The Taipei 228 Memorial Museum (台北二二八紀念館) reopened in February this year after being closed for almost a year for renovations. The reopening created some controversy over how the new exhibits interpreted the events of 228. On Sunday I went to visit the museum to see for myself how it had changed.
I had visited the museum about five times since my first visit in 2007 so I had a good understanding of the previous layout and content of the exhibits. The first thing I found on arriving was that the audio guide, which was previously available in English and several other languages, was not available. The staff said that it wasn’t ready yet and did not know when it would become available. All the exhibits are described in Chinese characters with only a small amount of English and Japanese.
The first display section of the refurbished museum presents the history of the broadcasting station that the building once housed. The first date given is 15 August 1945, the date of the Japanese surrender that marked the end of World War II. The next set of exhibitions steps back in time to the Japanese era, but they don’t give as much detail about this period of time as they did previously. There is also some negative portrayal of the Japanese period as shown in the “Incomplete Democracy” display above.
The photo above shows the report sent to Chiang Kai-shek on 5 March 1947 reporting on the situation in Taiwan. However, the report is reproduced so the characters are so small as to be barely readable. The problem with the museum is not that it fails to present the facts, but the way it presents the facts.
The museum previously had sections about the White Terror Era and the democracy movement following on from the events of 228. These have been much reduced in the new museum. Photos of politicians such as Frank Hsieh and Annette Lu who went on to play a key role in the Democratic Progressive Party are now totally absent. There is a large bronze bust of Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), but the description of his life is just written on two small pieces of paper.
The museum now has a more modern feel, but the problem is that it fails to provide sufficient context and an overarching narrative for the events of 228. After visiting the museum people may know some facts about 228, but they still may not have a clear idea of the reasons why it happened. While the museum was in need of updating I don’t believe the changes are an improvement.
The events of the 228 Massacre are presented without shying away from the facts. A large wall shows photos of those killed in the massacre with the blank spaces representing the people who have no photo. It is really quite sobering.
After displays about the events of the 228 Massacre, the next exhibition hall depicts the history of the building the museum is housed in. The building began its life as the Taiwan Education Hall from 1931 to 1945. During this time it hosted exhibitions of artwork and space is given to introduce some of Taiwan’s famous artists. However, the inclusion of this section creates a major disconnect in the narrative of the museum.
The building was the Taiwan Provincial Senate from 1946 to 1951. The next exhibitions show this and provide some connection to the events of 228. The Provincial Senate was a place were Taiwanese voices were able to criticise the government in the wake of the Republic of China’s (ROC) takeover of Taiwan. However, most of the senators were killed or arrested in the wake of the 228 Massacre.
The problem of the National 228 Museum is similar to that of the Taipei 228 Museum. It presents important information about the 228 Massacre, but fails to put it in sufficient context. Although the museum has only been open for a few months it already has a feeling of being old and outdated. There were very few visitors and staff were only present at the entrance downstairs.