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FEATURE/Remembering Feb. 28 Incident: Taiwan's youth turn to music

02/28/2023 09:25 PM
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CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023

By Teng Pei-ju, CNA staff reporter

Hundreds of young people gather at Ketagalan Boulevard, bobbing their heads up and down to the tunes played by math rock band Elephant Gym on stage.

The three-piece is one of the several Taiwanese bands and singer-songwriters performing on Tuesday at the Gong Sheng Music Festival (共生音樂節) held to commemorate those killed during a 1947 government crackdown known as the Feb. 28 Incident.

The diverse line-up also includes Amis singer and activist Panai Kusui (巴奈), award-winning Hakka singer Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥), and up-and-coming band Tsng-kha-lâng (裝咖人).

Hakka singer Lin Sheng-xiang. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Hakka singer Lin Sheng-xiang. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Math rock band Elephant Gym. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Math rock band Elephant Gym. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023

An event for the youth, by the youth

The motivation behind the annual event, according to its founder Na Su-phok (藍士博), is to bring the nation's youth together to remember the deadly incident and reflect on its repercussions for Taiwanese society.

Music, however, is only one of the four pillars that make up the commemorative event. Exhibitions, NGO fairs, and short talks have also been essential since the one-day event was first held in 2013.

Each year, an organizing team made up mainly of young people has spent six months researching the Feb. 28 Incident and preparing for an exhibition with a theme and contents different from its previous editions, Na told CNA.

"Over the past 10 years, no other youth groups have been as dedicated to reading and writing about the Feb. 28 Incident as Gong Sheng's teams," said Na, who founded the event when he was a PhD student.

This year's exhibition, "Filling the Blank Space," was produced by a team of 35 volunteers aged between 18 and 25, who worked on the preparations for it since last September, team lead Pan Mei (潘美) said.

CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Pan Mei. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Pan Mei. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023

According to Pan, who first volunteered for the yearly event in 2018, the exhibition seeks to explore the decadeslong public silence in Taiwan regarding the Feb. 28 Incident, as many feared persecution by the authorities for speaking out.

"[We] want to discuss why such a blank was created, how it was later filled, and what is left for us at the present time to do something about it," the 24-year-old told CNA.

An estimated 18,000-28,000 Taiwanese were killed during violent crackdowns by the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) forces on anti-government protests in different parts of Taiwan starting on Feb. 28, 1947, a report issued by the Executive Yuan in 1992 said.

The public outcry back then was mainly caused by the KMT's oppressive and corrupt rule in the 16 months since the Chinese nationalist government replaced Taiwan’s colonial Japanese administration after five decades, according to the Memorial Foundation of 228.

However, calls for the government to investigate and redress the crackdowns had been absent until after martial law was lifted in 1987 in Taiwan proper.

The past, present and future

Na noted that while the exhibitions offered a window to learning the past, the NGO fairs served as a platform for dialogue on current social issues.

Pan echoed similar views, saying the event "provides a venue for discussing various issues."

"Not just for the Feb. 28 Incident, you can come here as long as you are concerned about human rights issues or Taiwan," she said.

In the meantime, Na went on, the music performances and short speeches on stage aimed to create an environment where all attendees can "form a sense of community together."

"[We] can shape a form of thinking… an imagination of the future. That is, the future of the nation," said Na, who is currently deputy executive director of the Memorial Foundation of 228 under the Ministry of the Interior.

Na Su-phok. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Na Su-phok. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023

The foundation was established in December 1995 to handle damages claimed by the families of the incident's victims, just months after then-President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) publicly apologized for the "government's wrongdoings" in 1947.

Passing downs to next generations

To Na, the Gong Sheng Music Festival is a means to prevent the remembrance of the victims of the Feb. 28 Incident from being consigned to oblivion.

He recalled receiving tremendous support from his mentors when he and his friends tried to kickstart the commemorative event, noting that such support came from the belief that memorials for the incident should be passed down to younger generations.

Guided by the same spirit, Na handed over the baton in 2018, although he has continued to provide advice to the organizing team of each year's event to this day.

Over the past decade, the number of people taking part in the Gong Sheng Music Festival - a free event administered by young adults and funded by government grants and crowdfunding proceeds - has quadrupled to 7,000-8,000.

But for Pan, the road to achieving "Gong Sheng," which literally means "co-existence" and even reconciliation remains thorny.

CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023

A social media post published on Feb. 18 by Pan's team to promote Tuesday's event was met with a mixed reaction online, with some commenting that bringing up issues such as the Feb. 28 Incident every year only served to divide the society.

Those comments, not uncommon in the discourse of transitional justice in Taiwan, did not discourage Pan and her team.

Rather, they showed exactly why the Gong Sheng Music Festival should continue to be held to promote the understanding of the Feb. 28 Incident and even transitional justice, according to Pan.

"There is still a lot of room for dialogue," she added.


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Panai Kusui (left) and Nabu Husungan Istanda perform at the festival in Taipei on Tuesday. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
Panai Kusui (left) and Nabu Husungan Istanda perform at the festival in Taipei on Tuesday. CNA photo Feb. 28, 2023
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