The first Nationalist soldiers arrived in Keelung on the northern tip of Taiwan in October 1945.
Their arrival provoked mixed reactions.
The Taiwanese who were already living on the island expected to be freed from strict Japanese colonial rule. The arriving Chinese also wanted freedom from Japanese exploitation. At the same time, they respected the efficiency of the over 200,000 professional police and military forces who had kept political order during the long period of Japanese rule.
The almost 60,000 troops who disembarked in preparation for the Japanese surrender on October 25, 1945, looked bedraggled and seemed to be lacking in discipline.
The troops from the mainland anticipated a short stay. Their purpose was to accept the Japanese surrender, disarm the Japanese occupation forces, and make sure that Japanese troops left the island.
Afterwards, they expected to return to the front lines of the civil war which was still raging on the Mainland. In actuality, all but 5,000 troops returned home to fight the communists. However, the troops that remained on Taiwan were corrupt and undisciplined. Several incidents occurred between them and local Taipei residents who thought “the mainlanders to be dirty, dishonest, and technologically backward.”
According to John F. Copper in his 1990 book Taiwan: Nation-State or Province:
Stories circulated about mainland Chinese who stole bicycles and did not know what they were, who spent hours staring at elevators they had never seen before, and who were unable to maintain the basic public services, power plants, trains, and buses over which they were given jurisdiction. The Taiwanese also had to adjust to a new legal system. Nationalist soldiers claimed ownership of houses and land based on forced occupation; the Taiwanese considered this stealing. Eviction laws were weakened. Some other laws were changed; many were not enforced.
The troops were not prepared to keep internal order. The Nationalists believed that the Taiwanese considered China their ancestral home and source of culture. So they thought that Taiwan’s residents would be anxious to return to Chinese rule and would not mount any resistance. They were wrong.
Problems between the two groups erupted into violence on February 28, 1947 when Monopoly Bureau agents killed a Taiwanese woman who had been selling black-market cigarettes.
In the aftermath of the shooting, a crowd attacked a police station, set fire to a police vehicle and went on a rampage. Violence spread in the next few days. The authorities treated the protests as a pro-communist rebellion.
On March 8 a large contingent of Nationalist troops used heavy weapons against unarmed Taiwanese.
Order was restored at the end of March but by that time several thousand Taiwanese had been killed, including most of Taiwan’s local political leadership. The incident cemented the ethnic distrust which had been gaining momentum in Taipei. Ethnic rivalry continued to shape the city’s social and political climate for most of the Cold War period.