Why didn't China stay as a republic?

China (competence)

Jens Damm

To person

is an associate at the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT) at the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen and board member of the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS e.V.) [email protected]

Taiwan is an island about the size of Baden-Württemberg. These include some other small archipelagos, with a total of 23 million people living there. There are two main factors that have generated great academic interest in Taiwan. [1] First of all, it is the relationship between Taiwan and China, whose "one-China policy" means that only a few countries in the world recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China (R.O.C.), although all the characteristics of an independent state are fulfilled. Since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, which led to the flight of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) [2] and the national Chinese army to Taiwan, Taiwan has developed into the "other China", although in the past few decades a " Taiwanization "took place, which emphasizes the independence of Taiwan, which is further and further removed from the Chinese culture. Taiwan, like China, was ruled authoritarian until the late 1980s, but even then there were great differences. Taiwan chose capitalism to develop its post-war economy while China ushered in socialism. Taiwan allied itself with the United States in the Cold War. After the US and United Nations decided in the 1970s to view the Beijing government as the sole legitimate government of China, rather than the Taibei government, Taiwan changed dramatically.

And that leads to the other point why there is great interest in Taiwan: Taiwan's transformation into an independent democracy, despite many obvious stumbling blocks: These include a multiethnic population, with the majority of the Hoklo Chinese being politically part of a minority of the so-called mainland Chinese for decades and has been socially marginalized; an unstable foreign policy situation and the widespread view that Confucian societies are incompatible with democratic and liberal societies. Taiwan nonetheless developed into one of the freest and most liberal societies in Asia, with an orderly judicial system and extensive gender equality, including the possibility of same-sex couples to marry - a unique selling point in the region. Culture and religion could develop and unfold without being bothered by political pressure. In the following, I'll provide an overview of what we should know about Taiwan's past and present. [3]

Western colonization and Chinese rule (until 1895)

Archaeologists and linguists agree that Taiwan has been inhabited by indigenous Austronesian people for millennia. This population is still very diverse in terms of languages, society (matriarchal and patriarchal; both hunting and fishing as well as agriculture). At the end of the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Chinese immigrants settled Taiwan more strongly. In the 17th century, however, Taiwan was initially characterized by the presence of western colonial powers, [4] essentially the Dutch East India Company (1622–1661, 1664–1668) and Spanish forces (1626–1642); the name "Ilha formosa" (beautiful island) goes back to the Portuguese who landed there in the 16th century. Chinese settlers came to Taiwan at the time of colonial rule in the 17th and then increasingly in the 18th century and transformed the hunting grounds of the indigenous people of the western plains into rice fields and sugar cane plantations. In keeping with the practices of European overseas commercial expansionism, the Dutch built a fortress, deployed an army, and planned the development of a city populated by Dutch families from Batavia (now Jakarta) and by Chinese, Japanese and indigenous people should. At the same time, the north of the island came under the influence of the Spaniards. [5]

This colonial phase was ended by Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong): Koxinga, a Ming loyalist from Xiamen, left with soldiers on the island of Taiwan in 1661 when the mainland came under the administration of the Qing dynasty. 20 years later, mainland Chinese troops of the Qing succeeded in taking Taiwan, in 1684 the island of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands became the prefecture of the Fujian province, the capital of the prefecture was the former Dutch colonial city of Tainan. A local Taiwanese elite sprang from successive waves of Chinese migrants from the two southern coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. The emergence of this elite was in line with the implementation of Qing cultural policy through an educational system that promoted language, literature, folklore and religion. The establishment of the bureaucratic examination system shaped by Confucianism was a key factor in organizing the culture. Taiwan became increasingly Chinese, especially from 1887 to 1895 under the leadership of Governor Liu Mingchuan, when the island became a separate Chinese province.

