive director of the Council for a Livable World Education Fund, and before that as foreign policy analyst and consultant for various international groups and clients. With a M.Th. in theology from the Maryknoll Seminary and an MA in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan, Fonte’s resume includes time as both an educator and journalist.

The Moderator:

Marshall Reid
is the program manager at GTI, as well as the host of GTI’s podcast, GTI Insights. He is also a Pacific Forum Young Leader. Previously, he worked as a program assistant with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where he helped to organize several international forums focused on East and South Asian affairs. He has also worked as an office assistant at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Prior to moving to Washington, DC, he served as an english instructor in Taipei, Taiwan. He received his MA in international affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and his BA in history and international relations from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

Event Summary:

On April 13, 2023, the Global Taiwan Institute hosted a public seminar titled “The 228 Incident and Transitional Justice,” presented in partnership with the Memorial Foundation of 228. The event included opening remarks from Memorial Foundation of 228 Chairman Hsueh Hua-yuan, as well as a panel discussion on the 228 Incident, recent initiatives in the field of transitional justice, and the foundation’s new book, The Tragedy of 228: Historical Truth and Transitional Justice in Taiwan. Panelists included the Memorial Foundation’s Dr. Shiu Wen-tang and Dr. Chen Chia Hao, and the Democratic Progressive Party Mission to the United States’ Michael Fonte. The event was moderated by GTI Program Manager Marshall Reid.

Chairman Hsueh began by virtually delivering his opening remarks, in which he called for more international attention on the importance of the 228 Incident while emphasizing the shared values connecting Taiwan, the United States, and other democracies.

Reid then turned the floor to Dr. Chen Chia-hao, who reemphasized that the 228 Incident is not only an important historical event in Taiwan’s past, but is also a shared national trauma that still has repercussions and implications to this day. Dr. Chen argued that Taiwanese people have developed a unique identity over time, and are proud of their liberal democratic values and respect for human rights. Next, he discussed the origins of the Memorial Foundation of 228, which was established through a special legislative order in 1994. Its research team prioritizes cataloguing available resources and pinpointing matters which have been overlooked in other 228 publications. The foundation’s work also includes managing a museum in Taipei, which holds special exhibits on 228, Taiwanese history, and culture. Dr. Chen also highlighted the noticeable lack of English writing on 228. He closed his presentation with a brief overview of their book, which covers narratives surrounding the incident, international context, institutional aspects, societal aspects, and rehabilitation.

Next, Dr. Shiu Wen-tang clarified that the incident could also be called a massacre, citing that 1992 government records indicated a death toll of 28,000, with the real figure possibly higher. Dr. Shiu noted that after the incident, many victims were traumatized or otherwise forced into silence. This led to feelings among Taiwanese people that their human rights were not respected by the KMT government, and led to feelings of alienation between native Taiwanese and Chinese people. He added that despite this tragic outcome, Taiwan had initially welcomed Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist KMT party after it fled China and arrived on the island. However, Taiwan would soon find the KMT to be a corrupt, ineffective government. He added that since the incident could not be mentioned until martial law was lifted, no textbook covered the 228 or the martial era until the 1990s—over 40 years later. Dr. Shiu then transitioned to discussing the legal ramifications of Taiwan’s sovereignty status. Dr. Shiu concluded his remarks by further challenging the tacit international acceptance that Taiwan is under Chinese sovereignty, including the 1971 UN resolution 2758—which transferred China’s UN seat to the PRC, but did not necessarily define Taiwan’s status.

Michael Fonte opened by detailing his time studying in Taiwan during the martial law period. He noted the tangible sense of repression and fear that permeated Taiwanese society at that time. Fonte lamented the loss of an educated, talented generation beginning on February 28, 1947, and the subsequent years of silence and oppression. Fonte also probed the ill-gotten assets issue, outlining the KMT’s illegal seizures of private property, which were subsequently used to fund its government. Dr. Chen responded with a personal story which focused on the national trauma aspect of Fonte’s comments. Dr. Chen disclosed that his own family were victims, and when he began work with the Memorial Foundation for 228, it initially sparked apprehension from his parents who remembered the dark past intimately. Fonte validated his experience, and additionally called for more visits to the 228 Peace Park in Taipei—a memorial he found effective and poignant—especially with historical knowledge and background of the time period. 

As the conversation concluded, it turned to Taiwanese youth involvement and the process of societal healing. Dr. Shiu reiterated that although those born after the 1980s did not live though the martial law period, Taiwanese people have still been cultivating a unique identity which acknowledges that both Japan and China have treated them poorly in the past. Dr. Chen ended on an optimistic note, stating that he has seen an increase in youth interest in the foundation’s museum. Indeed, it appears that some Taiwanese youth are not satisfied with what they are learning in school and want better resources to inform themselves on the 228 Incident and their evolving Taiwanese identity.

This event summary was written by GTI Spring 2023 Intern Melynn Oliver.

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