China is a fascinating country – one which has a fascinating history. But when you talk about China, do you know which China you are talking about? Yes, there is more than one out there. Two chinas, to be exact – The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC); and that’s not even counting the perplexity of Hong Kong and Macau, which are part of China but not at the same time.
But before going into the intricacies of two Chinas, first, let’s clear out which one is which. The one most people commonly know of is the People’s Republic of China, which is north of the Himalayas and shares 4056 km of International boundary (disputed) with the Republic of India. Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, is an island nation whose main island, Formosa, is located 180 km away east of mainland China.
Why are there Two Chinas?
China has a tumultuous history and had been ruled by several dynasties and warlords, which unified the kingdom later to disintegrate, and the cycle repeated again and again. The first to unify all of China was the Qin Dynasty, which ruled the country from 221-206 BC. They are considered the last ancient kingdom of China. Read more about the history of China here.
The last dynasty of China was the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD), and they expanded China to its current boundaries. Qing dynasty was ousted by the Wuxang Uprising of 1911, and the Republic of China was established with Sun Yat-Sen as the provincial president of the new nation.
The Qing dynasty was at its last leg when the Joseon dynasty of Korea fell to the Japanese and the humiliating defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War in the late 19th century. The Republic of China was proclaimed on Jan 1st, 1912, ending the 2000 years old dynastic rule in China.
But the Republic was short-lived. With Yuan Shikai, a military official in the New Army, taking control of the government in March 1912, abolishing the national assembly, and proclaiming himself as the new Emperor of China, a new period of instability began.
With the death of Yuan Shikai in 1916, unified China all but shattered into several provinces ruled by various warlords, competing for provincial governments and the Beiyang government.
To reunify China, Sun Yat-Sen, leader of the newly established Kuomintang (KMT), allied with the Communist Party of China. Together they succeeded in bringing most of south and central China under their control. Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925 and was succeeded by Chiang Kai-Shek who secured a nominal working allegiance from the warlords in the North and established the Nationalist government in Nanking.
In 1927, KMT turned on the Communists, and the Communist Party of China was forced to flee from their mountain bases in the Chinese Soviet Republic to the desolate terrain in north-west China in 1934, what is now known as the Long March, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan’an in Shaanxi Province, under the leadership of Mao Zedong.
Japanese Occupation of China
The Japanese occupation of China began in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria, resulting in a halt in a bitter civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. The two Chinese parties nominally formed a Unified Front to repel the invading Imperial Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War(1937-1945).
Japanese forces committed unspeakable war crimes against the civilian population, most famous in the Rape of Nanking, the then capital of China, with around 300,000 occupants of the City slaughtered.
Between 14 million and 20 million Chinese died in the “war of resistance to the end” against Japan last century. Another 80 million to 100 million became refugees. The conflict destroyed China’s great cities, devastated its countryside, ravaged the economy and ended all hopes for a modern, pluralistic society.
Source: Gordon G. Chang, New York Times, September 6, 2013
The Communists fare better than their Nationalists counterpart in the Second Sino-Japanese War, more commonly known as the Chinese Front in the Second World War. And with the defeat of Japan in 1945, they were in a better position to control China.
Resumption of hostilities and the formation of the People’s Republic of China
As soon as the Empire of Japan was defeated, the hostilities resumed as the civil war continued.
By 1949, the Communists had pretty much taken control of all of China, and the Nationalist forces had retreated to Taiwan, which they control after the Japanese surrender in 1945.
On October 1, 1949, the Communist Party of China proclaimed the People’s Republic of China with Mao Zedong as the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, with KMT shifted its capital to Taipei in Taiwan.
Current status quo of Two Chinas and the Possibility of Reunification
The political and legal status of Taiwan is a contentious issue. Taiwan is recognized as a nation by 14 UN Member states and the Holy See. The Republic of China used to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council until 1971, when it was replaced by the People’s Republic of China by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758.
The People’s Republic of China refuses to have diplomatic relations with the countries and world bodies that recognize Taiwan as anything but part of China. Due to this, Taiwan is represented as Chinese Taipei in the Olympics and other different names in various international bodies.
China and Taiwan both claim to be the legitimate government for all of China and agree to some form of reunification in the possible future, but with themselves as in charge.
The two Chinas issue is a complicated one. Both sides are for reunification, but with recent gains of the Democratic Progressive Party(DPP), a Taiwanese nationalist party, and Tsai Ing-wen as the President of The Republic of China, the call for reunification has ebbed somewhat. So for the foreseeable future, there are going to be two Chinas.
The Republic of India is one of the countries that doesn’t recognize ROC as China but has the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in New Delhi as the office of communication between the Taiwan Government and the India Government.
Read more about India-Taiwan relations here.
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