The February Incident, 1947


Murder in the Park and Mobs in the Street

ON THE EVENING OF February 27 a cigarette vendor and her two small children set up a portable stand under the banyan tree in Round Park. On it were a few packs of cigarettes and several coins with which to make change if she were lucky enough to make a sale.

Monopoly Bureau agents appeared, accused the woman of handling untaxed cigarettes, and seized her small stock with her tiny reserve of cash. People began to gather round. When she screamed in protest, seizing the arm of one of the agents, she was brutally struck down and pistol-whipped about the head. At this the angry crowd moved on the agents. Firing wildly, they opened a way for themselves to escape to a nearby police box. Behind them one person lay dead and the vendor appeared to be dying.

When gendarmes appeared, summoned by the civil police, the crowd permitted them to take the Monopoly Bureau agents away, but then promptly burned the Monopoly Bureau truck and its contents in the street.

On the next morning (February 28) a crowd estimated at about 2000 marched in orderly fashion from the Round Park area to the Monopoly Bureau Headquarters, carrying banners and slogan-placards which had been prepared during the night.

They had also in hand a petition addressed to the Monopoly Bureau Chief which demanded a death sentence for the agents who had committed manslaughter on the previous night, and the resignation of the Bureau Chief as an admission of responsibility. It also demanded reform of the Government's overall monopoly practices.

The demonstrators passed near the American Consulate in late morning. It was a long, long walk, and when they had reached the gates to the Monopoly Bureau they found them closed, under heavy armed guard. The Bureau Director was "officially absent," and no deputy was forthcoming.

After waiting about for a tedious period it was decided to turn northward to the Governor's office to present the petition directly to Chen Yi.

Meanwhile there had been grave trouble elsewhere in town. In a street not far from the UNRRA offices, Monopoly agents were discovered abusing two children who had been vending cigarettes. This was too much; an angry crowd beat the Chinese agents to death within a few hundred feet of a Monopoly Bureau Branch Office. In a moment the Formosans began to sack the storerooms. Military police trucks sped to the scene. The Formosans stood back until mainland Chinese employees had been escorted to the trucks and taken away, then surged into the building, spilling the contents into the streets and setting them afire. There had been one tense moment when a military policeman threatened to shoot an UNRRA staff member taking photographs and another when a Formosan in the crowd was caught pocketing some of the cigarettes. He was beaten severely, made to kneel and beg forgiveness "from the Formosan people," and then sent scurrying away, glad enough to be alive.

I had been lunching nearby with the Director of our USIS program and with Formosan friends. We were attempting to weigh the gravity of the Round Park affair and its consequence when suddenly we heard the rattle of machine-gun fire.

Leaving the table we drove at once toward the Monopoly Bureau, knowing that the morning demonstrators had intended to go there, but the plaza and streets nearby were empty. The marching crowd had moved on to the Governor's office.

As our jeep came into the intersection dominated by the Generalissimo's gilded statue, we found ourselves running between a line of heavily armed Nationalist soldiers, before the Governor's gate, and a silent crowd of Formosans, facing them across the plaza.

On the macadam roadway between lay the bodies of unarmed civilians--who had been shot down as the demonstrators approached the entrance to the Government grounds.

The anticipated crisis had come at last.

We were in an awkward position. No time must be lost in reporting the incident; we knew how pleased some of the Governor's men would be to charge that we had been seen "leading a Formosan rebellion," but on the other hand something had to be done to break the tension, prevent further violence, and give aid to the wounded.

Fortunately at that moment the UNRRA Reports Officer (Edward E. Paine) drove into the plaza; with great presence of mind he appraised the confrontation, drove his jeep to a position between the Governor's guard and the muttering crowd, and leaped out. He signaled the soldiers to stand off. They were amazed at this bold action and shuffled back to positions within the gateway as Paine checked the six bodies. When he found that two showed signs of life, he summoned help from the crowd, commandeered two rickshas, and sent the wounded men off as fast as possible to a nearby hospital. When the crowd realized what had so swiftly taken place, it broke into a cheer for the lone American who had so boldly stood off the Governor's armed guard.

