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Common Misconceptions Of Taiwan

This section is designed to clear up common misconceptions which are often found in the news media, and reports written by confused people who either misread or never read their history text books.

The following are a few of the most common misconceptions about Taiwan,


Misconception no. 1: 

Taiwan has always been part of China.


Not correct: Taiwan has its own history, language and culture. See our overview of Taiwan's 400 years of history. It was under the rule of the Manchu Dynasty (who are not considered "Chinese" by the Han) for only eight years, from 1887 to 1895, when it was ceded in perpetuity to Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Misconception no. 2: 

Taiwan is a renegade province, which split off from China in 1949.


In 1945 Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire. After Japan's defeat, Taiwan was occupied "on behalf of the allied forces" by the Chinese Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek, who was fighting a losing Civil War on the Chinese mainland. Taiwan and the Taiwanese people did not have anything to do with that Civil War. In 1949 Chiang lost the war, moved his remaining troops and government to the island, and subjected the people of the island to 40 years of martial law.

During those 40 years, the Kuomintang authorities kept alive the anachronistic fiction that they were the "legitimate government of all of China", and regarded Taiwan a province of the China they didn't rule. In response, the Communist authorities claimed sovereignty over a Taiwan they didn't rule.

Martial Law ended only in 1987, and for the first time in history the people of the island were able to give open expression to their desire for a free, democratic, and independent Taiwan.

Misconception no. 3: 

The future of Taiwan should be decided by the Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.


The large majority of the people on the island (85 percent) do not consider themselves Chinese but Taiwanese. They have their own language, culture, and history, and are as distinct from the Chinese as the Americans are distinct from the British.

Under the provisions of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952, the United Nations decided that "...the future status of Taiwan will be decided in accord with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

The Charter of the UN contains article 1.2 which states that it is a purpose of the UN "To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples..." The San Francisco Peace Treaty thus decided that the people of Taiwan should determine the future status of the island based on the principle of self-determination.

Misconception no. 4: 

The present tension with China is caused by Taiwan's attempts to enhance its international status, and in particular by President Lee Teng-hui's June 1995 visit to Cornell.


Mr. Lee earlier visited the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand and conferred with the heads of state in those countries. China's reaction was minimal.

Only when Mr. Lee visited his alma mater Cornell in June 1995 -- he didn't even come to Washington -- did the Chinese Communist leaders in Beijing manufacture a crisis atmosphere. The real reasons are threefold:

  1. to divert attention from the increasing chaos and power struggle in China itself. What is easier than to play on the Chinese chauvinistic emotions and threaten and bully a small neighboring country, Taiwan ? That's what Mr. Hitler did in the 1930's when he invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland, right after Mr. Neville Chaimberlain was trying to pacify Nazi Germany with his "peace-in-our-time".

  2. the Chinese leaders are dead-scared of the example Taiwan is setting in terms of democratic elections and free speech. "Democracy" and "freedom" are concepts the Chinese want to prevent from spreading at all cost.

  3. the Chinese authoritarian leaders are making so much noise about the issue of Taiwan in order to throw up a smokescreen to divert attention from their widespread violations of international agreements and agreements with the United States, ranging from non-proliferation (their secret exports of nuclear technology to Pakistan) to copyrights on CD's pirated from US companies.

Misconception no. 5: 

Advocacy of "Taiwan independence" heightens tensions and will provoke a Chinese attack on the island.


The government of the PRC has never ruled Taiwan, not even for one day. Under the provisions of the UN San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952 (see above) the people on the island have the right to determine their own future. This is the principle of self-determination, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

The "Taiwan is part of China"-line is a remnant of an outdated fiction kept alive during the past forty years by two repressive regimes, the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists. The Taiwanese people themselves had no say in it, and never made any "pledge to reunify with China". The reality is that Taiwan has been a separate entity all along, and that the Taiwanese people have -- inspired by the universal principles of democracy and human rights, and through their own hard work -- have now achieved democracy. Under this new-found democracy they now aspire to be recognized as a free and independent nation.

Taiwan independence is as "provocative" as American independence was to the British in 1776. We must remember that 200 years ago Great Britain was a world power -- "Britannia ruled the waves." Still, a small band of American colonists decided to write the American Declaration of Independence. Why ? "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These are precisely the same ideals which inspire the Taiwanese to work for independence for their island.

The Presidential elections in Taiwan prompt us to add the following to our list of Five Misconceptions. This sixth one popped up, among others, in articles and editorials in TIME (1 April 1996) and the Far Eastern Economic Review (4 April 1996).

Misconception no. 6: 

Mr. Lee Teng-hui's election in Taiwan was the first time in China's nearly 5000 years' history that Chinese democratically elected their leader.


The transition of the island from a repressive Kuomintang police state to an open democratic system is the achievement of the Taiwanese democratic movement of the island, which cherishes first and foremost its Taiwanese identity, and strives to strengthen its own distinct culture, language, social and political system.

The democratization process didn't have anything to do with China or with the Chinese people, and actually took place in reaction against the lack of democracy and human rights displayed by the Chinese -- both Nationalists and Communists.

As we stated earlier: the anachronistic "Taiwan is part of China"-line is a remnant of an outdated fiction kept alive during the past forty years by two repressive regimes, the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists. The Taiwanese people themselves had no say in it, and never made any pledge to "reunify with China".

In Conclusion:

During its 400 year history, Taiwan was never an integral part of China. It is a free, democratic, and de facto independent country, which deserves to be fully recognized by the international community.

It is in China's own interest to accept Taiwan as a friendly neighbor, to end hostilities towards the island, and to move towards peaceful coexistence.

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