28 February 1947: Taiwan’s February Revolution

The so-called “February 28th Incident” (228, 二二八事件) is most remembered for the days of indiscriminate killings and repression that the Chinese bourgeois dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his KMT forces unleashed on Taiwan in 1947. Thousands of civilians were murdered in cold blood. It marked the beginning of a long-standing sentiment for Taiwanese national self-determination that permeates a large part of Taiwanese masses to this day.

The KMT still smugly accuses anyone who raises 228 as being “divisive,” while its bourgeois political rival, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), reduces the significance of 228 to a mere sensational lament of victimhood, demagogically rehashing the rhetoric of “tragic Taiwan (悲情台灣)” to garner more votes, so that they can be the ones implementing the policies of the Taiwanese bourgeois. Neither of them dares mention the huge revolutionary potential of 228. The events of February 28th sparked off spontaneous strikes, mass demonstrations, and factory and government building occupations. This revolutionary movement pushed Chiang to conduct his first counterrevolution after the end of WWII.

After the February 28th Uprising was put down, the Taiwanese working class was subjected to 38 years of martial law under the KMT backed by US imperialism. Any suspected leftists, their associates, or dissidents of any kind were persecuted. The political Left was completely wiped out for a time. Despite this, the Taiwanese working class, like their brothers and sisters around the world, eventually stood up against capitalist rule to defend themselves. The strike waves for workers’ controlled unions in the 1980s and the Wild Lily Student Movement in the 1990s were examples of fearless struggles against KMT authoritarianism. In more recent times, we also saw the massive Sunflower Movement in 2014, and the latest labour demonstrations against the DPP counter-reforms of unprecedented size.

These events show the Taiwanese working class are once again preparing to move against capitalism. Marxists and socialists must be there to provide the necessary analysis and leadership to help the working class achieve victory. Much of this analysis would have to be drawn from lessons acquired from around the world, and from the memories of Taiwanese class struggle. It is from this perspective that we review the important lessons that can be drawn from the experience of the 228 Uprising for the impending struggles.

[*In this article, the term “Taiwanese” is used to denote those people who have lived in Taiwan for generations, the majority of which were immigrants from Southern China but also including aboriginal tribal people. The term “Chinese” is used to denote the people from China that entered Taiwan after 1945 and possessed marked cultural differences. Another term commonly used is Benshengren (本省人, “people of the province”) and Waishengren (外省人, “people from outside of the province”]

The First Years of KMT Rule in Taiwan

Before the Qing Dynasty annexed Taiwan in 1683, the island was variously colonised by the Spanish, the Dutch, a rebel general of the Ming Dynasty Koxingja, and sitting at the intersection of Chinese, Japanese, and European powers in competition with each other. In 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan by the Qing Dynasty as a result of the defeat of the latter in the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese first primarily governed Taiwan as an economic colony, then a military forward base for Japanese imperialism during World War II. Japan’s introduction of the capitalist system into Taiwan also created widespread radicalisation of the peasantry and gave birth to Taiwan’s working class. Although government repression and WWII cut across the developing ferment in society, it was never completely eliminated. During the war, the Japanese government further strengthened the monopolies of the Zaibatsus for them to more easily coordinate resources for the war effort. The colonial government also increased taxation and conscription to exploit the Taiwanese people* and fund the war. As Japan’s impending defeat became inevitable, the US also began large scale air raids on Taiwan which devastated the productive forces. This was the condition that the Taiwanese people found themselves in when they waited for the KMT to take over from the Japanese.[1]

At first, the Taiwanese people, after having been brutally governed by Japanese imperialists for half a century, welcomed the reincorporation of Taiwan into China. They believed that this would bring about the end of repression and the beginning of having more of a say in running their own lives while enjoying democratic rights with their mainland Chinese compatriots. Many Taiwanese who were not able to speak Mandarin, which was only codified as the official language of China in 1923, flocked to Mandarin classes. Their enthusiasm would be rewarded with a layer of Chinese bureaucrats assigned by Chiang Kai-shek to govern Taiwan, headed by Chen Yi (陳儀).

To the KMT, Taiwan was to be a playground for pillage in their bid to amass wealth and to repel the looming revolution inside China. The governor’s office led by Chen pointed to the fact that the Taiwanese people could not speak Mandarin, write in Chinese, and were unfamiliar with the laws of the Republic of China(中華民國). The state apparatus of the KMT used this as an excuse to completely exclude Taiwanese from mid to higher level government posts. According to the “Programs for the Plan of Restoration(《復原計劃綱要》)” published by the KMT, regions that were re-taken from enemy rule, like Taiwan, had to “emphasise on cultural education work to eliminate slavish mentality”.[2] All the lively, spontaneous political activities that the masses had engaged in since the end of the war were also prohibited by the governor’s office, starting on November 17, 1945.[3] At the same time, the government also used the need to persecute “Han-traitors(漢奸)” as an excuse to arrest people and confiscate properties, regardless of the conditions of their past lives under the highly repressive Japanese regime. The KMT’s intelligence system was also introduced into Taiwan to monitor for any leftist or communist activities.