Meanwhile my colleague and I sped to the Consulate; this violence at the Governor's gate probably meant general rebellion and must be reported at once to the Embassy.

Just after noon - about the time the Governor's guard fired upon the petitioners at his gate - a Formosan member of the broadcasting station staff broke into a program to say that a demonstration was taking place, that a petition was being presented. to the Governor, and that all Formosans should give it support. Then the station went off the air.

By late afternoon normal activities throughout out Taipei were suspended. Crowds surged through the streets, forming here at this intersection, dissolving, reforming wherever someone had a fresh bit of "news" or a new version of the day's incidents. Mainland Chinese took to cover. Occasionally one would be discovered hurrying through the alleys trying to look as much like a Formosan as possible. Japanese-style footgear known as geta - hitherto condemned by the mainland Chinese - now became popular with them. Formosan schoolboys had an old joke in which they referred to the island as "Japan's sweet potato." Now mainlanders on the street were challenged "Are you sweet potato or are you pig?" and if the proper answer were not promptly forthcoming a hot chase took place, and sometimes a beating.

It should be noted here that from Taipei the rioting spread to nearby towns and in a day or two mainland Chinese were in hiding everywhere in Formosa. But foreign observers in all parts of the island reported later that they saw no Formosans carrying weapons. Mainland Chinese were occasionally stoned, or beaten with sticks, but no guns, knives, or swords were seen in the hands of the angry Formosans. Moreover, there was no looting. Occasionally the contents of a house or office were burned in the street, but we noted that overturned official cars and heaps of furniture were left strictly alone throughout the following week, serving to remind one and all of the bloody events of "2-28," and of the spontaneous public reaction.

By late afternoon the majority of mainland Chinese had barricaded themselves in office buildings or in their homes, or in the homes of Formosan friends - if they had any. The Garrison troops were intensely busy. Barbed wire and sandbag barricades were thrown up before the principal government buildings, machine guns were mounted to cover gates and major intersections nearby. Military trucks, with machine guns or with squads bearing rifles aboard, began to move about the main streets, firing now and then at random.

Martial law was declared at six o'clock as winter dusk settled over a tense, unhappy city.

The radio broadcasting station was one of the first government buildings to be heavily guarded. Early in the evening came a broadcast by a doctor, a woman born in Formosa but reared on the mainland, who was often put forward by Chen Yi as a "spokesman for Formosan women." With great indiscretion she now tried to tell the radio public that she had been present and that no shooting had taken place before the Governor's office that afternoon. Within the hour angry neighbors sacked her house and office, burning the contents in the streets. She herself vanished into the security of a Government compound for the duration of the Incident.


How to Settle the Incident?

Formosan leaders recognized at once the extreme gravity of the position in which they found themselves. On the morning of March 1 at ten o'clock, the Chairman of the Municipal Peoples Political Council, with representatives from the National and Provincial councils, called on the Governor to form an official "Committee to Settle the Monopoly Bureau Incident." When the Governor's guards fired upon the unarmed crowd, the issues had become much greater than the mere punishment of Monopoly agents and a financial settlement for the wounded and the dead. If Chen Yi now made no satisfactory effort to break the monopolies, to place the police under firm control, and to reform the general administration he would face open, island wide rebellion. The issues would have to be taken up with the Government with delicacy as well as with firmness.

They urged Governor Chen to lift martial law promptly in order to avert further dangers of a clash between the unarmed civil population and the military. This he agreed to do, at midnight. On his part he forbade all public meetings and parades.

But Chen was not going to waste the precious hours until midnight; military trucks appeared in the street as fast as they could be made ready, carrying riflemen and machine-gunners, and the volume of shooting increased steadily through the day. It was an obvious attempt to terrorize the city and to make Formosans receptive to whatever further the Governor might have to say.

At about five o'clock Chen Yi angered the public by a radio broadcast in which be declared the Monopoly Bureau Incident already settled by a generous payment of money. He made no reference to the shooting which had taken place before his own gates, but accused the Formosans of "increased rioting." Nevertheless he generously promised to lift martial law at midnight.

