Since young, I am informed that Taiwan is always a part of China and should not seek independence, and that the Chinese Communist Party will not hesitate to use force to stop the Taiwanese from seeking independence.

The newspapers I read were mostly CCP party organ, so you can imagine my skepticism.

My question is, what is the historical basis for the claim that Taiwan is always a part of China because from what I know, national territory expands and shrinks all the time? And is such a claim valid (in whatever sense), and therefore the CCP can send tanks and airplanes into Taiwan to prevent independence?

  • 2
    Perfectly good question. Why did someone downvote? May 26, 2014 at 12:49
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    The Taiwanese government contends the exact opposite: that mainland China is, and has always been, part of Taiwan! May 26, 2014 at 15:12
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    @Max I think it's clear I meant "The Republic of China" rather than "The Island Formerly Known as Formosa". May 26, 2014 at 21:52
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    You know about Imperial Japan controlling Taiwan for several decades, right?
    – Golden Cuy
    May 27, 2014 at 0:29
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    @FelixGoldberg, maybe the Chinese Communist Party propagandists were here and that's how they tried to moderate internet posts :) just kidding
    – Graviton
    May 27, 2014 at 1:55

7 Answers 7


Well, the short answer is no, unless you define "always" to start at around 1683.

Historically, Taiwan is in fact the ancestral home of the Austronesian language family. Prior to modern times, this was the world's most geographically diverse language family, with speakers ranged from Madagascar to Easter Island to Hawaii.

enter image description here

There are several subgroups in this language family, but all but one of them are found only on the island of Taiwan.

enter image description here

Han Chinese is of course a language with its own proud history, but it is quite unrelated to Austronesian. Its language family is Sino-Tibetian, almost all of the speakers of which have historically lived on mainland Asia.

Where Chinese history and Taiwan really start to intersect wasn't until 1682, when Ming loyalist forces, seeking refuge from the victorious Qing on the mainland, kicked out the Dutch colonists on the island. The Qing themselves soon followed. Since then the aboriginal Austroneasian component of the population has been on a steady decline, replaced by Han. Today, they are only about 2% of the population.

  • 1
    Why not: "Well, the short answer is yes, unless you want to go further back than 1683." I'd prefer a more neutral formulation here. May 27, 2014 at 9:17
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    @reinierpost the question was "always", the answer to which is "no".
    – jwenting
    May 27, 2014 at 9:27
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    True - it's the use of that term that is loaded, not your answer. May 27, 2014 at 10:57
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    Even if you use 1683 as you're start date, you still have the period of 1895 to 1945 when Japan was sovereign of Taiwan.
    – Readin
    Feb 23, 2016 at 7:08

And if you'd lived your life in the Republic of China you'd have learned that Taiwan is an independent nation, the one true China, and that the rebel government in Beijing is illegally in power there (that may have been toned down now, but that used to be the line in the ROC).
Both are of course propaganda.

Truth is Taiwan wasn't "always" part of China because China didn't always exist. And yes, the government on Taiwan predates the government in Beijing, the latter being created by Maoist forces after WW2 when the ROC government is the direct descendent of the government that was in place in China before WW2, which was driven off the mainland by Mao and his revolutionaries during the civil war.

So in a way both are right. Taiwan was for a long time part of imperial China, but never was part of the PRC which was built on the ruins of what was left after WW2 and the Chinese civil war that followed it.
And the old ROC claim to the mainland has validity based on the same history.

You'd say after 70 years almost it's time to let matters rest and for each to recognise the independence of the other.

  • 3
    North Korea is officially still in war with South Korea, but I'm not sure the UNO (in fact the US) would find it acceptable if they started actually invading South Korea. May 26, 2014 at 7:51
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    @Graviton it's a bit late now, the country's been independent for longer than many other countries have been in existence... And the ROC has quite a few friends who'd not take kindly to a PRC invasion of the ROC. Which most likely wouldn't be with tanks as the PRC lacks amphibious capability, but with nuclear and poison gas tipped missiles followed by airborne assault.
    – jwenting
    May 26, 2014 at 7:55
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    @Graviton The ability of a country to send tanks and airplanes isn't based on historical justification, but on the question of whether they can get away with it. May 27, 2014 at 3:47
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    As a developer for a large multi-national software company, I was told not to make a UI like this: Country: [___]. If the drop-down shows Taiwan, then PRC government may boycott your product. And if it doesn't show Taiwan, then Taiwan government may. This applies to other areas as well, such as the Palestinian Authority. Solution: Country/Region: [___]
    – Jonathan
    May 27, 2014 at 13:24
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    @Jonathan, well, that's getting into political correctness more than historical correctness. If the decision is made to refer to Taiwan as a "region" of the PRC, to avoid losing customers in PRC, that's politics and marketing, and you have to live with it. There will never be a solution that's agreeable to all, when wars have been fought over the issue and tensions remain high.
    – Phil Perry
    May 27, 2014 at 14:42

This is not my answer but an invitation for history buffs to understand the history of Taiwan. It has been answered by a historian in Chinese & Global History -- Tonio Andrade of Emory Department of History.