Despite the Taiwanese people’s initial enthusiasm for returning to Chinese culture, it was going to take the necessary time and pace and, more importantly, voluntary efforts for integration to be successful, as Japanese was then the lingua franca within Taiwan, and Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and aboriginal people’s languages were widely spoken. Nonetheless, the KMT government decreed rapid removal of the Japanese language from all public life, and mandarin education to be immediately introduced in elementary schools. Japanese clothing and food, customs were also immediately banned. The immediate result of such a ham-fisted cultural policy was to further disadvantage most Taiwanese people who did not speak Chinese, while favouring the Chinese personnel that had come with the KMT.[4]

Chen Yi the appointed governor of Taiwan that oversaw many of the policies that gave rise to acute social tensions in Taiwan Image Wikipedia public domainChen Yi, the appointed governor of Taiwan that oversaw many of the policies that gave rise to acute social tensions in Taiwan / Image: public domain

The Taiwanese were, once again, effectively reduced to being second-class citizens in their own home. An article from a liberal magazine in Shanghai at the time saliently described the attitude of the KMT towards Taiwan: “The undisputed fact is, the KMT returned to the retaken territories with the posture of a conqueror. Taiwan was taken back from the Japanese. These conquerors feel that: ‘I have liberated you all, from today on you no longer need to be subjugated, you must thank me. Secondly, as you underwent fifty years of Japanese enslavement education, you inevitably have many wrong ideas. Now we must re-educate you, train you on how to become the people of the new China under Three Principles of the People.’”[5] The Taiwanese people would have to endure the KMT’s chauvinist dictatorship for years to come.

Economically, Governor Chen Yi sought to quickly repair the damaged industry in Taiwan in order to supply the counter-insurgent efforts in China. The KMT thus quickly expropriated the monopolies that were left by the Japanese, thereby controlling most of Taiwan’s economy that formed 59.7 percent of the Net Domestic Product and employed 65.4 percent of the employed people.[6] Yet most nationalised industries were operated to gain short term profit rather than fulfilling society’s needs in their effort to fund the war in China as quickly as possible.[7] The KMT’s National Resource Commission (資源委員會) even planned on closing down 25 sugar processing plants in Taiwan to be moved to other provinces in China, although in face of massive protests from the public they only proceeded to do so with two.[8] Although nationalisation of monopoly industries did allow productive forces to quickly rejuvenate, they were completely unable to resolve the massive unemployment and food shortages faced by the people. Most of the investment in production was made on the basis of loans and even printed money, which caused rapid inflation.

The KMT also altered Taiwan’s biggest trading partner from Japan to the Chinese economy centered in Shanghai, which became Taiwan’s new primary source of imported industrial consumer goods. The inflationary crisis in Shanghai, coupled with Chen Yi’s poor monetary policies, encouraged currency speculation. This exacerbated the inflation of the Taiwanese currency and goods sold to Taiwan.[9] The destruction of farmland from Allied air raids already caused a shortage of agricultural products, but the KMT exacerbated the food shortage via forcibly requisitioning over 70 percent of foodstuffs output at two thirds the market price.[10] This, along with a number of policy blunders, exacerbated the skyrocketing of food prices. Between January 1946 and February 1947, the price of rice grew by 4.83 times, flour prices by 5.38 times, and sugar prices grew by a whopping 22.33 times.[11]

In the same way that Taiwanese people were excluded from the administration of public affairs, the KMT also reserved high salary job positions in industries left by the Japanese for new incoming Chinese. Not only this, because many of these Chinese bureaucrats obtained their posts via nepotistic means, their poor training and inefficiency required additional positions to be set up. In the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (台糖), administrative positions grew from 2,946 in 1946 to 5,364 in the next year. Chinese workers not only enjoyed perks that their Taiwanese colleagues were not granted, but they were also significantly better paid. A Taiwan Sugar factory in Taichung was giving their Chinese employees twice as much salary as the Taiwanese employees.[12] On top of this unequal treatment, corruption was rampant under KMT administration.

The Taiwanese masses quickly realised that they were being ruled by yet another regime from the outside, one which was not only no less barbarous but was also destabilising their already difficult lives. Within two years, the mood of discontent permeated throughout Taiwanese society. American diplomat George Kerr, who was present in Taiwan at the time, graphically described the powder keg:

“Strikes and demonstrations grew in number and variety. Employees began to walk out when wages were not paid, or paid only in part, or when the Government management refused to entertain petitions for improved working conditions. Within a short time scores of important plants were shut down, or were working on schedules reduced by strikes and temporary walkouts. Public Health Service employees went on strike…”

“By mid-February, 1947 food shortages were felt again, and rice riots occurred with increasing frequency throughout the island. Here was tinder for rebellion.”[13]

