The Hostorical Significance
by Li Thian-hok
The following is taken from Part III of "The February 28th Incident" by
Dr. Li Thian-hok (written for Newsletter of Formosans for Freeformosa, January
1956 through April 1956). You can
download the complete article (self-extracting Word doc) by clicking here.
The historical significance of the February 28 Incident may be considered
in various different contexts. Viewed against the unique historical heritage
of Formosa, the February 28 Incident reflects the ultimate culmination of
the evolution of a Formosan race over a period of three centuries.
Many factors have contributed to this slow process of evolution. First, the
heterogeneous racial, social, and cultural origins of the early settlers. To
our promised island came Polynesians, Chinese, Japanese, of Oriental origins;
Portuguese, Spaniards and Dutch of Occidental extraction. Although later Chinese
blood and cultural pattern became predominant, the absorption of other racial
elements in the remote past is indisputably a factor in differentiating the present-day
Formosan from the Chinese both in race psychology and physical appearance. Second,
the modifying influence of geographical environment. By crossing the Formosan
Straits and settling in a wild country, the early immigrants led a very different
life from their cousins left behind. In Formosa they worked as pioneers in constant
contact and conflict with aboriginal tribesmen and therefore had to be more alert,
frugal and industrious than the Chinese people.
Thirdly, the strategic geopolitical position of Formosan had made the island
historically an object of contest among strong powers. Thus "the history of
Formosa reflects a history of endurance by the Formosan people to combat and
destroy the control of alien races." This turbulent past has also implanted
in us an inherent disposition to fight for our liberty.
Fourth, through half century of Japanese rule, despite all its entailing evils,
Formosans had come to enjoy a much higher standard of living, literacy, technical
advancement, and a rule of law, all of which were virtually unknown in China.
(Have you ever heard of the Chinese soldiers who stole bicycles but, unable to
ride, carried them on their backs, or the Chinese army communications unit which
strung a field line across a main railroad track without allowance for the passing
On account of these factors and also because of the fact that Formosans have been
isolated from China most of the time since the seventeenth century, the inhabitants
of Formosa have slowly transformed into a new race, although they never had an
opportunity to discover their new identity. The postwar events and the February 28
Incident served as an impetus to the self-discovery of the Formosans.
In his article "Earth is Thicker Than Blood", which appeared in December, 1955 issue
of the Bungei.Shunju, Mr. Shimizu of Japanese Foreign Service narrated an illuminating
"Once I made a trip to Takao where I stayed overnight. Because a maid in the hotel
spoke such excellent Japanese, and looked like Japanese, I asked:
'Are you a Japanese?'
'No.' She answered.
'A Chinese, then?'
‘No, certainly not!', then I further inquired:
‘Then what are you? If you are neither Japanese nor Chinese'.
She suddenly became serious, and declared:
'I am a Formosan'."
Viewed against the background of the Chinese Civil War, the February 28 Incident
and the ensuing March Massacres also proved with brutal finality that the Chinese
Communists did not win China, but that Chiang Kai-shek and his entourage lost it
by their corruption, inefficiency, suppression and murder. The island, when Chiang
Kai-shek took over, was a going concern with little or no Communist influence. A
few months later, it was little more than a prison house, a paradise turned into
a Devil's island Said Mr. George Kerr, American Vice Consul in Taipei in
1947,".... Chen Yi and the Generalissimo have given the Chinese Communists immense
advantages in Formosa without Communists having lifted a finger, .. Every
educated Formosan now have ample reason to tremble for his life and property; they
anticipate a period of violent military suppression, complete economic disruption,
uprising and anarchy, all making a fertile field for communism where before
Communism was practically non-existent".
However, it is in worldwide perspective that the February 28 Incident has its
REVOLUTIONARY significance. Prime Minister U Nu of Burma said at Independence Hall,
Philadelphia, on July 3, 1955: "The ideas and ideals, the ringing words and slogans
of the American Revolution, have a tremendous emotional importance to all men who
struggle for Liberty. In all parts of the world where men live under tyranny, or
under foreign domination or in feudal bondage, those who dream and plot and fight
for freedom, do so in the name of the eternal principles for which your (American)
Revolution was fought. In those parts of the world, the ideas of the American
Revolution are today the most explosive of all forces, more explosive in their
capacity to change the world than B-52' 5 or even atomic bombs".
This is what Adini Stevenson called the "revolution of rising expectations among
the awakening people of the world", which prompted more than 635 million people
to fight for, and attain their independence after the Second World War.
For us Formosans the February 28 Incident marked the beginning of our struggle for
Third Independence, which is actually a part of the global revolution of this
mid-century. Although we have a glorious historical past, in which we were
the first Asian people to defeat and expel Western colonialism (First
Independence of 1661) and the first Asian people to build a republic in the
Far East (Second Independence of 1885) and again declared independence on the
9th anniversary of the February 28 Incident by the Provisional Government of
the Republic of Taiwan established in Tokyo on February 28, 1956, our eight
million fellow Formosans are still suffering under the yoke of Chinese colonialism.
In Asia, Mid-East and Africa the peoples of the former colonies are striving for
peace, freedom and betterment of human life. This is a century of awakening,
a century of revolution. Let us not be left behind! let us again make our
beautiful island the country of the free and home of the brave!