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China and Taiwan: A Short Primer: Background information when reading Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden

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Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden

Two Sisters Separated by China's Civil War

by Zhuqing Li

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden by Zhuqing Li X
Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden by Zhuqing Li
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 368 pages

    Jun 2023, 368 pages


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China and Taiwan: A Short Primer

This article relates to Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden

Print Review

Map showing Taiwan off the coast of ChinaIn Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden, Zhuqing Li writes of how her two aunts' lives were shaped by the events of the Chinese Civil War. One of them, Jun, ended up living in Taiwan after the war, married to a general from the losing side, the Nationalists, who ruled the island after the Communists took over the mainland.

The relationship between China and Taiwan dates back at least to the third century AD, when the Chinese emperor sent a legion of explorers there. The island became a Dutch colony briefly in the 17th century, after which it came under the control of the Chinese Qing Dynasty. Chinese migrants flooded into the area in the years that followed, until 1895, when the First Sino-Japanese War ended and Taiwan became a territory of the victorious Japanese. When the Axis powers lost World War II, Taiwan was returned to China.

After the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party (called the Kuomintang) Chiang Kai-shek and over one million of his supporters fled mainland China for Taiwan. Chiang established a government in Taipei and served as president there until he died in 1975. This is how Taiwan came to be called the Republic of China (ROC) — mainland China had this moniker until the Communist takeover, after which it became the People's Republic of China (PROC). Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo became president in 1978 and ruled until his death in 1988. The Kuomintang governed Taiwan as a one-party state for 50 years until 2000 when Chen Shui-bian was elected as president in a peaceful, democratic transfer of power.

Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), came to power on a platform of seeking independence for Taiwan. When Chen was elected to a second term in 2004, the PROC passed an anti-secession law, which asserted the mainland's right to use "non-peaceful means" to prevent Taiwan from becoming an independent state.

The Kuomintang returned to power in Taiwan in 2008 and maintained it for eight years. The relationship between mainland China and Taiwan has become more tense, however, since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP in 2016. Nevertheless, a June 2022 poll found that only a little over five percent of Taiwanese residents surveyed support immediate independence, with the majority preferring to maintain the "status quo" for the time being.

Map of Taiwan and China, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden. It originally ran in August 2022 and has been updated for the June 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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