Under Japanese rule (1895-1945)

After the Sino-Japanese War, this period ended in 1895, and Taiwan became a colony of the increasingly powerful Imperial Japan. After Taiwan was handed over to Japan, resistance arose from the gentry, the part of the population who had passed the Chinese civil service examination (around 1 percent), and wealthy merchants, and in May 1895 the Republic of Formosa was established to block the Japanese takeover . By declaring the establishment of a democratic state in Taiwan, the founders hoped to win the support of the Western powers against the takeover of Japan - but in vain: after 13 days it was over and Taiwan was finally handed over to Japan in accordance with the Shimonoseki Treaty. Japanese colonial policy towards the Han population can be divided into four stages: the period of military oppression (1895–1902); a Japanese-Chinese period in which the Chinese were in principle still allowed to use the Chinese language and culture (1903–1917); an assimilation period (1918–1936), in which there were brief liberalizations and Taiwanese, for example, demanded their own parliament; and the so-called Kominka period (1937–1945), in which the Taiwanese were to become citizens of the Japanese emperor, that is, to "pure" Japanese in culture, language, religion and way of life. In addition, the youth were mobilized to join Japan's military efforts abroad because Kominka politics were closely linked to militarism. At the same time, Japan pursued a policy of separation towards the Han Taiwanese and the indigenous population. Riots were brutally suppressed.

The Japanese period was characterized by a dual process of colonization and modernization, with the modernization process in particular being seen as positive in Taiwan to this day. In addition, in the Japanese war of aggression, Taiwan was already an integral part of Japan and Taiwanese fought as soldiers on the Japanese side. Taiwan was not affected by the atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China and South Asia. In the modernization projects, the colonial authorities encouraged the Han Taiwanese to discard what they saw as "three great bad old habits" - smoking opium, braid for men, and shackles for women. The newly established institutions included the railroad, postal services, hospitals, banks and school systems for modern education. A significant number of them are still physically visible in present-day Taiwan. [6]

Authoritarian Guomindang rule (1945–1986)

After Japan was defeated in World War II, the Chinese government under Jiang Jieshi succeeded in claiming the island for itself on the basis of the Cairo Conference of November 1943, and in 1945 Chinese troops reached the island. Initially, the people of Taiwan welcomed the new rulers, but that attitude quickly changed. Taiwan was hardly affected by the war until 1945 and had a significantly higher standard of living than China. After 1945, however, Taiwan was severely affected by the Chinese civil war between the Guomindang (GMD), the National People's Party of China, and the Chinese Communist Party, inflation occurred, unemployment rose, living standards fell, and the Japanese administration proved to be efficient was taken over by a corrupt GMD and mainland Chinese. On February 28, 1947, the Taiwanese people revolted against the new rulers, as a result of which tens of thousands of Taiwanese, de facto the entire elite that had grown up under Japanese rule, were murdered. [7] When Mao Zedong won the civil war in China, an additional one to two million mainland Chinese came to Taiwan, and the government of Jiang Jieshi was recognized by the Western powers as the official government of all of China, despite de facto control of only Taiwan and a few islands off mainland China . Domestically, Jiang Jieshi ruled the island in an authoritarian manner, and posts in administration and education were almost exclusively filled by mainland Chinese. The GMD was also determined to use a brutal martial law regime to mobilize all possible material and human resources to defend against an expected communist invasion and to prepare the basis for a counterattack.

Taiwan suffered from "white terror" until the 1980s. Just as the Japanese attempted to Japaneseize Taiwan in the Kominka period, Taiwanese were now forced to learn Standard Chinese (the Beijing language), and only the mainland culture was recognized as worthy of preservation. Economically, the island developed rapidly, albeit in disregard of all environmental protection measures. In the private sphere, Taiwanese were able to operate economically unhindered, while the dominance of the mainland Chinese in administration, politics and science continued until the state of emergency was lifted in 1987. Together with Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, Taiwan developed into one of the four "tiger states" or "dragon states" as it is called in Chinese. The island was reluctantly liberalized in the late 1970s when Jiang Jingguo, the son of Jiang Jieshi, became president (1978–1988). Even if there was no democratization, Taiwanese succeeded in advancing into administration and politics. [8]

Between 1949 and 1979, the relationship between Beijing and Taibei was dominated by the prolongation of the Chinese civil war and the duel between Jiang Jieshi and Mao Zedong: Beijing's Taiwan policy spoke of "liberation", while Taiwan wanted to "win back the mainland". The balance of diplomatic power began to decline in the 1970s, beginning with the visit of US President Richard Nixon in 1972, and ending with the US recognition of China in 1979. This change was made less through the political actions of Taiwan or the mainland, but rather rather initiated by shifts in the international balance of power, especially with a view to the East-West conflict.