Eruption of Resistance

The inevitable eruption of public anger would finally arrive on February 27th, 1947. Due to the KMT’s introduction of monopolisation of the sale of a large array of commodities while the economy was collapsing, many were rendered petty illegal street vendors to eke out a livelihood. Single mother Lin Jiangmai (林江邁) was among these disaffected people in Taiwan. While she was selling loose cigarettes in the streets of Taipei, she was discovered by a few KMT agents. When she was on her knees tearfully begging the agents to not confiscate all of her goods, agent Ye Degen (葉德根) pounded Lin’s head with his rifle, instantly knocking her unconscious. A large crowd of angry witnesses instantly gathered around Lin and her assailants, condemning the KMT agents for their brutality. One of the panicking KMT agents Fu Xuetong (傅學通) panicked and shot into the crowd, killing a bystander Chen Wenxi (陳文溪). This was the whip of reaction that would set off an explosive mass uprising against KMT rule.

The site of Lin Jiangmais beating that led to the explosion of public anger in Taipei today Image YTHsiaoThe site of Lin Jiangmai’s beating that led to the explosion of public anger in Taipei today / Image: YTHsiao

The enraged crowd set upon the KMT agents and chased them to the police station. When the police chief refused to hand the agents to the crowd, even larger crowds surrounded the police station and refused to disperse. As the news of Lin’s assault began to spread around Taipei, spontaneous strikes and market closures were called the very next day, and masses of crowds began to enter into government buildings to take them over or smash them up. On the evening of February 28th, the masses took over a radio station and broadcast the news around Taiwan, encouraging everyone around the country to rise up.

Large scale mass movements sprung up all over Taiwan, especially in cities like Taichung, Tainan, and Kaoshiung. Enraged mobs attacked government offices, set furniture on fire, or beat up many Chinese people, whom they thought to be government officials or privileged people. In order to defend themselves from subsequent repression from the military and the police, self-defence forces composed primarily of students and ex-conscripts of the Japanese army were formed with arms acquired from police stations. In Yunlin (雲林), the armed civilians were even able to take over the airstrip in Huwei (虎尾機場).[14] Many factory managers and security guards fled in face of the riots, and the workers of those factories began to form self-defence forces to control the factories. Some offered protection to their Chinese colleagues.[15]

Students in a senior high school in Kaohsiung formed an armed self defence troop during the initial phases of the Uprising Image Wikipedia public domianStudents in a senior high school in Kaohsiung formed an armed self-defence troop during the initial phases of the Uprising / Image: public domian

On March 1st, a number of Taiwanese bourgeois politicians put forward a set of demands to governor Chen Yi, including the end of martial law, the release of all arrested civilians, the establishment of a “February 28th Incident Settlement Committees(二二八事件處理委員會)” jointly by the government and the people, and the immediate ceasefire for the military and the police upon civilians. Although Chen agreed to the demands, he never publicised the order to stop shooting civilians.[16] Under the pressure and participation of the masses, Settlement Committees were established all over Taiwan. Initially, these committees were designed to be mediators of conflict jointly directed by Taiwanese bourgeois and the KMT government, yet the pace of events quickly pushed these Committees to place massive pressure on the government to enforce large scale reforms. In some places, the Settlement Committees even took up the role of government for a time. The Settlement Committee in Taipei took the initiative to coordinate food distribution and purchasing to alleviate the food shortages there. The island-wide Settlement Committee substituted the government to direct day-to-day operations such as the reopening of the railways, postal services, telecommunications, and the alleviation of coal shortages.[17] The spontaneously formed self-defence forces everywhere became the official armed forces of the Settlement Committees. The island-wide Settlement Committee further passed a “32 Point Settlement Program(《三十二條處理大綱》)” on March 7th, 1947, demanding that “the government armed forces everywhere should temporarily self-disarm and hand their weapons to the Settlement Committees and the armed police (formed by the people).” Another provision demanded that “before the political conflict has been resolved at its roots, the government must consult all policies with the Settlement Committees before implementation.”[18] These were effectively challenges for political power. Of course, due to the class contradictions within the Settlement Committees, the actual effect of these demands should not be exaggerated. We should weigh the balance of forces by examining the contradictions that were present in the struggles around Taiwan along class and other lines.

The Contradictions Among Various Tendencies During the 228 Struggle

The Taiwanese masses, who could no longer tolerate the situation, intervened to take control of their own destiny via the February 28th Uprising. This massive energy not only had the potential to transform Taiwanese society, but also could have encouraged the Chinese and other Asian workers to follow suit, thereby pushing forward the revolutionary processes that were brewing in Asia at the time. Of course, there were significant objective challenges to the uprising. Had there been a Marxist cadre they would have been able to explain to the masses how to overcome the difficulties and achieve victory.

