Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some thoughts on 2/28


2/28 is a day that, to me, conjures up not just a memorial of those who died on that day and in the ensuing chaos and persecution, but also brings to the forefront the emotional and many-tentacled public dialogue on Taiwanese history and identity.

Our jaunt around Taipei on 2/28 brought us through 228 Park, where (as we figured would happen) we came across the official 2/28 memorial ceremony. The park, by the way, has nearly dead grass but some lovely elements, including old-style pagodas and a few genuinely historical monument gates.



After some dreadfully boring speeches by Hau Lung-bin, Wu Den-yih and others, which basically reiterated noncontroversial talking points along the lines of "Democracy is important" (there was more, delivered in Taiwanese, that I couldn't understand), President Ma took the podium to speak.



He delivered the part of the speech we heard in Taiwanese, which was a surprise seeing as I was/am fairly sure he can't speak Taiwanese. He sounded practiced and stiff, not at all like he was speaking a native language. (I almost put the video I took up with a "Rate Ma's Taiwanese" poll but decided that it was somewhat beside the point). The entire affair was dark-suited and well-guarded, with overheated and bored-looking security guards patrolling the park. Regardless of what he said, he wasn't going to be admitting anything we don't already know, and certainly wasn't going to admit KMT responsibility in the incident

We also walked by the DPP opposition protest site before it got started, where enthusiastic people in t-shirts, not sweating in navy suits and red ties, handed out flags amid minimal security.


It was a clear physical manifestation of a divided public - a public that perhaps doesn't wish for such a fissure, and yet can't seem to resolve the roiling public debate on the facts of Taiwanese history and what it means to be Taiwanese (or to identify as "Chinese", or to say one is "Chinese" when one identifies as "Taiwanese" because that's what was taught in school).

As an American, I do understand this - clearly not in all of its complexity and emotion, but on a visceral level, I get it. I come from a divided country too - in different ways under extraordinarily different (and less tragic) circumstances, but divided nonetheless.

I hear a lot of comparisons between American and Taiwanese political parties, and one can draw some similarities between, say, the KMT and Republicans and the DPP and Democrats, but it's an imperfect analogy and that's not really what I mean.

I know what it's like to be from a country where one political party goes on some tragic, senseless crusade "for the good of the country and people" and then tries to wash its hands of responsibility for the fallout - "it was a government, not specifically Republican, initiative" - of course, you can say, the war in Iraq is overseas, and was not aimed at America's own citizens as KMT persecution was in Taiwan...and that's absolutely true: my point is that of a divided public and a government willing to do anything possible, including torture and war, and to then cite necessity for the greater good, to meet its own objectives. My point is that just as Bush's war did not bring about one citizenry united under a common cause, so it is in Taiwan: instead of one memorial service representing a united and remembering public, there had to be a stiff-collared speech-fest on one side and a protest parade on the other.

I know what it's like to come from a country where there are two clearly delineated sides to all public discourse, from which it is nearly impossible to break free from either. The Taiwanese debate on national identity is in many ways more urgent, more fraught with real-world danger and has clearer historical roots than America's culture war, though. It deals with not just social values but who they are as a nationality and, implicitly, an ethnicity.

Basically, what I'm trying to say - and hopefully not failing too miserably - is that I can't possibly ever get, on a gut level, what 2/28 means to the Taiwanese or to any given Taiwanese person. What I saw yesterday on 2/28, however, makes it clear that Taiwan is still a nation and identity divided...and vitriolic public discourse and a polarized public? That is something I do get.

A final thought. It still saddens and scares me in Taiwan to come across apologists for 2/28: I have heard more than once the defense that it was "necessary" to control the "rioters", and I have to wonder if people who say this are just spouting back nonsense they were taught in school by teachers who had no choice but to teach it back in the day. Regardless of the various valid viewpoints one might have on the future of Taiwan, I'd like to see this sad little piece of muck buried forever.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what he said, he wasn't going to be admitting anything we don't already know, and certainly wasn't going to admit KMT responsibility in the incident

I'm pretty sure (although not certain) that the govt. took responsibility for it and apologized a few years back. I'm not sure they need to it again.

I hear a lot of comparisons between American and Taiwanese political parties, and one can draw some similarities between, say, the KMT and Republicans and the DPP and Democrats, but it's an imperfect analogy and that's not really what I mean.

If pressed, I'd say the opposite. DPP seem to come across more like the Republicans, particularly the tea party / social conservatives whereas the KMT often seem more akin to the Democrat "elites". Imperfect is right.

is that I can't possibly ever get, on a gut level, what 2/28 means to the Taiwanese or to any given Taiwanese person.

In all honesty most of us here in Taiwan, especially those under 40 or 50, don't really seem to care one way or the other. It all happened before we were born and in the case of the under 40's, even martial law was over before we became adults. Outside of those with political agendas or those who were directly affected, it's simply history and a chance for a day off.