Taiwan during and after the democratic transition (from 1987)

After independent politicians participated in elections in the early 1980s (Dangwaioutside the party), these MPs founded the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 1986. The ruling GMD tolerated the founding of the party, and relatively surprisingly, on July 15, 1987, President Jiang Jingguo announced the end of the state of emergency that had existed since May 20, 1949. Even if many regulations remained in force, opposition parties were quickly formed, the strict language policy was liberalized, numerous magazines and newspapers were founded, and radio and television were liberalized. Taiwanese politicians began to speak openly of Taiwanese independence. After Taiwan was excluded from the United Nations in 1971, a strong Taiwanese civil society had developed. Some exerted strong pressure to promote "reform and change" in society, while philanthropic and public welfare organizations concentrated on social "stability and cohesion". [9] The interplay of change and stability has been critical to the dynamism of Taiwanese society over the past three decades. [10]

In 1996, the Taiwanese Li Denghui, who had been president since Jiang Jingguo's death, was re-elected in a direct election. Many mainland academics and their foreign counterparts have accused him of betraying the GMD, while others highlight his great contribution to the democratization of Taiwan and ending the dictatorship of Jiang Jieshi and Jiang Jingguo. Even more significant was the election of the DPP candidate Chen Shuibian, a former political prisoner, as President of Taiwan in 2000. Even though his presidency ended ingloriously after eight years with charges and convictions of corruption, he did succeed in his reign Promote loyalty to Taiwan by bureaucracy and the military. He also campaigned for the desinization and Taiwanization of the island in terms of culture and education.

The GMD returned to power in 2008. For the next eight years as President, President Ma Yingjiu successfully maintained economic ties with China, which contributed to the social, cultural and political strength of Taiwanese forces. In 2016 and 2020, the DPP candidate, Cai Yingwen, won the presidential elections and, together with a majority in parliament, continued Chen Shuibian's Taiwanization policy. Economically, Taiwan has since tried to unite more strongly in Southeast Asia and with Japan and to forge political alliances against the People's Republic of China. In addition, there was a more nationalist policy under the Chinese President Xi Jinping, which further alienated Taiwan from China. After Cai Yingwen's re-election in 2020, China severely restricted tourism to the island - if not the only reason why Taiwan is one of the few almost Covid-19-free regions in the world today.

Taiwan today

Taiwan has been a semi-presidential republic since 1996 with direct election of the president. [11]Politically it is split into two camps. The so-called blue camp, consisting in particular of the GMD, regards Taiwan in principle as part of China (whereby China is not to be equated with the People's Republic of China), wants to improve relations with mainland China and is working towards unification in the long term. On the other side is the green camp, consisting in particular of the DPP, which wants to make Taiwan an internationally recognized, independent state and which points to the historical, social and political differences between Taiwan and China. Surveys show a steady trend away from the identity of "exclusively Chinese" and "both Chinese and Taiwanese" towards "exclusively Taiwanese" (now the largest cohort). [12]

The Media system, formerly a central instrument for controlling the population, has become liberalized. Today Taiwan is characterized by a large number of private TV stations and magazines, which are freer than in any comparable country in Asia. [13]

The Judicial system is considered to be little corrupt, the Supreme Constitutional Court as independent. One problem that the EU repeatedly criticizes is the large number of death sentences that continue to be carried out despite promises made by the ruling DPP.

Taiwan has seen a rapid pace since the 1950s economic developmentbut this has slowed down in recent years. For example, GDP per capita in 2019 was $ 25,873, about half that of South Korea, although both countries have had similar trends for decades. On the one hand, important sectors are the manufacturing industry, especially in the south, which, however, hardly produces well-paid jobs. The computer industry, for example semiconductor production, and biotech are more important.

