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President Tsai attends ceremony marking 76th anniversary of 228 Incident
President Tsai attends ceremony marking 76th anniversary of 228 Incident

On the morning of February 28, President Tsai Ing-wen attended the nation's main memorial ceremony marking the 76th anniversary of the 228 Incident. The president offered a floral wreath in memory of the victims, and stated that the implementation of transitional justice is a race against time. She noted that the victims and their families have long hoped for transitional justice, and that following Taiwan's democratization, the government is also duty-bound to pursue it. The president called on government agencies to take a firm stand and speed up the implementation of transitional justice work so that Taiwanese can pursue freedom and prosperity with dignity, engage with the world with dignity, and be their true selves with dignity, as that is the best way to commemorate the 228 Incident.

A translation of President Tsai's remarks follows:

Today we mark the 76th anniversary of the 228 Incident. There are two 228 Incident monuments in Tainan City, one of which is standing behind me and features a broken cauldron at its top, representing the people who were victimized. It sits opposite the Tainan City Government, reminding the government that the lessons of history cannot be forgotten.

Tainan City also has a Tang Te-chang Memorial Park, at the same location where Mr. Tang lost his life. When the 228 Incident occurred, Tang Te-chang (湯德章) protected Tainan City residents by refusing to hand over registration records and destroying name lists, bearing the groundless charges leveled against them by himself. He was later tortured for two days to extract a confession, paraded through the streets as an example to the public, and finally executed. Mr. Tang sacrificed his life for a just cause, which spared Tainan from facing an even more dangerous situation. 

In 2021 when Mr. Tang's former residence was in danger of being demolished, the public took it upon themselves to raise funds to buy the residence and preserve it. This shows how the collective power of the Taiwanese people helped uphold the spirit of Mr. Tang and the courage of an era.

In September last year the Tainan 228 Memorial Hall was opened. Through the memorial hall, we can learn about the legacy of Taiwanese forebears like Tang Te-chang and Wang Yu-lin (王育霖). Even more important, this memorial hall will help successive administrations remember that victims from the previous generation sacrificed their lives to set the standards for equality, justice, democracy, and freedom in Taiwanese society, and that we absolutely cannot make the same mistake again.

That is why the government has systematically promoted a comprehensive transitional justice project since 2016. From the Act Governing the Settlement of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations to the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice and the Political Archives Act, we have promoted legislative work, step-by-step, and have continued to add to our achievements in transitional justice.  

First, to rectify injustices suffered by the victims, a total of 5,983 unlawful judgements have been voided. This was the first time the nation has cleared political victims of guilt and removed the label of guilt from our forebears. Through the investigation of political archives, we have also classified 7,572 documents as authoritarian era political files. The government will continue to promote the collection, opening, and research of political archives, and declassify and use those case files to reveal historical truths and reconstruct the shared historical memory of Taiwan's people.

Second, to promote reflection on how we remember our history, the government has designated 42 historical sites of injustice, and is plotting out their revitalization. Not only do we want to acknowledge the misdeeds that occurred at these sites in the past, but even more, we want them to become centers for transitional justice education. 

A few days ago, a national action plan for transitional justice education was approved. This marks the first time that transitional justice has been systematically integrated into education and comprehensively promoted in schools and among civil servants, law enforcement personnel, and the public. 

While people may assess history differently, the government is responsible for upholding our constitutional democracy. I want to ask all agencies to carry out their statutory duties, and strive for prudence and perfection. This is the only way to console the victims of the past and soothe the sorrows of their families. Only by making citizens aware of Taiwan's suffering and mistakes and by forging a democratic consensus, can we move toward a future of unity.

Third, in terms of establishing mechanisms for transitional justice, the Transitional Justice Commission completed its mission in May last year. The Transitional Justice Board under the Executive Yuan was convened in September last year to organize and direct the implementation of transitional justice policies by government agencies at the executive level.

At the end of last year, the Ministry of Justice formed a review committee to redress instances of judicial and administrative injustice that occurred during the authoritarian era. A few days ago, the committee announced the first group of cases officially approved for reparations. A few days ago, a government foundation to restore lawful rights, established in January this year, also completed its first round of approvals. This is the first time the government has adopted an overall approach that grants reparations, rather than compensation, sincerely restoring losses due to unlawful infringement. 

Last, to enhance the legal system, draft amendments to the Political Archives Act have already been proposed, and advance notice was issued today. Through these amendments, we hope to make political archives fully public and accessible.

I hope that within one year, the relevant legislation will be passed into law, making the legal system more comprehensive. I also want to thank the Transitional Justice Commission, Control Yuan, and Executive Yuan, as well as many civil society organizations, for their unflagging efforts since 2016 to steadily create a strong foundation for transitional justice. But I still ask that all government agencies take a firm stand and speed up the implementation of all facets of transitional justice.   

Implementing transitional justice is a race against time. It is something that victims from the older generation and their families here today have long hoped for, and after the democratization of Taiwan, we are duty-bound to pursue it.

In 2014 when Vice President Lai Ching-te was the mayor of Tainan City, he declared March 13, the anniversary of Tang Te-chang's death, as Tainan City Justice and Courage Memorial Day. 

It is quite appropriate that this year, the theme for the nation's main 228 Incident memorial ceremony is "Come Together for Justice, Continue with Courage." We commemorate the justice and courage of our forebears because in our current era, those qualities are also highly significant.

In Taiwan, justice and courage lead us in our continuous pursuit of freedom and democracy. The 228 Incident is more than just a historic event in books; it is a living presence. As long as we remember the lessons of that period, they will always give the people of Taiwan the sense of justice and the courage to face the challenges of a new era.

In closing, I would like to recall a scene from the recently re-released movie A City of Sadness. In that movie, the character Wen-ching's (文清) fellow prison inmate leaves behind a letter for his family, written with his own blood, that says, "You must all live with dignity. Father is innocent." That scene has brought many people to tears. Our brave forebears who sacrificed their lives during the 228 Incident chose dignity. They made this choice so that their beloved friends and families could also choose to live with dignity.

As president, my responsibility is to ensure that the Taiwanese people can pursue freedom and prosperity with dignity, engage with the world with dignity, and be their true selves with dignity. This is not just for this generation, but for generations of Taiwanese to come. 

Victims, family members, ladies and gentlemen, your efforts are appreciated. Let us Taiwanese live with dignity, for that is the best way to commemorate the 228 Incident.

Thank you.

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