Taiwan marked the 70th anniversary of bloody political purges known as the “February 28 Incident” on Tuesday, amid protests and the vandalism of statues of former leader Chiang Kai-shek.

The purges took place after civilian unrest broke out against the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang government, which sent in forces from the mainland. The government only apologised for the incident in 1995, following four decades of authoritarian rule.

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Four people were arrested at Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei, according to Apple Daily, after a group partially sawed off the left leg and the walking stick of a statue of Chiang using an electric saw on Monday night .

Statues of the authoritarian Kuomintang leader, who died in 1975, are often defaced with red paint on the anniversaries of the massacre.

Eradicating authoritarianism

Earlier, the pro-independence Free Taiwan Party had claimed on social media that it would also pull down his statue at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei.

The Ministry of Culture then announced on Monday that it would close the hall annually on February 28, beginning this year, out of respect for memorial activities and to avoid confrontation. Minister Cheng Li-chiun said that the closure “was not aimed at eradicating Chiang, but at eradicating authoritarianism.”

On Tuesday, pro-independence and pro-unification protesters traded insults and came to blows outside the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, while President Tsai Ing-wen attended a memorial ceremony at the nearby 228 Peace Memorial Park.

‘Chinese people’s struggle for liberation’

This year, Beijing – which claims Taiwan as an inalienable part of China – has also weighed into the historical controversy after its Taiwan Affairs Office called the massacre “part of the Chinese people’s struggle for liberation,” according to Reuters.

Beijing also attacked the pro-independence camp in Taiwan for using the historical incident in order to further a narrative of ethnic conflict.

The February 28 Incident.

The role of the Chinese and Taiwanese communist parties in resisting the Kuomintang crackdown remains disputed. Members of the Taiwanese Communist Party who survived the massacre formed the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League in Hong Kong in November 1947.

The league is now one of eight authorised “democratic parties” in mainland China, loyal to the ruling Communist Party.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.