Taipei: 228 Peace Memorial Park

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The day after going on Tour Me Away’s ‘Taipei Chillout Tour’, and learning about Chiang Kai-Shek and his Memorial Hall, I went on their ‘Old Town Taipei Tour’. My group on the first tour was really big and I met so many interesting people from a German couple on holiday, a group of American teachers who’d just arrived for a year of English teaching, and many other solo travellers.

My group this time round wasn’t as large and I didn’t ‘click’ with as many of them (although I met a delightful fellow Brit currently living in Tokyo teaching English). However, the tour itself was just as fun and informative as the last one. Being a bit of a politics and history nerd, I super excited to learn lots of new things!

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Our tour route, taken from the ‘Tour Me Away’ website

As the title of this post would suggest, the first stop on the tour was 228 Peace Memorial Park.

Here’s a quick bit of context/background info for you. Taiwan has had an unfortunate history of being traded between various colonial powers, including the Dutch, the Spanish, and the French (very briefly) before it was annexed by the Chinese Qing dynasty in the late 1600s. From here, Taiwan enjoyed relative stability under Chinese rule until 1895 when the Qing dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese war and Taiwan was annexed as part of the Japanese Empire.

Whilst the Japanese occupation saw improvement in Taiwan’s infrastructure, resource production and education, the aboriginal Taiwanese were brutally treated. In order to tighten their grip on Taiwan, the Japanese began an assimilation project to bring Taiwan’s citizens closer in line to others in the Japanese empire. As a result, Taiwanese culture and religion were outlawed and people were forced to learn Japanese and even adopt Japanese surnames. The Empire also encouraged Japanese citizens to settle in Taiwan.

When the Japanese lost World War II in 1945, they were forced to give Taiwan back to the mainland Chinese (then called the Republic of China) and most Japanese were expelled from Taiwan.

And this is where our tour guides stepped in as we stood in the 228 Peace Memorial Park, arguably the most important location in Taipei’s modern history.

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We were told that following the end of Japanese rule, an influx of  citizens from Mainland China (‘mainlanders’) settled in Taiwan which saw existing racial and cultural tensions reach boiling point. In the same location as the modern day Memorial Park, on the 27th February 1947, a woman was caught trading illegal cigarettes and was beaten by a man from the government tobacco authority. The men fled and as they did, shot dead a bystander from the crowd which had formed to protest against the woman’s treatment. Protests and riots ensued and on February 28th  tens of thousands of innocent civilians were massacred by the government.

On March 4th, local Taiwanese took over the administration of the town and military bases and forced their way into local radio station to protest. Martial law was declared later that night.The ‘228 massacre’ saw the beginning of what the Taiwanese referred to as the ‘White Terror’, when, in the ensuing decades, tends of thousands more civilians went missing, died or were imprisoned by the government.

For decades, the 228 massacre was taboo for decades. However, after the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the bequeathal of more civilian freedom, in 1995 Taiwanese President Lee (himself a victim of 228) became the first to publicly acknowledge and apologise for the massacre on behalf of the government and he invited public free discussion of Taiwan’s past.

In 1997, a monument was erected in the park where the 228 massacre started, and the park was renamed ‘228 Peace Memorial Park’.

The monument has three large cubes a it’s base. Collectively they represent human order and individually they represent the three main ethnicities that make up modern Taiwanese society and how they should remain united: aboriginal Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, and Japanese.

The dome reflects natural order and the cone signifies rebirth after the righting of an old wrong. There’s also a waterfall inside in the monument which I think also signified rebirth, and hand imprints which people are encouraged to touch and feel connected to the monument and what is commemorates.

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The 228 Massacre Monument is inscribed with the following words of peace and unity:

“Mistrust between Taiwanese and mainlanders, and the argument on whether Taiwan should declare independence or be united with China, have become hot issues with potentially worrisome implications. […] the task of healing a serious trauma in a society must depend on the whole-hearted collaborative effort by all its people. […] It is also hoped that these words will serve as a warning and a lesson to all Taiwanese compatriots. Henceforward, we must be one, no matter which communal group we belong; we must help each other with compassion and treat each other with sincerity; we must dissolve hatred and resentment, and bring about long lasting peace. May Heaven bless Taiwan and keep it evergreen”.

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Taiwan endured a dark and troublesome 20th century but its future, and present, is the antithesis. Compared to it’s lurking giant brother China, Taiwan is a publicly opinionated, vivacious and progressive country. Although nowhere near as influential nor as widely known as China, Taiwan is making it’s mark internationally. The coming years will be very telling, particularly in how Taiwan redefines it’s relationship with China whilst under the helm of President Tsai.

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