Within the KMT and the anti-government camp, there were factional contradictions. On the KMT government’s side, aside from those bureaucrats led by governor Chen Yi and Taiwan Police Garrison Command (警備總部) Chief of Staff Ke Yuanfen (柯遠芬), there were also Chen’s factional rivals within the KMT in China known as the “Central Club Clique (CC)” headed by KMT czar Chen Lifu (陳立夫). The CC Clique was thoroughly reactionary, but they had conflicts of interest with the “Zhengxue (政學派)” faction that Chen Yi belonged to. In Taiwan, the CC Clique had strong influence over the KMT’s Taiwan Provincial Party Office. During the February 28th Uprising, the CC Clique attempted to use the movement to strike out at Chen. On the one hand, they assiduously tried to buy out the Taiwanese bourgeoisie that held positions within the Settlement Committee to help them depose Chen in Taiwan, such as Chiang Weichuan (蔣渭川) the brother of late labour leader Chiang Weishui (蔣渭水). One after the other, they deployed agents provocateurs among the masses, and instigated armed civilians to commit arson or other activities that would only serve to discredit the movement.[19]

Nonetheless, within the anti-government camp, the Taiwanese bourgeoisie and the ruling class formed the biggest obstacle for the movement and played a counterrevolutionary role. The Settlement Committee in Taipei, after all, was formed by both the Taipei bourgeoisie and the government. Although unions and students from all cities and counties had the right to elect their own delegates to the Settlement Committee, and despite the fact that during these Committee meetings there usually were large crowds of civilians observing the proceedings, the main power of the Settlement Committees remain under the control of Taiwanese politicians and the bourgeoisie.[20] The Settlement Committees in substance fell between a true bourgeois democratic parliament and a provisional government. This is different from the Soviets formed by the Russian workers during the 1905 Russian Revolution, or the Bolivarian Circles/Communes in Venezuela that were organisations formed and controlled by the masses. Although pressure from the masses at first compelled the Settlement Committees to call on the KMT to carry out large scale reforms, the intention of the bourgeois to use the Settlement Committee for Counterrevolutionary ends were quickly exposed. In Taichung, the masses in fact formed a “Citizens’ Congress (市民大會)” and elected Xie Xuehong (謝雪紅), a communist, as their chairperson. Xie further formed the Public Order Committee Battle Command (治安委員會作戰本部) on this base of support. The bourgeoisie in Taichung, led by landlord Lin Xiantang (林獻堂), later formed the local Settlement Committee and used it to take command of the armed forces away from Xie.[21]

Within the masses there were also complexities. The most radical layers that were leading the movement were mostly students and discharged soldiers from the cities. The spontaneously organised armed forces were mostly composed of these elements. Students, the petit bourgeois and discharged soldiers tended to be heavily destabilised by the crisis of capitalism, therefore it was unsurprising that they were the most radical layer of the 228 Movement. Although they had weapons in their hands, if they were not able to actively connect with the working class and to help the workers to exert their massive social power, then by themselves the students and soldiers would not be able to resist the pressure and attacks from the bourgeois class.

At the time of 228, the Taiwanese working class formed around 13 percent of the total employed population, around 315,000 people.[22] Despite their small size in comparison to the Taiwanese population in general, the Taiwanese working class had indeed rapidly grown in size during WWII, and if they had moved in a revolutionary direction and started to lead the movement, then the potential of the 228 Uprising would have been fully realised. Nonetheless, although factory occupations occurred in many places around Taiwan, and the workers even took up arms to form their own factory militias, they generally had a “wait-and-see” attitude towards the resistance movements led by students and discharged soldiers.[23]

There were many reasons why the workers held a conservative attitude, but in the main, the author of this article believes there were two. The first was the role that the lumpenproletariat played in the initial uprisings. At the time there were sizeable gangs in all major cities in Taiwan. When the movements erupted, beatings and robberies against the Chinese were often instigated by gangsters or agents provocateurs egging on the enraged masses.[24] There were even instances of rioters trying to rob factories.[25] Many armed worker militias were in fact formed to defend the factories from these acts of thuggery. After the initial uprisings, many lumpens would end up being co-opted by the KMT to form “Loyal Service Troops (忠義服務隊)” that pretended to be similar to other self-organised armed forces.[26] This injected an element of confusion within the movement, and severely compromised the workers’ willingness to participate. As Marx and Engels observed in the Communist Manifesto: “The ‘dangerous class’ [lumpenproletariat], the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” It is not impossible for this class to accept workers’ leadership during revolutionary situations, but they must completely accept proletarian discipline in order to play a positive role. If the revolutionary side is not winning, the lumpens tend to be bought off by the bourgeoisie and become tools to smash the revolution.

A second reason for the workers’ conservative attitude towards the uprising was because the movement led by students and discharged soldiers did not put forward programs that addressed the workers’ concerns or called on workers to lead the movement. In the programs put forward by the Settlement Committee or in the slogans raised by the student groups, most of the focus was around asking the KMT government to grant more bourgeois democratic rights, for more Taiwanese to be given government positions, or autonomy for Taiwan. Even the movements around Xie Xuehong and the Chinese Communist Party restricted their slogans on democratic rights, instead of explaining that workers should take power to truly end mass unemployment, low wages, food shortages, and resolve other social problems. In the absence of this perspective, in conjunction with other factors of confusion, it was understandable that the workers remained distant from this movement.

