Speaking at a ceremony memorializing the 228 massacre on Friday, Kaohsiung Mayor and former KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu made two gaffes that could only be described as very deep blue. The ceremony was meant to honour the victims of the massacre at the hands of the then KMT-led Republic of China (ROC) government in 1947, when Taiwanese rose up against the corruption, violence and mismanagement of the newly arrived foreign government. The slaughter–at the order of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek–was horrendous and lasted for months, eventually seguing into the white terror era and a long period of harshly repressive martial law. Estimates of how many died vary–with some as high as 30,000–but what is inarguable is the cost to society, families and culturally as the slaughter disproportionately targeted the Taiwan intelligentsia.
The number “228” (referring to February 28) has been burned into the collective consciousness of Taiwanese, except apparently Mayor Han. At this solemn event, Mayor Han substituted “228” with a number commemorating an event that is burned into the minds of ROC nationalists: 823, referring to the second Taiwan Strait crisis, when Communist led forces from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) launched an attack on one of the small islands held by the ROC off of China’s coast andbegan a fierce artillery bombardment on the other islands, including the more populous Kinmen. In ROC military lore this was important victory against the “Communist bandits”. Mayor Han himself has a military background, and comes from a military family, so it isn’t surprising that this is an important date for him. However, to substitute a date that refers to the KMT-led government suffering at the hands of the Communists for a date that refers to Taiwanese suffering at the hands of the KMT-led government is tasteless indeed.
It gets worse. That was not the only gaffe he made. Attempting to refer to Hsieh Hsueh-hung (謝雪紅), the dramatic leader of the 27 Brigade local militia organized to resist the KMT after 228, he instead called her Cher Wang (王雪紅), co-founder and CEO of HTC. True, in Chinese, the difference in their names is they both have different surnames, but the given names are the same. However, Cher Wang is not just known for her business chops, she is also a big supporter of and donor to socially conservative causes, including anti-marriage equality campaigns of the type that supported Han’s presidential run. Substituting a social conservative for an early campaigner for women’s rights, communism and defending against the KMT military is, once again, tasteless indeed.
Last year, Han didn’t attend the ceremony at all, instead travelling abroad, which offended some. His attempt to make up for that, however, clearly didn’t go very well.
Mayor Han, to his credit, has since apologized.
Photo of Mayor Han speaking at the 228 memorial courtesy of the Han Kuo-yu Facebook page.