"There is one more point," said the Governor. "The PPC members wish to send representatives to form a Committee jointly with the Government to settle this riot. This I have also granted. If you have any opinion, you can tell me through this Committee." [1]


"Formosans Attack the American Consulate!"

While the Governor was broadcasting assurances that the Incident was settled by a generous money payment, the American Consulate became directly involved for the first time. Our walled compound lay near a major intersection, the North Gate crossing. On the east lay the Central Post Office, to the northwest nearby stood the walled compound and principal buildings of Chen Ching-wen's Railway Administration. From the North Gate traffic circle a main street led into a Formosan section of town, crowded with shops and homes. From our balconies we watched the crowds surging about in the streets.

As one of Chen Yi's armed trucks came past the Consulate gates riflemen aboard, shooting at random, killed two pedestrians and drove on. A crowd gathered, and just as the bodies were about to be carried away several students from the countryside entered the Railway Administration Building a few yards distant, to ask when train services would be resumed; they had been marooned in the city on the previous day and they wanted to get home.

The Railway Director's private guards were nervous; gunfire was heard, and the boys were not seen again. Then the special Railway Police, hidden within the walled compound, turned their guns to the street outside and two more pedestrians were killed.

By this time a very large crowd had gathered at the North Gate intersection, and would probably have stormed the Railway Offices, but just then a military truck approached, summoned, perhaps, by the Railway Offices. Its way was blocked, but a sudden burst of machine-gun and rifle fire sent the crowd scattering. At least twenty-five persons were killed at once, and more than a hundred were seriously injured. No one knows how many others were struck, but able to walk away.*

This bloody diversion gave twenty-five Railway Office employees a chance to make a dash for safety across the street into the American Consulate. Raising a cry, Formosans gave chase.

Among the mainland Chinese it was each man for himself, and devil take the hindmost. The hindmost here were the women, clerks from the office; some of the first men to burst in through the Consulate gates promptly tried to close them in the faces of their fleeing colleagues. The last ones came in over the fence as best they could, and as they did someone in the street crowd threw one stone after them. It struck the Consulate wall with a thud.

A small crowd lingered in the street nearby until night fell; some of our own Formosan employees, returning to the compound through the crowd, reported that bystanders were cautioning one another, saying that they had no desire to involve the American Consulate, and regretted the fact that a stone had been thrown into the grounds.

Confusion reigned within the Consulate. Twenty-five pale, frightened mainland Chinese were taken to the second floor, to the Consul's living quarters, and there given tea and some light food.

The Consul of course was indignant. He promptly put through a call to Stanway Cheng at the Governor's office, requesting him to have the refugees removed at once. It was all very irregular. Moreover, a stone had been thrown into the Consulate grounds. Cheng assured the Consul that the matter would be taken care of as soon as possible.

Six hours later two buses, under heavy guard, pulled into the Consulate grounds. The Formosan crowds had long since gone home to mourn their dead or to care for the wounded and to discuss what next must be done.

We soon realized why the Governor's Information Officer had been too busy to expedite the removal of the refugees, for in less than an hour after he received the Consul's call, and five hours before the buses came, the Government radio broadcast a report that Formosans were attacking the American Consulate at Taipei, but the world was assured that all Americans on Formosa were under the protection of the Governor's men. It was a neat propaganda coup, designed to place the Formosans in the worst possible light in the international press.

When the Incident was reported to the American Embassy in Nanking, the response was brief: "Look only to established authority."

But who represented "established authority" in this first week of March?


March 2: Chen Yi Concedes a Need for Change

Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the night. Morning light disclosed a rash of posters and placards and handbills, hastily composed and now widely distributed. "Pigs! Go Home!" was a common theme. The Monopoly Bureau Incident was entirely overshadowed now by the issue of general reform in Chen Yi's administration.