Even though this revolutionary movement contained many flaws, if there had been a sizeable revolutionary cadre trained in theory and organisational skills, then they could have worked within the masses to make up for these flaws by rallying all progressive forces, focusing attention on the reactionary nature of the Chinese and Taiwanese bourgeoisie, encouraging the working class to take the leadership and guiding the whole movement to realise its fullest potential. At the time the organisation that could have played this role was in Taichung, where Xue Xuehong, ex-Taiwanese Communists and the Chinese Communist Party were a point of reference.

The Roles of Xie Xuehong, the CCP, and the 27th Brigade

Xie Xuehong was an important leader in the Taiwanese Communist Party organised by the Third International in the 1920s. After the TCP was smashed by the Japanese colonial government in the 30s, Xie endured nine years of imprisonment, torture, forced labour, and illness. She was released in 1940 due to her lung illness, and gradually restarted organising political work with a handful of former TCP comrades.

Ex leaders of the Taiwanese Communist Party Xie Xuehong front and Yang Kehuang behind became key leaders of the radical forces during the 228 Uprising Image Wikipedia public domainEx-leaders of the Taiwanese Communist Party Xie Xuehong (front) and Yang Kehuang (behind) became key leaders of the radical forces during the 228 Uprising / Image: public domain

When Japan officially surrendered to the Allies, Xie and other newly released ex-TCP or leftists faced a dramatically different world situation than before they had gone to jail. The Comintern had been ignominiously disbanded by Stalin in 1943 in his effort to placate the US and British imperialists. Although the revolutionaries in Taiwan lost their connection to the world’s revolutionary forces, they still understood their duty to overthrow the KMT and resist US imperialism.

After Japan’s declaration of defeat, the Taiwanese masses enthusiastically engaged in public political activities until after the KMT landed. Many political and workers’ organisations that were banned by the Japanese government were relaunched. Under this political heatwave, Xie Xuehong quickly formed the “People’s Association (人民協會),” a nationwide organisation with its own press and a perspective to become a vanguard party.[27] She also founded the “Taiwan People’s Federation of Trade Unions (台灣人民總工會)” and “Taiwan Farmer’s Association (台灣農民協會),” with the latter having around 130 attendees at its founding meeting. She also helped found the Taiwan Student Association (台灣學生聯合會) and became the principal of Jianguo Craft Trades School (建國工藝學校).[28] At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also sent Cai Xiaoqian (蔡孝乾) and Zhang Zhizhong (張志忠) to Taiwan to establish the CCP’s “Taiwan Provincial Working Committee” (台灣省工作委員會), and attempted to connect with ex-TCP members. The Provincial Working Committee was able to reach a membership of around 70 by the time of the 228 Uprising. However, due to political, organisational, and personal differences, the CCP were not able to effectively coordinate with Xie and many ex-TCP members, who ultimately played bigger roles in the struggle.[29] Xie’s own training as an organiser and her experience with building the TCP gave her tremendous authority among young students. The youth affectionately referred to her as “Obasan” (おばさん, Japanese for “Old Lady”) and relied on her organisational experience.

On the day after the 228 Uprising erupted in Taipei, the townsfolks of Taichung who heard the broadcast from Taipei quickly organised a Citizen’s Congress. Xie, who at this point was very popular, was also elected as the Congress’ chairperson. As Xie understood the reactionary nature of the KMT, she quickly consolidated the self-organised armed militias into the “Battle Command (作戰本部).” However, the local bourgeoisie and landlords later wrestled the command of armed forces away from her. This was allowed to happen mainly because the CCP Taiwan Provincial Working Committee, after being nowhere to be found in the initial days of the uprising, at this time contacted Xie and ordered her to hand over military power to the local Settlement Committee, with her own training in the Stalinist “Popular Front” strategy, she complied with the order.[30] Thus she subordinated her program to strictly democratic demands, placed herself under the authority of the Settlement Committee, and disbanded the Citizen’s Congress. Even though her mistake allowed the bourgeoisie to use the Settlement Committee to remove her military leadership, the more radical layer of the armed forces continued to support Xie. She thus organised the 27th Brigade with around 400 fighters who were willing to fight the KMT head-on.[31]

At this point, although Xie personally still had a lot of influence among the masses, the bourgeoisie were actively using the Settlement Committee to hold back the movement. Not only that, because Taichung’s initial resistance movements were among the most successful around Taiwan, many movement leaders from around the island went to Taichung and asked for support and leadership, but they were turned away by the Settlement Committee controlled by Lin Xiantang.[32] This was iron proof that the Settlement Committee and its leaders there were standing on the opposite side of the barricade. Xie, with the 400 fighters under her leadership, should have deployed them to propagandise among the masses in the city, calling for the Citizen’s Congress to reopen and declare its authority over all city affairs. At the same time they should have elevated the program from demanding bourgeois democratic rights to including social demands that could attract the support from workers and peasants. On this basis, those fighters coming from around Taiwan could not only bring back supplies, but also bring back these programs and tactics to agitate among the masses in their respective regions, further enhancing the connection between the workers and the masses everywhere, and appeal to the broader Chinese workers and peasants that were already getting into a revolutionary mood to wipe out the KMT together.

