Probe into smuggled cigarettes led to mass slaughter

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am

The 228 Incident broke out on February 28, 1947, two years before the nationalists, or Kuomintang, were defeated by the communists in a civil war and fled to the island.

It was triggered by agents sent to investigate the sale of smuggled cigarettes in Taipingding, central Taipei. The agents caught a middle-aged widow, Lin Chiang-mai, selling cigarettes illegally on February 27 and tried to confiscate her goods and money. She refused. After one of the agents hit her on the head with a gun barrel, angry bystanders surrounded the agents, forcing one of them to fire a warning shot, which accidentally hit a student, who died the following day.

The enraged crowd besieged the police and military headquarters, unsuccessfully demanding the agents be turned over for prosecution. The crowd later stormed a police station, beating an officer to death. Riots soon spread to other parts of the island.

Taiwan governor Chen Yi sought help from Chiang Kai-shek, who was fighting the communists on the mainland. Chiang refused to send troops until he was told that the rioting was an attempt to overthrow the government. He sent soldiers to the island on March 8.

The KMT troops shot civilians accused by Chen of being communist agents. Thousands of Taiwanese were killed during the suppression, many arrested and executed without public trial. Hundreds of mainland immigrants were also killed by Taiwanese seeking revenge. The episode concluded on May 16, 1947, when Chiang ordered an end to the suppression.