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  • Setting the record straight, learning the lessons of history, healing wounds
  • 2012/02/28
Setting the record straight, learning the lessons of history, healing wounds
On February 28, the 65th anniversary of the 228 Incident, President Ma Ying-jeou attended an afternoon commemorative ceremony at the 228 Monument in Taipei's 228 Peace Park. On behalf of the government, the president returned letters and documents from four victims of the incident to their families, and issued certificates to nine households that restored the reputations of family members who were victims of the incident.
In remarks, the president first expressed his appreciation to victims of the incident and members of their families for attending the proceedings. He said that their compassion and courage are keys to healing of the wounds. President Ma noted that two years after the 228 Incident, martial law was declared on Taiwan, and that therefore only a very limited number of people discussed or had a broad understanding of the events. After the lifting of martial law in 1987, the government began to promote legislation related to the 228 Incident, achieving passage in 1995 of the February 28 Incident Disposition and Compensation Act. This provided the basis for establishment of a foundation that began to offer compensation to victims and their families. Starting in 1996, the government each year has held commemorative ceremonies, enabling the public to better understand the lessons of history and to better cherish the value of human rights.

President Ma mentioned that he has been involved in affairs associated with the handling of the 228 Incident for nearly 20 years and feels strongly that while the wrongs of history may perhaps be forgiven, the course of history cannot be forgotten. The president noted that in the past he has frequently had contact with victims of the incident and their families, and shares the grief they've felt for the past 50 years, which no amount of indemnification or apologies could possibly smooth over. For this reason, the 228 Memorial Foundation will continue investigating the incident and educating the public about it. The president also said he hopes that civil servants will visit the National 228 Memorial Museum to understand the importance of protecting human rights.

President Ma stated that on July 15 last year at a memorial ceremony for political victims during the martial law period he returned letters written by Mr. Huang Wengong (黃溫恭), a victim of political persecution, to his family. Immediately thereafter, he asked the Executive Yuan's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission and the National Archives Administration to carry out a thorough review of all files to determine whether there were similar personal documents still in storage. This work, he explained, began in September of last year and was completed at the end of November. A total of 776 pages of personal documents were discovered among the approximately eight million pages of state documents that were sorted through. These 776 pages involved 177 persons, of whom six were determined by the 228 Memorial Foundation to have been victims. President Ma stated that these papers, which have been collecting dust in storage for many years, are extremely important, and they may well be upsetting to the victims and their families, so he therefore reiterated the government's deepest apologies to the political victims and their families for what occurred.

President Ma explained that the 228 Incident took place because Taiwan was not democratic at that time and the government was corrupt. The establishment of a clean government that protects human rights has therefore been a philosophy he has embraced since he became involved in politics. Since taking office as president in May 2008, he has not only placed great importance on educating people about the significance of human rights, but also established a Human Rights Consultative Committee at the Office of the President to bring human rights in Taiwan up to international standards. He added that the government absolutely regards the protection of human rights as an important policy that underpins the governing of the nation.

President Ma quoted a thought-provoking inscription at the National 228 Memorial Museum: "We once lived in fear and gloom, but democracy arose like a beacon, to illuminate the dusty pages of the past, expose the truth, and preserve an indelible record of our historical experience." President Ma expressed his hope that the people of the ROC will join together and support each other so that, through the efforts of the present generation, the 228 Incident will take on a higher significance and be transformed into an asset for the next generation.

At the opening ceremony of a special exhibition held by the National 228 Memorial Museum to commemorate members of the judiciary who lost their life during the 228 Incident, President Ma noted that the incident occurred 65 years ago, and this special exhibition therefore has very unique meaning. The president explained that personnel in the judicial system, who ought by all rights to have been the protectors of the people, were in many cases among the earliest victims of the incident. This points to the special role played by judicial officers among the many people who suffered during the incident. It also shows that the government of the time cared little about public opinion, and handled the events inappropriately. Even now, decades later, the resulting calamity continues to weigh on society.

President Ma also remarked that when he served as Taipei City mayor, he promoted special exhibits devoted to the 228 Incident victims, including Mr. Lin Maosheng (林茂生) and Mr. Chang Chilang (張七郎). In addition, information has been collected from a variety of sources to compile short biographies of 168 victims. The president said that after he took office in May 2008, scholars from the Academia Sinica's Institute of Modern History obtained a lot of previously uncollected information and studied it very closely. Museums hold regular exhibits to educate the public on the 228 Incident. This shows that the government hopes to utilize a variety of avenues to uncover the truth.

President Ma stressed that the wrongs of history perhaps can be forgiven, but the facts of history absolutely cannot be forgotten. Many of Taiwan's brightest individuals fell victim during the 228 Incident, or simply disappeared. The government can by no means view this situation lightly. Rather, it needs to make every effort to set the historical record straight, learn from it, heal the wounds, and avoid any recurrence of past mistakes. This will always be the government's objective, the president stressed.

President Ma stated that the government at the time handled the events inappropriately, which led to grave consequences for which it must take responsibility. In this spirit, over the past 20 years, the government has formulated the February 28 Incident Disposition and Compensation Act, established a foundation to offer compensation, and declared February 28 a national holiday for the remembrance of that incident. Even though much work has been carried out in an effort to compensate for what happened, the events could not possibly be forgotten by the families of the victims. They urgently hope the government will continue working to uncover the truth, and President Ma pledged that the government will definitely continue doing everything possible in this regard.

President Ma also expressed his deepest respect for the subjects of this special exhibit—Mr. Wang Yulin (王育霖), a prosecutor, and Mr. Lin Lianzong (林連宗), a lawyer. The president spoke of his great admiration for the high moral caliber of Mr. Wang's second son Dr. Wang Keshao (王克紹), who through his calm demeanor has displayed tremendous compassion and magnanimity. President Ma said he still vividly recalls the talk he had with Dr. Wang and his family when he visited them five years ago. Meanwhile, Mr. Lin was one of 18 Taiwanese members of the National Assembly who took part in the drafting of the ROC Constitution, and he witnessed its enactment along with the other assemblymen. President Ma mentioned that this historical event took place just slightly over one year after Taiwan was recovered from Japan in 1945, and marked quite an accomplishment for Taiwan. Just several months later, however, the people of Taiwan fell into the abyss of agony. The president said that he finds it difficult each time he reads about this period of history.

President Ma stated that, having studied law, he is deeply pained to see the senseless loss of these first-rate judges, prosecutors, and lawyers. The government will continue to work to ensure that a similar event does not recur. Taiwan has now embarked upon the path of democracy, and the steps it has taken down this important road cannot be reversed. The president expressed his hopes that all sectors will come together, remember the lessons of history, work to soothe the pain, emerge from the shadows, and rebuild Taiwan.
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