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Taiwan: A Short History

Jacob Houston

The island of Taiwan, located off the southeastern coast of the People’s Republic of China, has had a long and controversial history. The Manchu Qing Empire of China gained control of Taiwan in the year 1683, prior to which it was under the control of various native Polynesian tribes, and the island was under the jurisdiction of Qing imperial forces until the year 1895 when Taiwan was surrendered to the Empire of Japan after the First-Sino Japanese War, which had ended in a Japanese victory.

After this event, internal struggles and corruption led to the fall of the Qing Empire, and the last emperor of China, Aisin Gioro Puyi, abdicated power in 1912. Yuan Shikai, a renowned general during the Qing-era, seized control of the Chinese government in the same year, but his control over the government fell apart after his death in 1916, and the Nationalist Party under Sun Yat-Sen took control of China. Thus, the remnants of the Qing Empire transitioned into the Republic of China, and for a short period of time, control over China belonged to the Nationalists (not including European territories in the country).

When Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925, military de-facto leader Chiang Kai-Shek became the new leader of the Republic of China. Chiang Kai-Shek held a staunch adversarial position over the rise of the Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong, and after a series of bitter quarrels, an open conflict began, and the Republic of China was thrown into a civil war. However, the conflict was halted with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and, in an ironic twist, the Communists and Nationalists formed an alliance against the Japanese.

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, the Empire of Japan surrendered all territorial possessions across the Pacific region that had originally belonged to China, and with it, the island of Taiwan. The alliance between the Communists and Nationalists crumbled after the war, and the civil war between the two resumed, with the Communist party gaining decisive victories in battles across the country, whilst forcing the Nationalists to retreat to Taiwan and Hainan, the latter of which was eventually abandoned. Both the Nationalists and the Communists claimed control of “China”. A stalemate ensued, which has stood to the present day.

This conflict, which has led to harsh relations between countries like the United States of America, which de-facto supports Taiwanese independence, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which claims to have complete control over the island.

U.S. President Joe Biden, less than a year into his first term as president, has supported Taiwanese independence by sending naval warships through the Taiwanese Strait, which separates the PRC and the island of Taiwan, which has, as a consequence, escalated tensions between the U.S. and the PRC. The current issue has also soured relations between the PRC and Japan, who has proceeded to take a stance similar to the U.S. concerning Taiwan.

Nevertheless, the PRC has stated that it wishes for a peaceful reunification between itself and Taiwan, which, in parallel to the tensions between the countries in the East and Southeast Asian region, seeks to ease old wounds and increase diplomatic relations between the Nationalists who remain on Taiwan and the PRC who reside in mainland China. Only time will tell how this story will end, but any conclusive tragedy and triumph would be as disputed as the current issue itself.


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