We also saw that the wide-ranging patrols of March 1 had covered an intense activity on the north side of town, near the airport. There an encampment had sprung into being, under heavy guard, and to this spot the mainland Chinese who had sufficient influence were removing personal property. Here they proposed to stay until the crisis had passed. There was a steady rumble of trucks transporting an immense amount of household gear, goods, cash, other valuables and of course, the women and children. How many actually took refuge there we never knew.

The Governor-General's office and a few key buildings nearby (including the broadcasting station) were under very heavy guard, but for the remaining days of that week, the camp and the administrative headquarters were in effect the only area in Taipei actually under Chen Yi's "established authority."

At noon, March 2, the Governor received the "Untaxed Cigarette Incident Investigation Committee of the Taipei Municipal Peoples Political Council," and with this began an attempt by Formosan leaders to clarify fundamental political and economic problems forming the background of this crisis.

With the Governor sat the Secretary-General and the Commissioners for Civil Affairs, Communications, and Industry and Mining. Yen Chia-kan, the Commissioner of Finance, had been caught down country, at Taichung, and had taken refuge in the home of Lim Hsien-tang.

Martial law had not been lifted at midnight March 1; the Governor was therefore warned that there could be no peace in the city while roving military patrols were sweeping the streets with gunfire. This paralyzed all normal activity, and soon there would be a food crisis.

The Governor and the Committeemen knew well enough that without large reinforcements, the Government was powerless. If further provoked on this day the people of Taipei could overpower and destroy the patrols which were operating only in the heart of the city and between the Governor's offices and the suburban camp.

The Governor had no choice but to accept several conditions to be maintained while the people organized fundamental demands for reform. He had invited them to express public opinion; they were determined to make the issue clear. These "temporary demands" were as follows:

1. The Governor agrees that a schedule of fundamental reforms should be prepared for discussion by March 10, after representatives of the people throughout the island can be consulted;

2. The Governor promises that he will not bring additional troops into the city while these consultations are in progress;

3. A volunteer student organization, cooperating with other youths under supervision of the Mayor and the Municipal Chief of Police [a mainland Chinese], will maintain law and order temporarily;

4. Communications will be restored at once in order to avoid a food shortage.

The Governor accepted these stipulations, and agreed to broadcast his acceptance at three o'clock in the afternoon. He also agreed to reduce and withdraw the street patrols - meanwhile the patrols were to place rifles and other arms on the truck floors, and to use them only if they found Formosan crowds beating up mainland people or otherwise disturbing the peace.

It should be noted here that after March 1 there were few instances reported of bodily harm done to any mainland Chinese at Taipei. Once a formal Settlement Committee was established, the spontaneous outburst of anger gave way to a new public mood and a rather remarkable show of public cooperation with Formosan leaders who, for nearly one week, formed the effective government.

At the Consulate, meanwhile, we had a busy morning on March 2, checking the whereabouts of American citizens, discussing the tense situation with UNRRA staff members, and preparing our reports for Nanking. Our work was interrupted by the arrival of a Formosan doctor, with several friends, bringing us a dum-durn bullet. On the previous afternoon this random shot, fired by a passing patrol, had entered the doctor's office and lodged in a heavy medical volume on the clinic shelf. Would the Consulate please lodge a protest with the proper authorities? The use of dum-dum bullets was outlawed by international agreements. Here were the book and the bullet, evidence that the Nationalist troops were using them.

The Consul took the position that this unfortunate incident was strictly an affair between two Chinese groups; the United States had no reason to take cognizance of trouble between a provincial governor and his people. This was China now.

The doctor and his friends, rebuffed, took the dum-dum bullet to the UNRRA offices, leaving it there in safekeeping with a request that it be sent to the United Nations as evidence of the lawlessness of the Chen Yi regime. They were heard with sympathy but the Taipei UNRRA Office had no regular channels through which to raise such an issue with the international organization at New York.

Just after noon a great crowd filled the Civic Auditorium. At two-thirty o'clock the Governor's representatives sat down with the Settlement Committee on the broad stage before the assembly. Chen Yi had asked the Taipei Mayor to join the Commissioner of Civil Affairs, the Commissioner of Communications and the Director of Police, acting as his deputies.