How Taiwan Became Chinese - Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century (Columbia University Press, 2008). The entire book is available on Gutenberg.

Preface: Is Taiwan Chinese?

On March 26, 2005, I marched with thousands of Taiwanese against the Anti-Secession Law, passed two weeks before in Beijing. I had not intended to participate. My parents were to arrive that evening, and my wife and I were cleaning madly. But when we went out for groceries and found the streets pulsing with people, we joined in. The marchers were peaceful, powerful, and confident in their right to political expression. Since the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwan's political freedoms have grown steadily, and today it is the only truly democratic Chinese polity. It represents the best way forward for 1.3 billion people in mainland China.

As we marched I began to wonder whether I was right to call my book How Taiwan Became Chinese. Nowadays, some Taiwanese contend that Taiwan is not Chinese, rejecting their cultural kinship with people in mainland China. What right have I, an outsider, to suggest differently? More important, I worried that my title might help hawks in mainland China argue that Taiwan belongs to the People's Republic of China, and I strongly believe that Taiwan belongs to its people and should be whatever they decide. They're doing a great job ruling themselves.

Yet there is no doubt that Taiwan today is culturally Chinese. In the 1600s, people from China began settling there. Most were from the province of Fujian and spoke a dialect of Chinese known as Southern Min, but they were joined later by Hakka Chinese, and then, in the late 1940s, by around 2 million Mandarin speakers. Today, all but 2 percent of Taiwan's population belongs to one of these groups. Indeed, in many ways Taiwan is more Chinese than its assertive neighbor. Three decades of Maoism stripped away parts of mainland China's traditional culture, but Taiwan preserves customs, festivals, and schools of thought that were extinguished across the strait.

  • 1
    We could take this a lot further. If we take "Chinese" to mean government (and particularly the current one in Beijing) rather than culture, China hasn't been Chinese for much of its recorded history. It has been a number of different countries (e.g. the Warring States period), been a part of the Mongolian Empire, and more. It's like claiming that Europe is Roman today, and should be ruled by the Vatican.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 16, 2017 at 18:41
  • Two things. First, Andrade's ebook allows you to comment. If you're keen, he welcomes it. Second, " ... if we take 'Chinese' to mean government ..." is a very good point. The thing is, in most cases, Chinese does not refer to the government, but the culture (Han). Obviously I don't know that Andrade specifically said this. But, in general, China & Chinese is the same thing -- Han culture, not nation-state. Martin Jacques explains it better
    – J Asia
    Jul 16, 2017 at 20:57
  • Wang Hui, a highly respected scholar (professor of history at Tsinghua University) and critic of his own government, has also brought up the same in his book China from Empire to Nation State, Harvard, 2014.
    – J Asia
    Jul 16, 2017 at 21:06
  • @J Asia: If we're going to consider culturally Chinese, can we expect the Beijing government to next lay claim to San Francisco's Chinatown? Or Singapore, with about 3/4 of its population being ethnic Chinese?
    – jamesqf
    Jul 17, 2017 at 18:17
  • @jamesqf: I believe you wrote this rhetorically but I think it will be fun to answer the question ... lol! Why don't you ask that as a question?. I'm not sure if I can answer you here ... I might get kicked out for commenting. p.s. Frame it well because the answer is pretty obvious.
    – J Asia
    Jul 17, 2017 at 19:13

I assume your question is: Since People's Republic of China (PRC) exists, was Taiwan considered as part of it?

It is more like a political question than historical, since the current situation of PRC and ROC (Republic of China) is still unsettled since the end of the civil war.

I am sure most of us know that People's Republic of China claims Taiwan, but it is de-facto independent country. So in a way Taiwan is part of PRC.

Importantly on the other hand maybe less people know that ROC renounced in 1992 the conquest of PRC-controlled territories as a national goal, there is still dispute over whether the constitution still gives legal support to a claim of sovereignty over all of China's pre-1949 territories, including Outer Mongolia and the entirety of the present PRC. From Wikipedia
So in a way PRC's territory belongs to ROC as well.

Objectively, these two territories function as separate countries. Separate governments, currency, foreign relations.

Taiwan's independence is recognized by various countries, and most of countries have unofficial relationship with Taiwan (without embassy), but there are couple of countries have completely official foreign relationship with Taiwan including embassy.

Taiwan's de-facto independence is reinforced by USA through Taiwan Relations Act accepted in 28th February 1979.

So the answer is "yes and no in the same time", entirely depends on political view. Also answer is no for practical way, they both do function as two separate countries.


China hasn't always been China. Modern China is currently being ruled by insurrectionists. China can't handle what territories they already posess:

  • negative side effects of industrialization
  • famine
  • poverty
  • huge portions of the population uneducated and or living in 3rd world conditions
  • disease
  • population control problems
  • problems with the culture leading to huge discrepancy with the male to female population ratio
  • using extremely aggressive nationalist propaganda to placate the masses

These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. All things considered, even if they did have legitimate historical claim to the region it would be irrelevant. Most Taiwanese have no interest in being part of China, in no small part because Taiwan is being poisoned by Chinese pollution and is under constant threat of Chinese invasion.

