Ke Wenzhe (in Taiwan spelt Ko Wen-je) is the first elected mayor of Taipei who was personally affected by the 228 Incident. In a speech delivered on February 28 of this year, Ke talked about the tragedy that befell his own family and the entire Taiwanese society.
Here is my translation of the speech:
Today is the 68th anniversary of the 228 incident. As a relative of one of the victims, I am one of you. I remember how my father used to come back home every year from the 228 ceremony with tears in his eyes. Seeing my father’s tears deeply hurt me. But I know that the pain that my father felt for his own father was even stronger.
In that tragic year 1947 many Taiwanese people lost their relatives and friends, and Taiwan’s society lost some of its most brilliant intellectuals. Afterwards a long era of terror, of silence and estrangement descended upon our history. People built an invisible wall that separated them from their fellow citizens, a wall that to this day divides our society.
It is obvious that we, the relatives of the victims, have gone through much suffering. Yet this suffering has made us stronger.
The pain of 28 February 1947 cannot be expressed in words. My father did not want to tell us about what had happened to grandfather. He did not want to pass the suffering of the previous generation on to the next. I therefore learnt about my grandfather through photographs, through history books, through the tears my father shed each year on the anniversary of the 228 incident.
My grandfather, Ke Shiyuan, graduated from Taipei Normal School and then worked as an elementary school teacher in Hsinchu. Whether it was the Japanese or the Nationalists who ruled Taiwan – he had no influence over political matters. He was just an average Taiwanese. A hard-working Taiwanese who was content with his life. Nevertheless he could not avoid becoming involved in the events of that tragic period. When the 228 incident happened, he was arrested by the Guomindang simply because he was an intellectual. During his detention he was beaten, and when he was released from prison he was bed-ridden. He died three years later, at the age of 54.
Since my grandfather was ill for three years before passing away, his family became destitute. When he died my father only had enough money to buy him new underwear. There was just no money to buy new clothes for the burial. That my father regretted for the rest of his life. Due to the 228 incident my father’s family was bankrupt, and he never had the chance to get an education. This was his second lifelong regret.
The 228 incident brought great suffering upon my grandfather, my father and me. It caused much pain to three generations of the Ke family. Many other families probably share a similar fate.
When I ran for Taipei mayor my father opposed my decision. “I have lost my father,” he said. “I don’t want to lose my son, too.” His words made me think. What kind of Taiwan do we want to bequeath to the next generations? Because of what he said to me, I was more determined than ever to run as a candidate. The Taiwanese people must decide their own destiny, they must be the masters of this land!
In the past four hundred years many governments have come and gone, yet Taiwan remains our land, and this will never change. I often say: the present that we create is the future of the next generations. Only if we know the truth about our past will we be able to forgive, to achieve reconciliation, to obtain peace. Our responsibility is to make sure that the tragedies of our past do not happen again to our children.
Only when the government is righteous can society live in harmony and the country have a future. Dear friends, the purpose of the commemoration of the 228 incident is to face our history and make the truth known to the public. Let Taiwan stand up again and continue to march forward. Today Ke Wenzhe takes part in this ceremony as the relative of a victim. I look forward to a time when Taiwan’s society will have no more regrets and will be full of love and peace.