Thursday, February 26, 2009

Formosa Calling: Shackleton's Account of 2-28

Saturday is 2-28. While most of you have probably read Formosa Betrayed, there is another eyewitness account of the killings in English that is less well-known. His son tells the story:


My father, Allan James Shackleton, wrote "Formosa Calling" in 1948, immediately after his return to New Zealand. He was strongly motivated by "interests of peace, justice and humanity" and the need for the conditions in Formosa to be more widely known.

For fifty years "Formosa Calling" has lain unpublished among our family’s memorabilia. Brief extracts were however included in George H Kerr’s book "Formosa Betrayed" which was first published in Great Britain in 1966.

As a result of these references, and as part of their fiftieth commemoration of what had become known as the "February 28th incident", the New Zealand branch of the Taiwanese Association traced our family’s whereabouts, and convinced us that we should publish his manuscript.

My father was an extremely moral man in the old-fashioned and Christian mold. Presbyterian by upbringing and later a Quaker with strong pacifist convictions, his surprise and abhorrence of what he considered to be immoral activities in Taiwan in 1947 can be clearly seen throughout the text. The corruption of the Nationalist regime, the abject poverty to which they reduced the Taiwanese population, and the violent behaviour of the Nationalist soldiers and the bloodbath they created are clearly outside the moral limits he set for himself and others. Being a Westerner of the old school, he had a different perception of how a society should conduct itself even in times of upheaval. He himself fought in a war that was so "civilised" (if that may be said of armed conflict) that the two sides agreed to stop for Christmas and had to be goaded by their officers into starting again! Given this background, his disgust and sadness for what he saw in Taiwan in 1947 is understandable.

On his way home from Formosa on the 15th of December, 1947, he made a shortwave broadcast from Sydney, Australia, in which he gave an account of conditions in Taiwan under Wei Tao-ming’s "reform government". George H Kerr wrote, "the broadcast was a strong indictment and was heard on Formosa where it provoked a furious reaction. Stanway Cheng’s propagandists took the line that the British and American Imperialists had the same ambitions which had fired the Nazis and the Japanese, but were more clever about it; America and Britain brought UNNRA supplies as deceptive gifts and offered ‘aid to China’ as a decoy while plotting to annex, exploit and ‘enslave’ Formosa".

"Formosa Calling" is not an official report of events in Taiwan in 1947. Nor was it written by a professional writer, or with the help of a professional editor or shadow-writer, as such accounts are often written today. Instead, this work was written by a professional engineer, teacher, and one-time soldier.

My father made several attempts to publish "Formosa Calling" after its completion in 1948 but was unsuccessful. Rather than accept that the market for his work was limited, he became convinced that no publisher would publish anything so critical of our "Chinese Nationalist allies".

He himself acknowledges that is difficult to classify "Formosa Calling" into any one category. At once it is a personal account, a description of the comparative conditions under the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese, and a political commentary. In its role as a personal account, we see many of my father’s personal interests evidencing themselves. For example, there is much discussion of railways, factories and bridges, schools and universities, and a chapter on Christianity in Taiwan, all of which were dear to his heart.

As a comparison of the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese government of Taiwan, a clear preference on my father’s part for the Japanese is evident. Incongruous though this may seem, given the Allies’ recent war with them and the Japanese atrocities that were ultimately revealed, his focus for the comparison was twofold - the industrial and agricultural development which Japan gave to the country, and the relative levels of human rights under each regime. Though the Japanese regime was strict, it is clear that he considered that Japanese rule was fair and acceptable by comparison with the sheer violence and corruption which he saw in Taiwan in 1947.

From his position as a UN officer in the field in Taiwan, he was more concerned with the welfare of the Taiwanese people than he was with the global strategic situation, and hence some of his political assessments must be seen against the background of the situation in which he found himself. For example, his prediction that Soviet communism would envelop Chinese communism has been proved false by history. Nevertheless, my father has written an honest account of the atrocities which took place in Taiwan in 1947, and his interpretation of their causes and implications for world history.

Colin James Shackleton.
Wellington, New Zealand.
15 January, 1998.

An Eyewitness Account of
the February 28th , 1947 Incident
Complete Text Adobe Acrobat PDF


Anonymous said...

Very touching. If I don't have time beforehand, will read this Saturday for sure.

Dixteel said...

Thank you for the link. I will read the book.

remitaokas said...

I always wonder why people in Taiwan could be easily touched by a particular recent tragic event, say the death of Ivan Cameron in the Turkish Airline Crash, but seem to reveal no such empathy toward their fellow victims in the 228 incident, which, I reckon, is more relevant to themselves.

with few exceptions, every time I started to talk about those famous and distinguished figures lost in 1947, most people show stop-the-topic gesture.

Taiwanese should, I think, reflect more on their past before going forward.

Anonymous said...


In the decades between the February 28 Incident and the lifting of martial law, discussion of the February 28 Incident was outlawed and the fear of execution became a part of the collective memory, reinforced by a program of state-sponsored terror, which claimed the lives of countless government critics and innocent civilians (Hsiao 2000, 59-60). The “White Terror”, as it was called, evoked memories of February 28 through the silences it created. As Columbia University Anthropologist Michael Taussig points out in Mimesis and Alterity:

"Scaring people into saying nothing in public that could be construed as critical of the armed forces…is more than the production of silence. It is silencing, which is quite different. For now the not said acquires a significance and a specific confusion befogs the spaces of the public sphere, which is where the action is…The point about silencing and the fear behind silencing is not to erase memory. Far from it. The point is to drive the memory deep within the fastness of the individual so as to create more fear and uncertainty in which dream and reality commingle" (Taussig1992, 27).

Anonymous said...

Anon, those references to Hsiao and Taussig are very insightful and eloquent. Thank you.