Some people in Taiwan are vehemently opposed to the term “Republic of China (中華民國)”, though it is Taiwan’s official name. They believe that Taiwan was/has always been an independent state, and some even go as far as saying that their ancestors were never Chinese because they descended from a group of people in random islands in the Pacific.
Of course everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, but let’s look at the facts here.
Taiwan was nicknamed Ilha Formosa or ‘Beautiful Island’ (a name it richly deserves, I should add) by Portuguese sailors who passed by on their way to Japan in the mid 1500s. At the time, it was largely inhabited by Taiwanese aborigines who settled there thousands of years ago.
In the 17th century, Dutch and Spanish settlers landed and colonized different regions in Taiwan—the Dutch landed in the Southern port city of Tainan while the Spaniards took control of Keelung and the surrounding area up north. The two European powers clashed often, and the Dutch eventually seized most of the island.
At around the same time, Han Chinese people also began immigrating to Taiwan, led by Zheng Chenggong, a chief commander of Ming Dynasty troops. These were the people who would, in 1662, defeat the Dutch and establish The Kingdom of Tunging on the island of Taiwan. They were defeated by the forces of the Qing Dyansty twenty one years later. From that point on, more and more Han Chinese from mainland China immigrated to Taiwan.
The Europeans were not the only ones interested in the rich and fertile lands of Taiwan. Japan had also set its sights on the island and invaded on several occasions, but each attempt to conquer was foiled by the troops of the Qing Dynasty.
By the late 1800s, however, the corrupt and inept Qing Dynasty lost the First Sino-Japanese War and, in 1895, ceded the islands of Taiwan and Penghu to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Taiwan officially came under Japanese rule.
In 1945, when Japan lost WWII, it renounced control of Taiwan. At the time, mainland China was unified under the Republic of China, established by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in 1912. Taiwan was given back to the Republic of China, according to the terms of the Cairo Declaration, cited in Clause 8 of the Potsdam Declaration, which was referred to by the Japanese Instrument of Surrender.
An excerpt of the Cairo Declaration specifically stated:
It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.
And yes, this was simply a statement of intent and not recognized by the Allies as the transfer of sovereignty of Taiwan from Japan to the ROC. However, Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945 and specifically accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, of which the Cairo Declaration was a part.
A major point of contention for a lot of Taiwanese people is that the Treaty of San Francisco which officially ended WWII and came into effect on April 28, 1952 did not specifically state to which country Taiwan should’ve been surrendered and the island, therefore, should’ve been allowed to self rule (a more preposterous camp claims that Taiwan should still be under the control of the Allies or, more specifically, the United States. Like, dude, WTF? But I digress.).
Ok. That was REALLY long and boring, but I’m getting somewhere, I think. Here are my thoughts after visiting those facts.
1) Like a lot of places (for example, the United States), Taiwan was originally settled by aboriginals who preceded anyone else by thousands of years so, in reality, the REAL Taiwanese people are the offspring of these aboriginals, not the descendants of those who arrived in the 1600s from China. And the fact that these later settlers came from China made them ethnically Chinese. I don’t see why Taiwanese people find it so appalling to be identified as Chinese or of Chinese descent. There are all kinds of hyphenated Americans, and, while they are all American, they talk openly and often proudly about their Irish or Scottish or Italian lineage. I’m a proud citizen of Taiwan/ROC, one of the most progressive, liberal, and free nations in Asia, but I’m also equally proud that I am of Chinese descent and the rich and textured culture and history that come with this identity.
2) Through a series of battles fought by various parties to seize control of the land, Taiwan ultimately fell into the jurisdiction of China in the mid-1600s. If the United States could claim that they were the legitimate government of the land that it wrestled away from the Native Americans, the Qing Dynasty’s control over the island of Taiwan should also have been legitimate. I’m not talking about the brutality with which the native peoples of these places were displaced and, at times, slaughtered. I’m simply stating that the same people who argue that the ROC has no right to rule in Taiwan are descendants of those who came to Taiwan from China, fought in battles, and took control of the land by force. If they wish to question the legitimacy of the ROC on Taiwan, then they should apply the same rules to their ancestors and question the legitimacy of the jurisdiction that their forefathers claimed on the island as well. And, going back to point #1, if we go down this route, the island should’ve been given back to the aboriginals when Japan renounced control.
3) The Japanese were given the island basically as war bounty after defeating the Qing Dynasty/China in 1895, but when it lost WWII, it surrendered its right to govern there. Of course, by then (1945), the political landscape in China had changed drastically; the Qing Dynasty had disintegrated in 1911 and been replaced by the ROC. The fact is, however, that China (in whatever shape or form at that time) still had legitimate claims over the island and so the ROC had the right to reclamation.
4)I understand that the Treaty of San Francisco was vague on specifics and is used as ammunition by those who want to further their own agenda (i.e. disclaim the legitimacy of the ROC government in Taiwan all together), but, as I stated earlier, the Potsdam Declaration, which the Japanese formally signed and accepted did make it very clear that Taiwan was to be surrendered to the ROC.
5)Before any hard-core pro-independence Taiwanese people attack me for being pro-China or “not loving Taiwan”, let me just say that I love Taiwan and do not wish for “reunification” with China. As I said earlier, I’m proud of the democratic and progressive nation that we are, and I do view it as an independent country, separate from the PRC. My main gripe with some of the Pan-Green Coalition rests mainly with their assertion that: 1. they are not of Chinese-descent; 2. anybody who doesn’t hold the same views as them are not patriotic; 3. The ROC had no right to reclamation of the island after WWII and should therefore be kicked out, along with all those who settled here with the KMT around 1949.