The source of the power of the masses came from their role in society as the producers of wealth as well as from their numbers. This is why even in the most critical conditions, such as during a civil war, the support of the masses in many cases determines the outcome. When the Soviet Union was encircled by 21 foreign armies and the Whites, the masses’ support for the new government explains why the October Revolution was able to survive. Lenin and Trotsky politically inspired the masses with a concrete programme of land to the peasants, the nationalisation of the factories under workers’ control and all power to the soviets. On this basis, Trotsky was able to build the Red Army and carry out conventional warfare that triumphed over the enemies of the revolution. When resisting reactionary forces, the role of socialists is to explain to the masses the need to unite all the workers and peasants and to fight, maximising class consciousness among the masses.

Unfortunately, Xie and other leaders decided to deploy all 400 fighters in combat, thereby missing the chance to connect with the masses. When Chiang Kai-shek’s reinforcements landed in Taiwan, the 27th Brigade was also forced into the mountains and continued the resistance via guerilla warfare, and in the process, their forces began to dwindle.

The KMT’s First Counterrevolution after WWII

At the onset of the 228 Uprising, Chen Yi only had around five thousand troops around Taiwan, and the Police Garrison Command could only deploy 700 policemen. They were completely overwhelmed by the roaring mass movement. This was why Chen Yi at first pretended to negotiate with the Settlement Committees and Taiwanese bourgeoisie to buy time, while secretly asking Chiang for reinforcements on March 2nd.[33] While Chen was fooling the Taiwanese masses with the assistance of the Taiwanese bourgeoisie, Chiang moved seven thousand soldiers to land at Keelung port in the north of Taiwan on March 8th, with an additional three thousand landing in Kaohsiung in the South. The troops immediately launched a bloody offensive that lasted several days.

Chiang and the KMT’s tactic towards Taiwan at the time was a classic counterrevolution, smashing the mass movement by violence. In some newly discovered excerpts from Chiang’s diary, we see that Chiang and his staff did not see this crackdown as a conventional battle against the Communists. They saw the masses as the enemy that needed to be suppressed by force. After the movement erupted, Chiang personally received pleas from Taiwanese bourgeois and some foreign diplomats to not send troops to Taiwan, but Chiang explicitly ignored them.[34] On the eve of the landing in Taiwan of KMT reinforcement troops, Chiang wrote the following in his diary:

“At this point, the Communists have not infiltrated (Taiwan) or have any basis to become powerful (in Taiwan). It is worrisome that no better-trained troops of ours could be deployed. No plans on dealing with the aftermath yet, right now we can only play soft. These kinds of people in Taiwan just rejoined (China), they’ve long been turned into slaves by the Japanese, they have forgotten their fatherland, and therefore they lack morals and fear only force.”[35]

After landing in Keelung, Chiang’s forces immediately began indiscriminate shooting of civilians, and use barbed wire to tie up people and threw them into the sea.[36] They began to press into all major cities and implemented bloody martial law wherever they reached. At this stage, the KMT troops saw no difference between the actively resistant masses and the Taiwanese bourgeoisie that was working hard to pacify the movement in the KMT’s interest. For example, Tang Dezhang (湯德章), an attorney in Tainan who convinced the masses to disarm and at the same time gathered lumpenproletariat to ensure the people remain pacified, was immediately arrested and shot when the KMT entered Tainan.[37] Lin Xiantang who actively collabourated with the KMT in Taichung was also charged as a “Sino-traitor.”[38]

A man executed by the KMT troops during Chiangs counteroffensive Image Wikipedia public domainA man executed by the KMT troops during Chiang’s counteroffensive / Image: public domain

The degree of resistance to Chiang’s troops was uneven across different regions. Because resistance forces did not have the chance to connect up, there was no unified resistance leadership or plan. Chiang’s troops thus were able to rapidly sweep through Taiwan. All the worker-occupied factories were brutally attacked, and even for those workers who provided their Chinese colleagues or managers protection, revenge still befell them.[39] One of the few forces that fought to the end was none other than the 27th Brigade led by Xie Xuehong and others. When Chiang’s troops approached Taichung, the 27th Brigade made a decision to bait the KMT into the suburban area of Puli (埔里) to prevent them from purging the city. The 27th Brigade fought like tigers, bravely combating 700 KMT troopers of the 21st Division with only 40 fights in the Battle of Wuniulan (烏牛欄).[40] Of course, the 27th Brigade, now forced into the mountains, were isolated from the masses. Within the 27th Brigade there were also leaders that were strongly opposed to leftism or communism, such as Brigade capitan Zhong Yiren (鍾逸人).[41] At this time, the CCP ordered all party members in the 27th Brigade to cease all resistance activities, Xie Xuehong and ex-TCP leader Yang Kehuang (楊克煌) chose to follow the CCP’s orders and left the Brigade. They eventually fled to Hong Kong. The 27th Brigade was soon dried of all resources and was compelled to disband.