Historically, Chinese settlers only colonized parts of coastal Taiwan:

enter image description here

There is no legitimate claim to the territory. Outsiders relocated to already populated areas, largely integrated, only spread incrementally over a long period of time and only controlled a relatively small portion of the land.

  • 1
    I'm not sure this answers OP's question; there are lots of interesting opinions here, but no evidence of research and no clear response to the question.
    – MCW
    Mar 21, 2016 at 14:27
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    @MarkC.Wallace Everything I posted is easily verifiable, but if you would like elaboration on anything specific, I will provide.
    – Minativ7
    Mar 21, 2016 at 14:55
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    I would also add that there is a theme to the heart of this question that is external to historical right to sovereignty, that is whether or not a modern day claim would be justifiable. What I included is relevant to the answer: No.
    – Minativ7
    Mar 21, 2016 at 15:06
  • Themes external to history are external to H:SE. Those sections of the question should be moved to politics:SE or some other stack; H:SE is scoped to history and history only.
    – MCW
    Mar 21, 2016 at 17:39
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    "There is no legitimate claim to the territory" This should be based on legal principles, you should be careful less you are called to account.
    – J Asia
    Jul 18, 2017 at 12:03

When Mao drove Chiang Kai-shek out of China, the latter took over Taiwan by military force. What would be the need to do that if it was a part of China? He then required all Taiwanese to join the army because he wanted to go back and take over the mainland. That never happened, so the pure Chinese came in 1949~1954 period, when Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan with 0.94 million Chinese refugees until then the island was made up and controlled by the Taiwanese.

I see it as it's own country and not a part of China. Mainland China sees it the other way. When I lived there in the 1960's the island of Taiwan and China were still shooting at each other each day just to prove they were still at war. There wasn't an invasion from either side, just shelling. There were no free elections, Taiwan became a military dictatorship.

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    The first paragraph is counterfactual - before ROC administration, Taiwan was administered by Japan. The second part is part opinion, and part irrelevant - whether a nation is a military dictatorship or not has nothing to do with the question. Jul 17, 2017 at 6:08
  • @Vern: I wonder what you mean by "pure Chinese"?
    – J Asia
    Jul 17, 2017 at 21:19
  • @congusbongus: Mainland China wasn't a dictatorship as well? And as far as I can see, still is.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 18, 2017 at 5:47
  • @congusbongus what's now the PRC was also ruled by Japan at that time, so what's your point here?
    – jwenting
    Jan 27, 2023 at 8:36
  • Taiwan was handed over from Japan to ROC after the former's surrender, undoing the Treaty of Shimonoseki. My point is Taiwan wasn't independent before ROC took over, and not by force; you would have to look prior to the Qing takeover if you wanted to argue that point. Jan 27, 2023 at 11:27

Regardless of territorial history, the PRC's claim of Taiwan stems from the civil war that had begun in China before Japan invaded in the 1930's, and resumed when war with Japan ended.

The forces were the Kuomintang, the government formed by Sun-Yat Sen during the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 when the last Qing dynasty was overthrown and the colonizing European powers evicted. During WW2, the Kuomintang government was led by Chiang Kai-Shek.

And the communists under Mao Tse-Tung. Obviously, the communists prevailed. Chiang took his remaining forces and government, and those citizens closely allied with the Kuomintang government (who probably would have been shot by the communists), and moved en mass to the large island of Taiwan, which had been a Japanese territory, taken from the Qing dynasty by Japan during the 1895 Sino-Japanese war.

As the early PRC had no real amphibious war capability, the fleeing ROC (Republic of China) government was able to consolidate its position and military strength, to where an invasion of Taiwan would be very costly.

For a long time after that war, the ROC maintained a seat on the UN's security council, as the representative of the Chinese people. That was lost when the US and the PRC warmed relations in the 1970's, and the PRC was given the security council seat.

So, technically speaking, the Chinese Civil War of 1949-1950 is still going on, as the Kuomintang government was never fully defeated, and still exists (and thrives) today.

Viewed in the context of how the two nations came to be, the PRC's claim isn't so much for the land, but authority over the Chinese people who live on that land, and especially final defeat of the Kuomintang government after almost 70 years.

Interesting perspective on this situation today: Many successful Chinese businesses are actually owned and operated by Taiwanese citizens. One reason: Citizens living in the PRC, which had been closed to the world for decades, had little experience in international business and finance when China began to open up economically to the rest of the world, while their counterparts on Taiwan had been selling goods to the western nations for a very long time.

The PRC maintains a 'one China' policy, that there is only one Chinese government and that's them. They are willing to look the other way for very successful Taiwanese owned businesses operating in China, like Foxconn, who makes a lot of electronic equipment for Apple.

Not upsetting their productive business partners and throwing major employers into disarray is one reason the PRC would be very reluctant to attack the ROC today.

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