Daily Archives: 19 March 2004

The Legacy of the 2-28 Incident in Taiwan

Ian Buruma’s chapter on Taiwan describes his trip to the 2-28 Museum.

As told in the museum, the story of Taiwan, including the 2-28 Incident [see below], is as formulaic in its way as the old KMT [Kuomintang] myth of Nationalist martyrdom. A short historical overview explains how the Taiwanese–that is to say the Chinese who arrived in Taiwan three centuries ago–were always oppressed by foreign conquerors: first the Dutch, then the Portuguese, the Japanese, and finally the KMT mainlanders. This, one is told, fostered a unique love of freedom and a rebellious spirit. But the story had a typically Taiwanese post-colonial twist. Hindsight has given Taiwanese a rosier view of Japanese rule, which, though harsh, also brought many benefits, such as universities, science, railways, and electrification. The KMT, on the other hand, brought only violence, poverty, and corruption. The loathing of aliens that once bound Han Chinese together against the Manchu invaders is replicated in the Taiwanese hatred of mainland Chinese.

The story of 2-28 itself, as described in books, comics, videotapes, photographs, prints, posters, and textbooks, invariably goes like this: On February 27 agents of the Monopoly Bureau, who were little more than mobsters on the government payroll, assaulted an old lady who was peddling cigarettes in Taipei. One of the agents beat her over the head with his pistol. Crowds gathered to protest. The agents, panicking perhaps, began to shoot and killed one of the demonstrators. More people were gunned down the next day, with internationally outlawed dumdum bullets, which rip the body open. The rebellion spread all over the island. Radio stations and government offices were taken over. People suspected of being mainlanders, in or out of uniform, were attacked and sometimes clubbed to death with sticks.

In 1947, Taiwan was a province of China, which was still ruled by the KMT. A meeting was convened between Chen Yi, the KMT provincial governor, a brute with Shanghai gangster connections, and members of the Taiwanese elite. Civil liberties were promised in exchange for a return to law and order. But as soon as more KMT troops arrived from China, the “white terror” began: Martial law was declared and mass arrests, torture, rapes, disappearances, and executions followed. Within about two months, much of the native Taiwanese intelligentsia was wiped out. Many people were so badly tortured that they had to be carried to the execution grounds. Eventually, after he had lost the civil war in China and retreated to Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek made a gesture to appease outraged Taiwanese feelings: In 1950, after a splendid fireworks display, Chiang’s old friend Chen Yi was executed for being a “traitor.”

SOURCE: Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing, by Ian Buruma (Vintage, 2001), pp. 178-179

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Kim Jong Il: Comic Book Hero

The March 19 edition of Digital Chosunilbo (English Edition) carried a story from VOA News that begins thus:

Comic Books on N. Korean Leader a Big Hit in Japan

A series of comic books that portray North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as an evil despot are selling briskly in Japan. The books’ author says he hopes to educate the Japanese public about Mr. Kim and his reclusive Stalinist state, but critics say the books are deeply biased.

North Korea is frequently in the Japanese headlines because of the dispute over its nuclear-weapons program. But many Japanese are getting their information about the isolated North and its leader, Kim Jong Il from a novel source – a pair of comic books.

Combined the two comics: Introduction to Kim Jong Il: The Truth about the North Korean General and The Shogun’s Nightmare – have sold more than 700,000 copies.

Through cartoons, the books relate the history of Mr. Kim, including his relationship with his late father, Kim Il Sung, who was North Korea’s first leader.

The second book also looks at the situation of North Koreans who flee to northern China to escape oppression and poverty at home. In addition, it looks more deeply at the Stalinist North’s drive to build nuclear weapons and predicts the downfall of Kim Jong Il.

via NKZone

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Medieval al-Maghreb and al-Murabitun and al-Muwahhidun in al-Andalus

Lee Smith’s backgrounder on Spain in Slate elaborates on al-Andalus mentioned in an earlier post.

The Arabic name for Morocco is al-Maghreb, the place where the sun set on the westernmost limit of the 8th-century Arab empire.

The Arabs conquered the Berbers, a general term encompassing numerous tribes throughout western North Africa, whose warrior ethos they put to good use. It was a largely Berber army, led by a Berber general, that conquered Spain in 711. The Berbers were, by and large, enthusiastic converts to Islam, perhaps a little too fervent for some of the ruling Arab elite. Unlike the Arabs, who fought just for plunder, the Berbers believed that they waged war to glorify Islam.

… when al-Qaida lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to “the tragedy of al-Andalus,” he wasn’t pining for what the Spanish call the “convivencia,” when Muslims, Christians, and Jews all lived together in relative harmony. That picture of Muslim Spain is undoubtedly a little over-gilded, but it’s good that the myth of al-Andalus continues to fund the world’s imagination. Without the legend of peaceful co-existence, a city like New York–where Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others get along handsomely–would’ve been much more difficult to conceive.

At any rate, there was trouble in al-Andalus long before Ferdinand and Isabella banished the Muslims and the Jews in 1492. Two of the more serious challenges came from Morocco in the late 11th and then 12th century, first the Almoravids and then the Almohads, both of them Berber dynasties and Muslim fundamentalists.

Almoravid is a Hispanicized version of the Arabic word “al-Murabitun,” or “those of the military encampment.” As Richard Fletcher writes in Moorish Spain, the Almoravids “saw their role as one of purifying religious observance by the re-imposition where necessary of the strictest canons of Islamic orthodoxy.” They came to redeem a weakened Muslim state against the Christians. Once the Almoravids got soft, the Almohads, still more theologically austere, came north to replace them. Almohad is a corruption of “al-Muwahhidun,” or “those who profess the oneness of God.” It is an Arabic word still in usage; in fact it is the other polite way [like Salafi] to say Wahabbi.

via Michael J. Totten

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