It was announced that as a result of the morning conference the Governor had decided to readjust the Committee, bringing into it representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the Labor Union, student organizations, other popular organizations, and the important Taiwan Political Reconstruction Association.

At this afternoon meeting these additional "temporary demands" were formulated:

1. All people arrested in connection with the riots in the preceding three days were to be released;

2. The Government will pay death gratuities and compensations to the wounded;

3. The Governnent will not hereafter prosecute the persons involved;

4. Armed police patrols will be stopped immediately.

5. Communications will be restored at once.

A number of leaders wondered why the Governor sought to draw in such a very wide representation. The Committee might become unwieldy, and such a generous interest in widely representative opinion was not in character. We were to realize later that by this device Chen Yi learned exactly where the individual Formosan leaders stood vis-a-vis the National Government, the Party, and his own regime. Huang Chao-chin served as his secret ears-and-eyes during Committee deliberations.

The meeting was disturbed repeatedly by gunfire on or near the plaza outside. When the Governor' s promised three o'clock broadcast was postponed, and postponed again, disquieting rumors spread through town saying that Chen Yi, violating his pledges, was trying to get troops into the city from the south. If they reached Taipei before the broadcast, he would not have to make this humiliating public acceptance of the Committee's demands. If they could reach the city before the crowd had left the auditorium, he would be in a position to seize all the most prominent members of the Opposition.

But at last, at five o'clock, March 2, Governor Chen again went on the air, concluding his address with this statement:

A Committee will be organized to settle the incident. Besides Government officials and members of the PPC, representatives from the people of all walks of life will be invited to join the Committee so that it may represent opinions of the majority of the people. [2]

In the evening the city learned that despite his pledge Chen Yi had called troops from the south, but alert people of Hsinchu along the way had removed rails on the main line just outside the town. Troop trains were unable to proceed, and at a narrow place on the highway nearby barricades prevented ten truckloads of mainland soldiers from passing round the railbreak.

This was the first noteworthy example of the importance of well-developed local communication by telephone and telegraph during the crisis week, and of the effectiveness of Formosan organization.


March 3: An Appeal for American Understanding

Communications, as such, played a peculiar role in this tragic affair. On the one hand Formosan leaders skillfully took full advantage of all the public and private telephone lines and telegraph services within the island - the public system, the network of police wires, and the private systems which the Japanese had installed to serve the power corporation and the sugar companies. Chen Yi and his henchmen had never before tried to ride down an unarmed provincial population technically so well prepared to organize and maintain close communication throughout the area. This was not "backward" China.

On the other hand the Governor's man Stanway Cheng controlled the radio stations and the cable services, and knew precisely how to manipulate rumor, plant stories, and twist facts. The exploitation of the stone-throwing incident at the Consulate was a foretaste of shrewd publicity management. On this day (March 3) the Manila radio carried an extravagant story of a Formosan attack upon the American Consulate, of organized Formosan troops with machine guns, and of a serious attack upon the Central Government. Broadcasts from Osaka, Japan, on the other hand, repeated a face-saving story; all was quiet on Formosa, according to this, and the Governor-General had firmly rejected all Formosan demands. In the news dispatches sent to Japan it could not be admitted that the Chinese were unable to govern Formosa.

Formosan leaders were acutely conscious of these misleading broadcasts and of the damaging effect they would have on appeals for American intervention, or for an inquiry by the United Nations

At 10 o'clock in the morning, March 3, the Settlement Committee sent a delegation - a subcommittee - of five prominent Formosans to the American Consulate with a petition that the Consulate should cable the truth to Washington, and help them correct the record. They desired above all a clear and sympathetic American understanding of their position.

They were promptly turned away. "This is China now."

The general meeting in the Civic Auditorium heard a report on Chen Yi's attempt to bring troops in through Hsinchu. This confirmation of rumor produced great excitement. Moderate and conservative elements - the Settlement Committee members - were willing to accept the Governor's word and to proceed with negotiations. Younger, more skeptical men agreed to support the Committee in its efforts, but reserved the right to prepare resistance to any military action that might be taken against the Formosan people.

