My Search for 2-28


Keelung Hong at UC Berkeley 2-28 –2003 Memorial


Like most of your parents when they were young, I did not know anything about the 2-28 massacres when I was growing up. The "white terror" of the late-1940s and early 50s made Taiwanese who survived it afraid to talk about what had happened or to criticize the Chinese regime that ruled under martial law.


I came to Berkeley in the fall of 1970 and was overwhelmed with my heavy load of first year graduate courses in chemistry plus conducting two laboratory sessions a week of freshman chemistry. I was a regular reader of the Daily Cal. Regular readers of the Daily Cal were surprised that on Monday, March 1st 1971, no copies were available. No one I asked had one or had seen any in the usual distribution boxes.


Tuesday, March 2nd, the headline story of the Daily Cal was about the mysterious disappearances of 22,000 copies of the previous day's paper. An eye witness reported seeing two men pack all but five of the copies that had been delivered into a sedan. The March 1st Daily Cal had contained no editorials or letters to the editor, but contained an ad commemorating the March 1947 massacre by the Chiang Kaishek regime of 20,000 Formosans and the ongoing tyranny of the Chiang regime and calling for self-determination for Taiwan.


The theft of all the newspapers from Monday did not keep the ad from appearing, because it was printed in the March 5th Daily Cal, delivery of which was specially monitored.


At the time, I had no idea who had placed the ad. There was a quotation in it from the 1949 US State Department White Paper 1, and I tracked that document down to learn more.


In 1975 another Taiwanese student and I were talking about the 1947 events and the 1971 Daily Cal and decided we wanted to mark February 28th as a day of mourning by placing another ad in the Daily Cal. We raised the $500 the ad cost, which was a lot of money in 1975 dollars! We warned the paper that our ad might lead to all copies being stolen as they had been in 1971. The editor did not believe such a thing could have happened, but checking the paper's archive, found that it had and told us that the time that copies of the paper were together and usually unguarded was from 5 to 7 in the morning, so we had volunteer guards posted in the early morning distribution of the paper.


In between these two Daily Cal ads, I also discovered that a book by another American witness to the Chinese occupation and misadministration of Taiwan existed: Formosa Betrayed by George Kerr 2, which had been published in 1965. I was able to check out the book from the Doe Library and read much of it, though I did not read all of it until a translation into Chinese was published in 1973. The translators worked more than six years on it.


George Kerr cited a document by a New Zealand officer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration completed in 1948, though only published in 1998 as Formosa Calling, after the death of its author, Allan James Shackleton 3.


George Kerr also acknowledged and quoted observations by an American UNRRA official Ed Paine. I learned that he had retired to Grass Valley and went with a group of others in 1986 to talk to him there.


For him, even after more than 40 years, the horrible sight of corpses floating in a blood-red Keelung River remained the  unforgettable part of KMT reassertion of domination. He had heard gunfire the night Chiang Kaishek’s troops landed in Keelung, but had not realized the scale of indiscriminate slaughter that began then.


In the following weeks, he learned of the more carefully-planned murders of educated Taiwanese. He reported what he observed to Washington at the time. After returning to the States, he wrote letters to Congress and various news agencies seeking to raise concern about what he had seen. He showed us various letters, some of which were published, and the noncommittal bureaucratic responses he received.


For a time he and George H. Kerr worked on a book manuscript. Although they had an advance from a publisher, Kerr stopped work without giving Paine any satisfying explanation, and only much later (1965) published Formosa Betrayed. That  book is very critical of Chiang and his subordinates. However, it would have had a greater impact closer to the time of the events (and closer to the time when it appears to have been written). My coauthor, Stephen Murray, wrote to George Kerr asking about the sequence of writing and publication of Formosa Betrayed, but in two letters George Kerr managed to say nothing of any substance about why a book about his observations did not appear much earlier. (Kerr and Paine have both died. Kerr's materials on Taiwan are now in Taiwan.)


Ed Paine also told us that he had recommended a young Taiwanese with whom he had worked to translate for (Captain) Vern J. Sneider when Sneider came to Daiba. Sneider’s first novel, Teahouse of the August Moon, is a bemused account of the education of a U.S. Army of Occupation officer by Okinawan villagers was a best-seller, the basis for a hit Broadway play, a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” television production, and a movie starring Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford.


The book Sneider wrote about Taiwan, A Pail of Oysters, also contains some amused accounts of an American’s incomprehension of Pacific Islanders’ ways of doing things. But  A Pail of Oysters is much less light-hearted than those more successful novels. It describes not just the foibles of confused Americans out of their depths across the Pacific, but accounts of KMT terror, including the shooting of the character based on the interpreter Ed Paine recommended to Vern Sneider. The book opens with a KMT patrol seizing oysters gathered by Taiwanese coast dwellers. Sneider makes very vivid the terror in which Taiwanese lived in the late 1940s, the oppression of KMT bandit-troops, the massacre of 2-28 4, and also makes clear the common Taiwanese views that what land reform was really about was breaking up any Taiwanese power bases. 