Aftermath and the Future of Taiwan

In the tide of history, the masses of Taiwan bravely challenged the KMT’s rule. In reality, power was indeed slipping out of Chen Yi’s hands, but as the masses were unable to take power via socialist means and push for a workers’ and peasants’ leadership, the resistance forces inevitably became atomised and suffered defeat at Chiang’s hands. Although the Taiwanese people paid a bloody price for this, it was a living proof that all the capitalist powers in Asia at that time were hanging by a thread, and the masses had the will to challenge the establishment. And although Chiang enforced his first counterrevolution in Taiwan after WWII, he was overthrown in mainland China by the Chinese Revolution that took place two years later.

Chiang Kai shek and the KMT Image 姚琢奇 public domainChiang Kai-shek and the KMT, supported by US imperialism, were forced to grant massive concessions on the agrarian questions in Taiwan in order to maintain its regime after being defeated by the Chinese Revolution / Image: 姚琢奇, public domain

Nevertheless, despite the bloodshed, the KMT government felt sufficient pressure from the masses to remove Chen Yi from the governorship in Taiwan. As their defeat in China became imminent, they were forced to embark on large scale land reforms in favour of small tenant peasants, known as the “37.5 percent Arable Rent Reduction Act (三七五減租)” of 1949 in Taiwan. This was a distorted result of the permanent revolution process that was taking place in China, where a reactionary state beholden to imperialism that was defeated by a revolution had to force through some relatively progressive reforms in order to remain in power, of course in combination with a brutal totalitarian regime.

Although after the crackdown by Chiang’s forces the movement went into a sharp ebb, it nevertheless lingered for some time. The CCP continued to work inside Taiwan and was even able to take leadership of the bus drivers’ and postal workers’ unions in Taipei. The CCP creatively organised Mandarin classes for workers, in compliance with the KMT’s language policies, in order to propagandise to workers through a safe channel. The bus drivers and postal workers then went on strike in 1948 and 1949, respectively. However, they were unable to withstand the full might of the KMT state apparatus when it was moved to Taiwan. The CCP members inside Taiwan were arrested and executed at the onset of the KMT’s White Terror in Taiwan that would last for decades.[42]

There was even a group of nine Chinese Trotskyists that moved from Wenzhou to Taiwan to begin a branch in later 1947, after the Uprising. They managed to get access to a printing press, but then were discovered by KMT agents in early 1948 and their work was smashed.[43]

Although the ferment was finally put to an end by the KMT’s full migration to Taiwan, the Taiwanese people’s anger against the KMT and desire to one day become masters of their own destiny persisted. The support for Taiwanese independence, in effect a call for the replacement of the state of Republic of China brought over by the KMT with a bourgeois state called a “Republic of Taiwan,” has survived and grown during the decades of Chiang’s dictatorship. Political liberalisation eventually came through a weakening of the KMT state and growing mass movements in the late 1980s and the rise of the liberal bourgeois opposition DPP. From that point on, the Taiwanese working class has accumulated experiences that will show them that the problem did not begin with the KMT, but with the global capitalist system which it serves alongside the DPP.

Across the Taiwan Strait, the restoration of capitalism in China headed by the CCP has developed into a new rising imperialist power, which also uses the same Chinese chauvinist posturing as the KMT did to attempt to annex Taiwan through the power of capital rather than revolution. This is understood by the Taiwanese masses, but in the absence of a Marxist alternative, the resistance to Chinese imperialism is channelled behind the demand for Taiwanese independence.

In 2017, 56 percent of respondents to a survey indicated that they consider themselves to be exclusively Taiwanese and not Chinese. Those who consider themselves both Taiwanese and Chinese went from 46 percent in 1992 to 36 percent in 2017. Those who consider themselves exclusively Chinese went from 25 percent to 3.8 percent in the same time period.[44] With regards to relations with China, around 60 percent of people of all ages favour maintaining the status quo, i.e. not to be governed by China but not to immediately declare independence. 23.5 percent of people below 40 years old and 14.7 percent above that age favour independence. 10.4 percent of people below age 40 and 20.1 percent above 40 favour unification with China. In the event that a war were to break out between Taiwan and China, 68.1 percent of respondents to a survey said would be willing to fight on Taiwan’s side if China tries to violently unify with Taiwan, while 56.7 percent are willing to fight on Taiwan’s side if China attacks Taiwan as a result of a hypothetical move to change Taiwan’s official name to the “Republic of Taiwan”.[45] . This evolution of sentiment is a recognition of the reality that’s best summed up by what the late Taiwanese labour leader Zeng Maoxing (曾茂興) told a CCP official after visiting a Chinese factory with women workers in abhorrent conditions: “politically (you say) we are ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ in reality it is ‘Two countries, One system!”