Starting from the 1990s there was a remarkable development of a legal one Social systemincluding the introduction of national health insurance, unemployment insurance, allowances for the elderly, special protection for children and women from violence and finally the national pension system in 2008. [14]

After this environmental issues ignored for years, a rethink took place in the 1990s. Taiwan is now the world champion in recycling, and individual transport has been supplemented by the construction of subways in major cities and a high-speed line from Taibei to Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) in the densely populated west of the island. The railway system, which largely dates back to the Japanese era, was renewed and bike paths were laid out in the big cities, as was a rental bike system. However, the long unregulated construction of industrial plants and apartments still means that only part of the wastewater is treated and the groundwater is contaminated, which is why drinking water has to be obtained from reservoirs in the mountains.The south of the island in particular is also heavily affected by air pollution; The reasons for this are outdated industries, private transport and large coal-fired power plants. Even though Taiwan is increasingly relying on electric vehicles, most of the energy is still generated with coal or nuclear power, which is increasingly criticized in view of Taiwan's geographic location (typhoons, earthquakes) and the geopolitical situation (conflict with China). [15]

There are essentially four people living in Taiwan today ethnic groupsThe new immigrants from Southeast Asia and the People's Republic of China since the 1990s are also considered to be the fifth group and make up around 2 percent of the population. More than 75 percent belong to the Hoklo Chinese who immigrated mainly from Fujian in the 17th and 18th centuries; the Hakka Chinese who immigrated during the same period make up 10 to 15 percent, the mainland Chinese who immigrated after 1945 less than 10 percent. [16] The indigenous population with its 540,000 inhabitants makes up only about 2.3 percent of the total population of Taiwan. Their social situation has improved significantly since the mid-1990s. In 1996 the central government set up a "Council of Indigenous Peoples" at cabinet level. In 1998, the Indigenous Education Act was passed to promote the development of indigenous education and the preservation of indigenous languages ​​and culture. This certainly contributed to Taiwan's new phase of democratic progress towards multiculturalism. In addition, after years of political efforts by the Hakka, the government set up the Council for Hakka Affairs in 2001, which primarily oversees the preservation and promotion of the language and culture of Hakka - the smallest Han Chinese ethnic group. [17]

Milestones on the way to equal rights were the Sexual Assault Prevention and Control Act (1993), the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (1999), the Gender Equality Act (2004), and the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (2009). Taiwan's women gradually achieved equal marital property rights. The Gender Equity Education Act, which obliges schools at all levels to offer annual gender training courses, opened up social space for women and queer or LGTBQ movements. In addition, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled on May 24, 2017 that limiting marriage to men and women is unconstitutional. The judges gave parliament two years to amend or enact new laws. On May 17, 2019, the Legislative Yuan passed the Same-Sex Marriage Act. [18]

Taiwan has no state religion (s) and allows individual freedom of conscience. A majority of Taiwanese are Daoist (Chinese) and Buddhist Religions to a well organized minority (less than 5 percent) Christian churches. But there are also some Muslims in the country. All in all, there is peaceful intercourse among all religions. [19]

Cultural a literature independent of the mainland has developed in Taiwan; Works by Bai Xianyong and Qiu Miaojin, to name just two, have also been translated into German. In addition, an internationally known and distinguished film movement developed in Taiwan, the so-called Taiwan New Cinema, which began in 1982/1983 and rose to new heights from 1987, the year when martial law was abolished. [20]

Taiwan is one of the few areas in the world where there has been little local spread of Covid-19 has come. After the SARS outbreak in 2002, Taiwan prepared intensively for a new pandemic. Formerly than western countries, Taiwan stopped air traffic to China, implemented an efficient track-and-trace strategy and introduced a quarantine program. The population went with them, and even without a hard lockdown and as a direct neighbor of China, Taiwan has successfully contained the virus. The well-developed state health system also contributed to this, as did the intensive linking of existing data. In Germany, as in other (democratic) Asian countries, the data protection arguments often expressed do not play a special role.


Knowledge of Taiwan is also required for a comprehensive "China literacy" for two main reasons. On the one hand, the Taiwan question continues to play an important geopolitical role, especially since Taibei's and Beijing's positions are becoming increasingly distant. Beijing insists that the island must be united with the mainland in the foreseeable future. If possible by peaceful means, but military options are not excluded. In Taiwan, however, the specialty of the island has been emphasized for several years. If formal independence cannot be achieved, at least the status quo should be preserved by all means. On the other hand, the development of Taiwan as a primarily Chinese society has shown that Chinese culture is compatible with a democratic and liberal society.