Hollywood did not evidence the same interest in A Pail of Oysters  as in his other books. Although well-reviewed, it was not a popular success. Even more than Formosa Betrayed, copies of  A Pail of Oysters have disappeared from most libraries, probably on instructions issued to the student spies paid by the KMT to monitor Taiwanese on US college campuses.


After I talked about A Pail of Oysters at a 2-28 commemoration in 1991, several people expressed an interest in a Taiwanese translation, which is now supposed to appear.


In 1991 a book was published by KMT apologists at Stanford's Hoover Institution. The title called what happened a "tragedy," sought to minimize the casualties of 1947, and to deflect responsibility for the carnage from Chiang Kaishek and his governor, Chen Yi. Stephen Murray and I wrote an extended critique of the Hoover Institution book as a case study in pseudo-objectivity 5. This is included in our 1994 book Taiwanese Culture, Taiwanese Society.  Earlier this week, the first-listed author of A Tragic Beginning, Lai Tse-Han, publicly stated one of the arguments we made, specifically that Chiang Kaishek knew how ROC troops would behave when they stormed ashore at Keelung with lists of Taiwanese to "disappear."


The mass murders of Taiwanese by Chinese in 1947 and attempts to destroy our culture and language, the Chinese derogation of Taiwanese and the systematic discrimination my generation faced in Taiwan made ethnicity — the difference between Chinese and Taiwanese — very important for us.


In American university libraries I was able to read about Taiwan and the injustices Taiwanese suffered, most spectacularly in the 1947 massacres. I was even able to read about Formosan nationalism, and I also was able to read about and to observe other peoples’ sufferings and determination to preserve an identity. I suppose that if the Kuo­min­tang had made Holo and Hakka the official languages in 1945, if they had not discriminated against Taiwanese, if they had not replaced people like my father with Chinese, we might not feel so Taiwanese. But the Chinese ruling Taiwan made the difference between mainlanders and Taiwanese crucially important. We were discriminated against in schools and in getting jobs. With rationalizations about language and origin, we were constantly reminded of our differences, all of which were treated as instances of our inferiority to the “real Chinese.” Those with power who systematically undercut our chances to get ahead drew the boundaries between the ruling Chinese minority from the mainland and the Taiwanese majority. The Chinese rulers made being Taiwanese matter a great deal!


It was reported in Taiwan newspapers that by March 5, 1947 the Formosans were in control throughout the island except within Chen Yi's office area at Taipei, and within the garrison compounds and camps. Had the Formosans at this point really wanted to overthrow Chen Yi and drive the mainland Chinese from the island, it could have been quickly done, leaving the KMT government with a second war — a maritime war — on its hands. But they did not seek to do more than to reform the regime imposed on them by the victorious side in the Pacific War, which meant the US. Given the lack of any fighting by the KMT except in its retreat to the interior KMT regime was not a victorious member in the Pacific War. Reading Formosa Betrayed, I understood that the reign of terror in which tens of thousands of Taiwanese were slaughtered frightened my parent's generation into silence. So many lives sacrificed for gaining no rights, no reform, but martial laws imposed on Taiwanese for more than four decades.



You are forging ways to be Taiwanese-American. Despite my confidence in what Taiwanese-American are doing and will do in the future, I want to urge you to correct and increase both Taiwanese-American and other kinds of American knowledge about Taiwan and Taiwanese-Americans. Doing so increases the likelihood of a chance for self-determination and nation building on Taiwan, a cause that requires efforts and vigilance along many lines. I hope that you will join me in these continuing efforts as we remember the Taiwanese martyrs of 1947.






1.            Memorandum on the Situation in Taiwan by Ambassador John Leighton Stuart in: The China White Paper 1949, pp 923-938.


2.            Formosa Betrayed by George H. Kerr, 1965, Houghton Mifflin Co.


No Taiwanese can afford not to read Formosa Betrayed.


3.   An Eyewitness Account of Conditions in Taiwan During the February 28 1947 incident in: Formosa Calling by Allan James Shackleton, 1998. Taiwan Publishing Co.


Three chapters cover the rebellion pp. 63-96.


4.   Mr. Barton was told the revolution of 1947 in: A Pail of Oysters by Vern Sneider, 1953, pp. 213-226.


Sneider wrote a conversation on historical events in a novel about post-war Taiwan.


5.   A Case Study of Psuedo-Objectivity: The Hoover Institution Analysis of 1947 Resistance and Repression in : Taiwanese Culture, Taiwanese Society by Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong, pp.58-69,1994. University Press of America.


A critical review on book A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947 by Lai Tse-Han, Ramon H. Myers, and Wei Wou, 1991. Stanford University Press.