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