After Japan surrendered, the Nationalist Government set up Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office (台灣省行政長官公署) on 1 September 1945. On 25 October, Taipei (台北) witnessed the surrender ceremony and the inauguration of the Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office as the province’s highest executive branch. Chen Yi (陳儀) was the first Chief Executive of Taiwan. The Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office, the National Bureau of Investigation and Statistics (NBIS), the Central Bureau of Investigation and Statistics (CBIS), Three Principles of the People Youth League, and particularly National Resources Commission took part in the plunder of the entire island by shipping innumerable goods, especially commodities like rice, sugar, salt, and coal, to Mainland China, with the remainder pocketed by local officials and their subordinates. Out of insatiable greed, the ruling authority enforced the policy of “food allocation according to the number of household members” by force, imposed grain levies across Taiwan, reputed as a “rice granary”, and monopolised a selection of daily necessities. These unreasonable measures dragged the Taiwanese people into deep distress, exacerbating further by high inflation and massive unemployment. The situation was best illustrated by a Taiwanese song going like this, “I'd never expected that I would jump out of the frying pan into the fire.”
On 27 February 1947, Taipei Monopoly Bureau (台北專賣局) officials were chased by a crowd enraged by the physical attack on a cigarette vendor during an investigation into illegal cigarettes (the government had a monopoly on the sales of cigarettes). The Bureau officials opened fire on the crowd, killing one person. The following day, a large crowd stormed the Taipei Monopoly Bureau office and protested outside the Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office. They were showered with gunshots by the guards, sparking island-wide demonstrations known in history as the February 28th Event, the February 28th Incident, or the February 28th Massacre. Conflicts between the military and civilians erupted all over Taiwan. In Taichung (台中), Hsieh Hsueh-hung (謝雪紅) and her associates organised a “27 Brigade” to put up armed resistance. In response, the Nationalist Government dispatched troops from Mainland China to suppress the opponents and initiated purging in Taiwan. It was not until mid-May that the unrest eventually subsided. According to a report issued by the February 28th Incident investigation team of the Executive Yuan (行政院) in 1992, 18,000 to 28,000 people were killed before and after the incident, with other studies putting the death toll at over 30,000.
Right: the Japanese surrender ceremony held in the Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) of Taipei on 25 October 1945, marking the end of Japan’s 50-year rule on the island. Left: a scene outside the Zhongshan Hall and the ceremony in progress.
Left: on 21 March 1946, The Washington Daily News carried a report on Taiwan entitled “Chinese Exploit Formosa Worse than Japs Did”. Right: a question was raised by the provincial senator Lin Rigao (林日高) to Zhou Yi’e (周一鶚), the Head of the Civil Affairs Office, “Is Taiwan indeed our own land or a colony?”, which was published on The Taiwan Minpao (《台灣民報》) on 6 May 1946.
On 27 February 1947, the beating of cigarette vendor Lin Chiang-mai (林江邁) sowed the seeds to the February 28th Incident. Left: Lin. Middle: Lin selling cigarettes. Right: The testimony made by Lin to the Taipei Monopoly Bureau after the incident. It says that she was hit on the head by someone from the Bureau with the hand grip of a pistol.
On the morning of 28 February 1947, an outraged crowd stormed the Taipei Monopoly Bureau office and beat up its employees, killing two and injuring four others. They destroyed office furniture and glassware and set fire on the cigarettes, alcohol, matches, and cars in the office. Left: A crowd storming the Taipei Monopoly Bureau office. Right: a Bureau’s car was torched.
At noon on 28 February 1947, people gathering in front of the Taipei Railway Station for a peaceful petition to the Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office, but were repressed by the government.
Two local reports on the February 28th Incident. Left: A handling committee comprised mainly of elites of Taiwanese origin for the incident was set up on 5 March 1947. A memorandum of association was passed in the hope of engaging a dialogue with the government to resolve the crisis. Right: Chief Executive Chen Yi publicly committed on 6 March 1947 to implement political and democratic reforms, with a democratic election of county heads and city mayors. However, despite his gesture of goodwill, he also urged Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in secrecy to throw more troops into suppression.
When reinforcement troops arrived, the Taiwanese Government led by Chen Yi intensified the suppression, causing heavy civilian casualties. This woodcut print The Horrifying Inspection by printmaker Huang Rong-can (黃榮燦) in April 1947 reflecting the arbitrary shooting and massacre of passers-by by the NRA.
Apart from the armed suppression, Chen Yi published a Letter to the People of Taiwan Province from Chief Executive cum Commander-in-Chief Chen Yi for Implementation of Blockage and Purging on 26 March 1947, with measures to check on residents, hunt down suspicious persons, and encourage informants. A large number of participants in the mass campaign, together with suspects and innocents, were arrested and killed. The photo above shows a victim of the purging operation.
On 17 March 1947, Chiang Kai-shek sent a group headed by the Defence Minister Bai Chongxi (白崇禧, the third from the left in front row) to Taiwan to investigate and present a moderate policy to address matters following the incident. However, repressive actions such as arrest and execution continued. On 16 May, the central government replaced the Taiwan Provincial Administrative Executive Office with Taiwan Provincial Government and substituted Wei Tao-ming (魏道明) for Chen Yi as Provincial Chairman. The chaos was gradually put to rest. The February 28th Incident went down in history as an event leaving eternal sorrow for local Taiwanese and profound implications for Taiwan’s political future.
On 18 June 1950, Chen Yi, the first Chief Executive of Taiwan and the official primarily responsible for the February 28th Incident, was accused of intending to defect to the CCP and instigating other KMT members to do the same. He was executed by shooting in Taiwan. The above photos show Chen being escorted to the execution ground and his dead body.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe (pictures 1-4), misc. photo sources.