The Sunflower Movement of 2014 in Taiwan was a rejection of the chauvinist policies of Chinese Imperialism but also a growing mood against the capitalist system in crisis Image ArtemThe Sunflower Movement of 2014 in Taiwan was a rejection of the chauvinist policies of Chinese Imperialism, but also a growing mood against the capitalist system in crisis / Image: Artemas Liu

The workers and youth of Taiwan are looking for ways of breaking the shackles placed on them by their own bourgeoisie, as well as US and Chinese imperialism, ratcheting up energy that will surpass what their great-grandparents exerted during 228. As Marxists we have no doubt that the Taiwanese masses will sooner or later move. What is required is to prepare the forces of Marxism that can intervene in the process, providing analysis, perspectives and a programme that the masses require, while politically connecting the struggle to those in China, East Asia, and the world. That is the task that the IMT has posed itself internationally, and there are always seats for Taiwanese revolutionaries here.


[1] 翁崇禧,《戰後初期台灣經濟與二二八事件》,國立中山大學出版社,高雄,2016,p106

[2] 陳翠蓮,《重構二二八:戰後美中體制、中國統治模式與台灣》,衛城出版,新北市,2017,p109-110

[3] 陳翠蓮,p182

[4] Winckler, Edwin, "Cultural Policy in Postwar Taiwan", in Stevan Harrell and Huang Chun-chieh, Cultural Change in Postwar Taiwan, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1994

[5] 陳芳明 ,《謝雪紅評傳》,城邦文化出版,台北,2009,p217-218

[6] 翁崇禧, p101

[7] ibid, p70-71

[8] 何明修,《支離破碎的團結:戰後台灣煉油廠與糖廠的勞工》,左岸文化,新北市,2016, p77

[9] 翁崇禧,p274

[10] ibid,p44-45

[11] ibid,p55

[12] 何明修, p71

[13] George H. Kerr, Formosa Betrayed, Taiwan Publishing Co. Upland, CA, 1992, p234

[14] 何明修,p84

[15] ibid,p84-87

[16] 陳翠蓮,p213

[17] ibid,p220-221

[18] ibid,p223

[19] ibid,p280-284

[20] ibid,p212-214

[21] 林木順,《台灣二月革命》,前衛出版社,台北市,1997,p70

[22] 翁嘉禧,p97

[23] 何明修,p87

[24] 陳翠蓮,p229-230

[25] 何明修,p84

[26] 陳翠蓮,p229-230

[27] 陳芳明,p194

[28] Ibid,p195-196

[29] 陳翠蓮,p240-241

[30] Patrick,”二二八台中二七部隊戰史 - 二七部隊的「歐巴桑」:謝雪紅在時代中逆行的一生(下)”,2017,https://www.thenewslens.com/feature/27cohort/62488

[31] 許浚騰,“二二八過後,戰鬥才剛剛開始──歷史課本沒告訴你的,很多事”,2015,https://tinyurl.com/y82zpgvj

[32] 林木順,p71

[33] 陳翠蓮,p333

[34] ibid,p362

[35] ibid,p363

[36] 李筱峰, “基隆二二八屠殺”,2016, http://www.peoplenews.tw/news/29b62f1e-d635-42ed-9a3f-5435bc0533f3

[37] 陳翠蓮,p230

[38] 吳象元,“誰是「阿罩霧三少爺」?他要求設立臺灣議會,在日治時期為臺灣人爭取權益”,2015,https://www.thenewslens.com/article/25254

[39] 何明修,p87

[40] If Lin,“二二八台中二七部隊戰史【圖解烏牛欄戰役】二七部隊 vs. 國軍21師,40人力阻700人”,2017,https://www.thenewslens.com/feature/27cohort/62311

[41] Patrick, “二二八台中二七部隊戰史【二七部隊老兵專訪】烏牛欄前夜(上):追求台灣自治的理想”,2017,https://www.thenewslens.com/feature/27cohort/62236

[42] 何明修,p95-96

[43] 王國龍, “1941年至1946年的溫州托派簡況”,《十月評論》,http://octrev.mysrvnet.com/228/228_s31.htm

[44] Election Study Center of National Chengchi University, “Taiwanese / Chinese Identification Trend Distribution in Taiwan(1992/06~2017/12)”,2018,https://esc.nccu.edu.tw/download.php?filename=166_22a366fd.jpg&dir=news&title=TaiwanChinese

[45] 陳方隅, “七成台灣人願意為台灣而戰、支持民主、反對統一:台灣年輕世代的政治態度”,2018,http://whogovernstw.org/2018/04/08/fangyuchen25/