Stephanie said...

Thanks, I really appreciate reading this; I had similar thoughts as a Taiwanese American (ABC) girl living in Taiwan for the first time.

Jenna said...

我知道啦。如果妳住在美國的話,妳也永遠不了解美國。我是美國人,妳大概是台灣人。全部搬到新國家的移民都有這個問題。

AtelierGal said...

Hi Jenna!

I was tracking my blog analytics and was re-directed to your blog. I need to make it clear, the Joyce in the comment above wasn't me. Track the IP address and it will come up different.

:)

Jenna said...

No worries, Joyce is clearly Taiwanese (it is a really popular English name here and I feared at first that it was a former student with that name, which would sadden me as we are on great terms, then Iremembered how many girls named Joyce there are in Taiwan). Anyway she is entitled to her opinion; it doesn't really bother me.

AtelierGal said...

Her opinion doesn't bother me one bit. But posing as someone else is disturbing! God knows what she's been commenting on others' blogs. That can affect my reputation.

Jenna said...

After some consideration, I've decided to delete "Joyce's" post - (s)he wrote "你永遠不會了解台灣。", which is fine, except I can't condone pretending to represent a blog one doesn't represent.

Jenna said...

Anonymous:

It's fairly well-documented that the "government" took responsibility - a student said that this was during Chen's time as President, so it was a DPP government, and that the justice system's verdict was that it was also "government" and not the KMT "per se" that was responsible.

So no, the KMT itself has never taken responsibility - they've admitted that the "government" did it, but not specifically that THEY did it, and all compensation has come from taxpayer dollars, not KMT coffers.

Also, I'm really not up for an argument about US politics but Democrats are not "elites". Democrats tend to be educated and on the coasts, and socially liberal, and as a result many of them are white-collar or academic, but if you want "elites", look at the wealthy folks who are strongly Republican either because they're older and therefore conservative or they're simply very wealthy and prefer Republican fiscal policy (because it benefits them, rather than Democratic fiscal policy which is generally aimed at a fairer distribution of wealth). The business world, especially in finance and banking, tend to be Republican for this very reason.

Also, umm, the KMT is the party of the wealthy and "elite" in Taiwan, just as the Republicans are in the USA, and I'm sorry but the KMT is not socially liberal. It took a DPP government to institute reforms aimed at helping women, the underprivileged and aborigines. The KMT tends to win the aboriginal vote despite never doing a thing to help them (just as the Republicans tend to win the rural poor vote despite never helping them) -the reasons for this are, as I am sure you realize, quite complex.

The party that tends to be in favor of gay rights? DPP. The party that has more females in powerful positions? DPP. The party that wants to overturn the status quo (in which the children of waishengren, despite decades of change, are still on top)? KMT.

I find the DPP to be more socially liberal than the KMT by a LONG SHOT.

So I do not agree with your assessment...at all.

Jenna said...

Anonymous:

It's fairly well-documented that the "government" took responsibility - a student said that this was during Chen's time as President, so it was a DPP government, and that the justice system's verdict was that it was also "government" and not the KMT "per se" that was responsible.

So no, the KMT itself has never taken responsibility - they've admitted that the "government" did it, but not specifically that THEY did it, and all compensation has come from taxpayer dollars, not KMT coffers.

Also, I'm really not up for an argument about US politics but Democrats are not "elites". Democrats tend to be educated and on the coasts, and socially liberal, and as a result many of them are white-collar or academic, but if you want "elites", look at the wealthy folks who are strongly Republican either because they're older and therefore conservative or they're simply very wealthy and prefer Republican fiscal policy (because it benefits them, rather than Democratic fiscal policy which is generally aimed at a fairer distribution of wealth). The business world, especially in finance and banking, tend to be Republican for this very reason.

Also, umm, the KMT is the party of the wealthy and "elite" in Taiwan, just as the Republicans are in the USA, and I'm sorry but the KMT is not socially liberal. It took a DPP government to institute reforms aimed at helping women, the underprivileged and aborigines. The KMT tends to win the aboriginal vote despite never doing a thing to help them (just as the Republicans tend to win the rural poor vote despite never helping them) -the reasons for this are, as I am sure you realize, quite complex.

The party that tends to be in favor of gay rights? DPP. The party that has more females in powerful positions? DPP. The party that wants to overturn the status quo (in which the children of waishengren, despite decades of change, are still on top)? KMT.

I find the DPP to be more socially liberal than the KMT by a LONG SHOT.

So I do not agree with your assessment...at all.

Jenna said...

The party that wants to overturn the status quo (in which the children of waishengren, despite decades of change, are still on top)? KMT.

HAH. That should read "DPP". :)