TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Amid renewed tensions between Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan on Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters that is widely seen as a rejection of China's claims to the self-governing island democracy.
The protests that began on Feb. 28, 1947, were directed at the corrupt rule of Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist Party that had taken control of the former Japanese colony less than two years earlier.
China considers the uprising a part of the overall struggle that led to the communist victory in 1949, while many Taiwanese see it as a backlash against attempts to govern the island from China without the consent of the island's native population.
As many as 28,000 people were believed killed after Chiang dispatched troops to massacre participants in the largely peaceful protests, many of whom came from the Japanese-educated elite.
Suppressed under Nationalist rule, the uprising has become a rallying point for Taiwanese who say the island and China are separate nations.
This year's commemorations are especially significant because the government is drafting a law that could rename a central Taipei tourist landmark dedicated to Chiang and remove his statue from the premises.
The independence-leaning administration of President Tsai Ing-wen is also releasing all previously secret government documents about the events that broke out when Nationalist policemen attacked a widow selling contraband cigarettes, sparking an outpouring of pent-up frustration with Chiang's government.
Then based in the Chinese city of Nanjing, Chiang was driven from mainland China by Mao Zedong's communists in 1949 and ruled Taiwan under martial law until his death in 1975.
The then-Nationalist government offered an apology to victims in 1995, but moves to excise Chiang's memory stalled under former Nationalist president Ma Ying-jeou who left office last year.
"We are pretty dissatisfied and feeling impatient," said Yang Chen-long, 65, chief executive officer of a foundation for victims of the 1947 crackdown. Although Yang's family received 6 million Taiwan dollars ($195,000) for the persecution of his father and two other relatives at the hands of authorities, he said ascribing blame and educating the public are of primary concern.
"The compensation for me isn't that important," he said. "Chiang Kai-shek should take responsibility."
Following a period of relative calm in relations between the sides, China has stepped up its pressure on Taiwan over Tsai's refusal to endorse its principle that the island and the mainland are part of a single Chinese nation to be unified eventually.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office last week accused Taiwanese independence supporters of manipulating the anniversary to "to stoke conflict and split public opinion."