Monday, May 26, 2014

a brief history lesson: the tale of the two chinas


Don't feel too bad if you don't know much about the whole People's Republic of China and Republic of China tiff. Also, don't feel too bad if you don't know that the PRC really means mainland China  and the ROC really means Taiwan. Actually, don't feel too bad if you can't immediately find Taiwan on a map. I couldn't either before I moved here. I certainly knew nothing of the conflict between China and Taiwan, or its origins. 

But it is actually kinda a big deal. 

News outlets, both local and international, are constantly talking about whatever China and Taiwan [and sometimes Japan and Vietnam] are arguing over this week, which is usually some off shore island. 

This weekend, I had an opportunity to learn more about the whole PRC v ROC spat while visiting the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. 

Here's a very, very condensed history lesson:

Once upon a time, in the 19th century, China [under the Qing Dynasty] and Japan feuded and Japan won. China was forced to hand over Taiwan to Japan. The people of Taiwan, quite alarmed and rightfully so, tried to declare the island an independent nation with little success. The Japanese came and took their spoils of war anyway but not without a bloody fight from the Taiwanese. Japan controlled Taiwan for more than 50 years and made many changes to the island: roads were built to connect east and west and north and south, hospitals and schools were constructed and the area was modernized greatly. While that may all sound good, Japan ruled with a heavy hand and the Taiwanese, especially vocal ones, paid heavily. It was not exactly happily ever after.

While all of this was happening in Taiwan, bad things were brewing in mainland China. Humiliated and incensed over the loss of Taiwan and other off shore islands, the Qing Dynasty fell to the Chinese Nationalist Party and then mainland China was known as the ROC.  After WWII, Japan was forced to give up all of its overseas territories and Taiwan was back again under mainland China's control. Still, this did not bode well for the Taiwanese. Civil war broke out in mainland China between two parties, one led by Chiang Kai-shek, who ran the ROC, and one led by Chairman Mao. During this time, corrupt mainland officials were sent to "run" Taiwan and wreaked havoc on the island, pillaging and plundering villages and sending valuables back to mainland China to help the ROC's cause against Mao. 

In the mid 20th century, Mao's communist party defeated Chiang Kai-shek's party and they fled mainland China to Taiwan, essentially bringing the ROC with them while Mao instituted the PRC in mainland China. Suddenly, there were two Chinas. The one Mao created and the one Chiang Kai-shek brought with him to Taiwan. Thus, the question became: which China is actually China? 

Intellectuals, monks, soldiers, artists and peasants followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan and suddenly the island was once again flooded with outsiders and once again the people of Taiwan had to adapt, this time not to the Japanese but to the mainland Chinese. Chiang Kai-shek was an effectual but firm leader who moved quick to strike any political dissent [especially from local Taiwanese]. Under Chiang Kai-shek's leadership, Taiwan experienced its huge economic boom and prospered immensely. It was also under his rule that mainland China and Taiwan rowed over titles and brought the international scene into the fight, both asking for official recognition as the China [this is something that did not work out too well in Taiwan's favor]. 

After he died, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was erected to honor him and his contributions to the island. I think, as with any piece of history, opinions would vary greatly over this man and his time in Taiwan depending on who you talked to. 

What cannot be disputed is that they built one pretty fantastic memorial for the man.










...and in case you missed all of that, here is a very educational video on the question: what, exactly, is China?



Travel Tips:
  • Take the green line to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station
  • Use Exit 5
  • It's free
  • Go on a weekday if possible. It is veeeeery crowded on the weekends. 

14 comments

  1. I certainly didn't know that Taiwan was once part of Japan. Thanks for sharing! It was really informative!

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    1. I didn't either until I moved here.

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  2. I am so embarrassed as to the amount of history I know about China (umm... not much). My mom's parents immigrated to the US from SE China back in the 1940s, but yet I still know so little. Thanks for an informative post, and beautiful photos. I'm hoping to make it to Asia eventually!

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    1. To be honest, I knew nothing of the history of China or Asia (aside from the Vietnam War) before I traveled the region. It was a huge hole in my education.

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  3. What an interesting part of history, I had no idea about that. That sure is one beautiful memorial!

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    1. I know! I've seen it at least five times but each time I am still floored by it!

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  4. I'm kind of embarrassed by how little I know of Taiwan's history. I had no clue that it was controlled by the Japanese for so long. Thanks for the lesson. Indeed, that is quite a marvelous memorial the Taiwanese built. When I am trying to count how many countries I've been to, I never quite know how to count Hong Kong and Tibet. They are officially Chinese territories, but I always want to count them separately.

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    1. It's interesting even talking to Taiwanese people about this too because they have different opinions about Hong Kong and what not. It's one very controversial topic, that's for sure.

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  5. Your photos are amazing and had no idea things were complicated between Japan and Taiwan! I've been reading your blog for a while and decided to nominate you on Liebster Award. Check out the details here http://www.elenastravelgram.com/2014/05/liebster-award.html!

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    1. Thank you Elena! That is so kind of you! :)

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  6. I had no idea!! Really interesting, thanks for sharing

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  7. I did not know that Taiwan was a part of a China! I did know from my experience in China last summer that there is a lot of tension, though. Apparently is it really difficult for those on mainland China to even get a visa to visit Taiwan! Thanks for sharing, lovely photos and interesting little history lesson :)

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    1. Yes, it is hard to do so. It was only in recent times that direct flights went between mainland China and Taiwan. Things can still heat up pretty quickly over territory disputes.

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