It erupted following the police raid of Formosa Magazine, an illegal publication designed to support the end of Kuomintang monopolization of power in Taiwan. The ROC Government Information Office under the leadership of James Soong hoped to chill opposition voices through heavyhanded methods. The protest disintegrated into a brawl as protesters, police and undercover agents collided. The event would be a major turning point for democracy in Taiwan. Soong addressed the public in a speech condemning the protesters, labelling one of the leaders, Shih Ming-teh, "King of Bandits."
The incident publicized the oppressive tactics of the KMT regime in ruling Taiwan and the trial of eight leaders of the protest allowed a team of lawyers to publicly question the practices of torture used by the KMT to extract confessions. Most defense attorneys and defendants were members of the Chinese Comparative Law Society (中國比較法學會), which is now the Taiwan Law Society (台灣法學會).
One of the accused, Lin Yi-hsiung, was routinely tortured by police interrogators then, on February 28, 1980, while Lin's wife was discussing his case, Lin's mother and twin 7 year old girls were murdered in his home. The event known as the "Lin Family Murders" remains unsolved.
Several of the accused later became politicians after completion of their prison terms, while members of the defense team became leaders of the dang wai (Outside Party) movement and later the Democratic Progressive Party. Members of the defense team include Chen Shui-bian (President of the ROC), Su Tseng-chang, administrator of Taipei county, and Frank Hsieh (Kaohsiung Mayor). Those amongst the accused are Annette Lu (Vice President of the ROC), Shi Ming-teh (Political Leader), and Lin Yi-hsiung (Activist and former DPP chairman).
Ironically and as a sign of how much politics in Taiwan has changed, Shi Ming-teh was seriously considered to be the KMT nominee for mayor of Kaohsuing in 2002. Another important leader during the incident, Hsu Hsing-liang, also left DPP in 2000 and ran for presidential election as an independenct candidate. Both of them have been very critical of Chen Shui-bian's government.