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Relations Across The Taiwan Straits 2. The Origins and Nature of the Division Between the Two Sides of the Taiwan Straits

  • Date:1994-07-29

1. The Founding of the Republic of China

After the Opium War in the mid-nineteenth century, enlightened Chinese began to perceive the evils of despotism. They were convinced that if China failed to become independent and strong, if it did not introduce reforms and establish a democratic republic, it would be impossible to reverse its decline. Then in 1912, under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and thanks to the self-sacrificing struggle of the revolutionaries, Asia's first democratic republic--the Republic of China--was born.

In the early years of the Republic, China was extremely unstable, suffering from warlord strife within and the bullying and humiliation inflicted by the great powers from without. In an effort to save China and make it strong and prosperous, Dr. Sun Yat-sen had combined the finest elements of Chinese and Western thinking into the Three Principles of the People. His Principle of Nationalism was aimed at recovering China's independence and autonomy; his Principle of People's Rights is interpreted as political democracy; and the Principle of the People's Livelihood seeks to achieve equitable prosperity and to avoid the ills of both capitalism and communism, thus combining political and social revolution. The Three Principles of the People offered the correct answer to the question, "Whither China?" that had been asked ever since the Opium War.

2. The Birth and Development of Communism in China

At that time, however, the situation in China and the world at large provided an opportunity for the development of communism. During the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks under Lenin seized power in Russia. Soon after, they established the Third International as a means of promoting world revolution, and neighboring China was the first country to feel its impact. The year 1919 saw the outbreak in Peking of the May Fourth Movement, which had a profound and far-reaching influence. The doctrine of "out-and-out Westernization," which made an appearance during the May Fourth period, provided an opening for the introduction of Marxism to China. In July 1921, a handful of leftist intellectuals established the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) , which acted as a branch of the Third International. From then on, communism began to spread on Chinese territory, and in 1924, the Kuomintang (KMT, or the Nationalist Party), under Soviet influence, adopted a policy of "allying with Russia and accommodating the communists," which allowed the CCP to develop and become strong within the ranks of the KMT.

During the Northern Expedition [launched by the Nationalist government in 1926 to unite China], the CCP took advantage of the internal strife caused by the partition of the country under warlord regimes to foment large-scale peasant uprisings in Nanchang, Changsha, Hailufeng, and Canton, directing its efforts from then on toward seizing power through "armed struggle." In November 1931, the CCP established a "Chinese Soviet Republic" in Juichin, Kiangsi Province, drawing up a "constitution" and organizing a "provisional central government." By using the term "soviet" in the title of its government, the CCP was demonstrating that it was an offspring of Moscow, the "proletarian motherland." This act also marked the beginning of the division of China once again.

After the Marco Polo Bridge incident of 1937, the whole country rallied to resist the Japanese invaders. During this period, the CCP forces adopted the tactic of "devoting one-tenth of their efforts to resisting the Japanese, two-tenths to coping with the Nationalist central government, and seven-tenths to building up their own strength," expanding their bases and increasing their firepower. After the Japanese defeat, the CCP was able to take advantage of the Chinese people's exhaustion to launch an armed rebellion and sweep across the entire Chinese mainland. In October 1949, the CCP established the People's Republic of China in Peking, and the ROC government transferred from Nanking to Canton, and thence to Taipei. Since then, China has been a temporarily divided country under two separate governments on either side of the Taiwan Strait.

3. A Struggle between Systems: The Essence of China's Division

In traditional China, periods of partition were attributable to struggles for power, the division of the country indicated a division of ruling power and jurisdiction, it had nothing to do with ideology. Division of the kind that exists now between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is unprecedented in Chinese history. On the surface, it seems to result from the struggle for power between two political parties during the Chinese Civil War. But it stems essentially from the influence of the international political situation and an alien ideology, which eventually took the form of a struggle between the "China of the Three Principles of the People," which is founded on Chinese culture, and "Communist China," rooted in Marxism. It is also a struggle between two contrasting political, economic, and social systems and two different ways of life. In particular, after four decades of division under two different systems, there is an obvious disparity in economic and social development between the two sides. This is a concrete manifestation of the struggle over the question, "Whither China?" that is the essence of the division between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and the real reason why China is divided. If this fundamental difference is not removed, it will be extremely difficult for China to move from division to unity.

The fundamental reason why China cannot be unified is not, as Peking would have it, that a section of the Taiwan population wishes to separate itself from China, neither is it due to the "interference of certain foreign forces." It is that the political system and level of economic development in mainland China, and its frequent large-scale and violent power struggles, have destroyed people's confidence in the CCP regime. When mainland China's young people, who have grown up under communism, are doing their best to get out of the country, or refusing to return once they have left, or being refused permission to return when they wish to; when thousands of mainland Chinese are illegally emigrating when none of the most ardent Chinese supporters of unification in Taiwan and overseas are willing to settle in mainland China; and when Peking will not countenance even the minimum degree of democracy in Hong Kong, how can the CCP regime blame us for hesitating over unification? If there was freedom and democracy in mainland China and if its economy came up to modern standards, who among the Chinese would not wish to see their country united? How could foreigners interfere?

The crux of the problem thus lies with no one else but the CCP regime itself. This is why the ROC government has repeatedly insisted that "there is no Taiwan problem, only a China problem."