TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Around a dozen demonstrators stormed a stage where Taipei’s new mayor was speaking on Tuesday, calling him a murderer and demanding he apologise for the bloodshed during a 1947 massacre in Taiwan.
Protesters were furious that Mayor Chiang Wan-an was hosting the memorial service because his purported great-grandfather, president Chiang Kai-shek, oversaw the violent suppression nearly eight decades ago.
Carrying a white banner with the words, “kneel and apologise”, the protesters rushed towards Chiang, who turned his back on them while security guards swooped in and ushered the crowd away from the stage.
Known as the “228 Incident”, the crackdown eventually killed up to an estimated 28,000 people. It started after an inspector beat a woman selling untaxed cigarettes in Taipei, prompting an island-wide uprising on 28 February.
On Tuesday, Chiang acknowledged the “historical pain” and said he would “work hard… so all residents can face each other more honestly, embrace each other and remember the 228 (Incident)”.
To quell the 1947 protests, Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek — whose Kuomintang (KMT) party governed the island as part of China at the time — called in troops from the mainland.
The violence was also a prelude to the “White Terror”, the purges and executions under martial law imposed by Chiang, who had fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war in 1949 to communists.
The legacy of the massacre still lingers in Taiwan, which the Kuomintang ruled as a one-party authoritarian state until martial law was lifted in 1987.
In 1995, president Lee Teng-hui officially apologised for 228. Today, just blocks away from the Presidential Office Building, a museum and park commemorate the victims.
Some descendants of the victims boycotted Tuesday’s ceremony over Mayor Chiang’s presence.
“It’s unacceptable for us to stand side by side with Chiang Wan-an, who is the descendent of butchers,” said Amy Lee, whose grandfather and another relative was killed in the massacre.
The Chiang family have not recognised Chiang Wan-an or his father John Chiang, who says he is the born-out-of-wedlock son of former president Chiang Ching-kuo.
At the memorial service on Tuesday, former president Ma Ying-jeou advocated for reconciliation.
“Historical mistakes perhaps can be forgiven but historical facts can’t be forgotten,” he said.
Around 200 boycotters of the official event gathered at a ceremony organised by victims’ families outside a memorial hall named after Chiang Kai-shek.
“Taiwan’s ‘transitional justice’ cannot be completed because Chiang Wan-an and the KMT are unwilling to admit the mistakes,” said Kenneth Wang, whose father was killed in the 228 Incident.
“Chiang Kai-shek is the culprit but he still sits over there laughing at us,” Wang said, referring to a 6.3-metre (20-foot) statue of the late leader inside the hall.