Emma J. Teng
The China–Taiwan relationship continues to be one of the most highly fraught international political issues in the post-Cold War era, and a potential flashpoint in US–China affairs. Lying 180 kilometers off the southeastern coast of China, Taiwan’s relation to the mainland has undergone numerous permutations since the 17th century, when it was a Dutch colony. In 1662, Taiwan was conquered by Ming loyalist forces who retreated to the island from China and took it from the Dutch. This loyalist regime then held the island until 1683, when Qing imperial forces crossed the Taiwan Strait to quell the insurgents. The Qing in turn ruled Taiwan until 1895, when it was ceded to Japan as an outcome of the Sino-Japanese war. Taiwan was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1945, following Japan’s defeat in World War II, but has been divided from mainland China since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Taiwan’s evolving relationship to modern China has been profoundly shaped by three crucial factors: the island’s location along China’s strategic maritime perimeter; its role in global trade networks; and fears of its being used as an enemy base against the mainland. Taiwan has also played an important role in Chinese migration history. The island was one of the earliest destinations for overseas migration from China, and it has seen successive waves of Han Chinese migrants over the centuries, making it home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside the PRC in the early 21st century. In addition to ancestral and cultural ties, a staggering volume of trade and investment links the two sides together economically, despite ongoing political friction, and the contemporary cross-Strait relationship is thus characterized by collaboration as well as conflict.
Important historiography of the subject has been produced in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the United States, and Europe within the frameworks of Chinese history, East Asian regional and maritime history, comparative colonial history, and the history of international relations. It is worth noting that beyond the China–Taiwan relationship, a different strand of historiography, that of Pacific history, treats Taiwan as part of the history of the Pacific Islands, focusing on its indigenous people rather than the Han Chinese majority, and on their links to other Austronesian-speaking peoples across Oceania.