TAIPEI: For Pan Hsin-hsing the sight and smell of lilies held a particular horror for many years – the pungent flowers decorated the room where his executed father lay before the funeral.
He was just six years old when Pan Mu-chih, a doctor and local politician, was arrested, tortured and killed in a 1947 massacre that was the precursor to years of political purges in Taiwan, known as the “White Terror”.
A last note from his father was scribbled on a cigarette pack given to him by a sympathetic jailer and smuggled out to the family.
“Don’t be sad, I die for the residents of our city. I die with no regret,” it read.
Pan will speak at a national commemoration today for the victims of the crackdown by troops under nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang party governed Taiwan at the time.
Pan’s father was a critic of the KMT and was killed by a firing squad alongside other local politicians in southern Chiayi city, where there were anti-government riots.
Those riots were part of island-wide civilian unrest which started on Feb 28, 1947, after an inspector beat a woman selling untaxed cigarettes in Taipei.
The immediate crackdown on protesters is estimated to have killed up to 28,000 people. The massacres of 1947 were a prelude to wider purges of government opponents between 1949 and 1987 under martial law imposed by Chiang and his son, whose KMT fled to Taiwan after it was defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party in a civil war in mainland China.
Official records state around 140,000 people were tried by military courts during the White Terror, with between 3,000 and 8,000 executed. Many believe the actual numbers are higher.
A government-funded report in 2006 found Chiang should take responsibility for the 1947 crackdown. But campaigners say there has been no official recognition of Chiang as the culprit, or his role in the wider purges.
“We demand the truth and those responsible to be made accountable,” says Yang Chen-long, head of the Memorial Foundation of 228.
When Pan speaks alongside President Tsai Ing Wen today, he will renew his call for Chiang’s image to be rubbed from Taiwan’s landscape as a mark of respect for the dead.
Pan was one of the first ever Taiwanese citizens to reveal his family’s experiences during the purges – all discussion of the crackdown was taboo until martial law was lifted in 1987 and Taiwan began its journey to democracy.
After talking of his family’s trauma at a church service around 10 years ago, surrounded by lilies, Pan finally started to lose his phobia of the flower. — AFP