Public security was discussed. One passionate speaker proposed to rally 100,000 men to form a defense corps which would maintain public order and be ready to confront any mainland Chinese force sent against them. He warned the audience that "you must not follow the old track, allowing yourselves to be utilized by the police force and then afterwards be disposed of as gangsters as happened just after the restoration of the island."

The delegation treating directly with the Governor was now enlarged to some twenty members, including a representative of the Women's League and several additional popular organizations. It was clear that every organized group on Formosa wished to join in this search for a reformation of government.

Meeting with five of the Governor's Commissioners and with the Chief of Staff, General Ko Yuen-feng, the Committee stressed again the need to withdraw military patrols from the streets. They were still roaming about, firing wildly, three days after the Governor-General's promise to call them in.

After prolonged discussion the Governor's representatives (including the Chief of Staff ) agreed to seven points:

1. All troops will be withdrawn by six o'clock that day (March 3);

2. Public order is to be maintained by a temporary Public Security Service Corps, including gendarmes, police, students, and other youths;

3. Communications will be restored by six o'clock p.m.;

4. Military rice stores will be released to avert a food crisis;

5. Any military personnel making a disturbance will be sent to General Ko for punishment;

6. Any civilians disturbing the peace will be punished according to law, on the guarantee of the Committee;

7. Troops absolutely will not be brought from the south to the north.

On reaching this last point of agreement, General Ko vowed to "commit suicide" if his personal guarantee were broken. Nothing was said of troops coming in from abroad.

The Formosans were treating in good faith, but this "vow" was a bit difficult to accept at face value. General Ko, an unusually small man, smartly uniformed, had established a reputation for ruthless action, cruelty, and diamond-hard contempt for "the People." He was not one of Chen Yi's men, but was assigned here by the Generalissimo as a counterbalance to Chen; it was an illustration of Chiang's technique of government through the counterbalance of clan, clique, and economic faction.

At this point General Ko began gradually to emerge as the symbol of the National Army and Central Government, and in retrospect we see the design. The Formosans were to be made to appear as rebels against the authority of the National Government rather than in protest against the maladministration of Chen Yi.

To fulfill the second requirement in the day's agreement concerning public order, the Settlement Committee recommended members to key posts in a "Loyal Service Corps," the Taipei City Provisional Public Safety Committee which would be dissolved on the day normal conditions were restored. The Settlement Committee members themselves promptly subscribed 770,000 yen to finance the Corps.

Of all the organizations formed in this first week of March this was the most significant, and the fate predicted for it on that day was the most tragic. The mainland Chinese police had disappeared, for they were the first objects of popular wrath. Formosans who were on the police force now formed the nucleus of a new, temporary force. Young men of high school age or recent graduates of the Japanese Middle Schools eagerly joined up, for they had been well drilled under the Japanese and could quickly grasp what was required of them. "Loyal Service Corps" armbands gave them a sense of authority, and the pent-up angers of a year fired them with determination to show the mainland Chinese how a proper police force should conduct itself.

Had the Formosans at this point really wanted to overthrow Chen Yi and drive the mainland Chinese from the island, it could have been quickly done, leaving the National Government with a second war - a maritime war - on its hands. This Chen Yi and General Ko well knew.

By March 5 the Formosans were in control throughout the island except within Chen Yi's office area at Taipei, and within the garrison compounds and camps.

They wanted reform and not civil war. "We should acknowledge the aim of this action, that there is no other desire except to demand a reformation of Government." [3]

next chapter
back to the table of contents

* Doctors, treating the wounded, found that soft-nosed dum-dum bullets had been used in some guns, creating horrible wounds.
[Back to the text]



1. Hsin Sheng Pao (Taipei), March 2, 1947.

2. Hsin Sheng Pao (Taipei), March 3, 1947.

3. Hsin Sheng Pao (Taipei), March 5, 1947.