History of the Republic of China
Flag of the ROC (1912-1928)
Flag of the ROC (1928-present)
Revolution of 1911
Main article: Xinhai Revolution
Failure of reform from the top and the fiasco of the Boxer Rebellion convinced many Chinese that the only real solution lay in outright revolution, in sweeping away the old order and erecting a new one patterned preferably after the example of Japan. The revolutionary leader was Sun Yat-sen, a republican and anti-Qing activist who became increasingly popular among the overseas Chinese and Chinese students abroad, especially in Japan. In 1905 Sun founded the Tongmeng Hui (United League) in Tokyo with Huang Xing, a popular leader of the Chinese revolutionary movement in Japan, as his deputy. This movement, generously supported by overseas Chinese funds, also gained political support with regional military officers and some of the reformers who had fled China after the Hundred Days' Reform. Sun's political philosophy was conceptualized in 1897, first enunciated in Tokyo in 1905, and modified through the early 1920s. It centered on the Three Principles of the People (san min zhuyi): "nationalism, democracy, and people's livelihood." The principle of nationalism called for overthrowing the Manchus and ending foreign hegemony over China. The second principle, democracy, was used to describe Sun's goal of a popularly elected republican form of government. People's livelihood, often referred to as socialism, was aimed at helping the common people through regulation of the ownership of the means of production and land.
The republican revolution broke out on October 10, 1911, in Wuchang, the capital of Hubei Province, among discontented modernized army units whose anti-Qing plot had been uncovered. This would be known as the Wuchang Uprising, which is celebrated as Double Tenth Day in Taiwan. It had been preceded by numerous abortive uprisings and organized protests inside China. The revolt quickly spread to neighboring cities, and Tongmeng Hui members throughout the country rose in immediate support of the Wuchang revolutionary forces. By late November, fifteen of the twenty-four provinces had declared their independence of the Qing empire. A month later, Sun Yat-sen returned to China from the United States, where he had been raising funds among overseas Chinese and American sympathizers.
On January 1, 1912, Sun officially declared the Republic of China and was inaugurated in Nanjing as the first provisional president. But power in Beijing already had passed to Yuan Shikai, who had effective control of the Beiyang Army, the most powerful military force in China at the time. To prevent civil war and possible foreign intervention from undermining the infant republic, Sun agreed to Yuan's demand that China be united under a Beijing government headed by Yuan. On February 12, 1912, the last Manchu emperor, the child Puyi, abdicated. On March 10, in Beijing, Yuan Shikai was sworn in as the second provisional president of the Republic of China.
The republic that Sun Yat-sen and his associates envisioned evolved slowly. The revolutionists lacked an army, and the power of Yuan Shikai began to outstrip that of parliament. Yuan revised the constitution at will and became dictatorial. In August 1912 the Kuomintang (KMT, Nationalist Party) was founded by Sung Chiao-jen, one of Sun's associates. It was an amalgamation of small political groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui. In the national elections held in February 1913 for the new bicameral parliament, Sung campaigned against the Yuan administration, and his party won a majority of seats. Yuan had Sung assassinated in March; he had already arranged the assassination of several pro-revolutionist generals. Animosity toward Yuan grew. In the summer of 1913 seven southern provinces rebelled against Yuan. When the rebellion was suppressed, Sun and other instigators fled to Japan. In October 1913 an intimidated parliament formally elected Yuan president of the Republic of China, and the major powers extended recognition to his government. To achieve international recognition, Yuan Shikai had to agree to autonomy for Outer Mongolia and Tibet. China was still to be suzerain, but it would have to allow Russia a free hand in Outer Mongolia and Tanna Tuva and Britain continuance of its influence in Tibet.
In November Yuan Shikai, legally president, ordered the KMT dissolved and its members removed from parliament. Within a few months, he suspended parliament and the provincial assemblies and forced the promulgation of a new constitution, which, in effect, made him president for life. By the end of 1915, Yuan declared himself emperor. Widespread rebellions ensued, and numerous provinces declared independence. With opposition at every quarter and the nation breaking up into warlord factions, Yuan Shikai died of natural causes in June 1916, deserted by his lieutenants.
After Yuan Shikai's death, shifting alliances of regional warlords fought for control of the Beijing government.
Foreign incursions and Student activism
When World War I broke out in 1914, Japan fought on the Allied side and seized German holdings in Shandong Province. In 1915 the Japanese set before the warlord government in Beijing the so-called Twenty-One Demands, which would have made China a Japanese protectorate. The Beijing government rejected some of these demands but yielded to the Japanese insistence on keeping the Shandong territory already in its possession. Beijing also recognized Tokyo's authority over southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. In 1917, in secret communiques, Britain, France, and Italy assented to the Japanese claim in exchange for Japanese naval action against Germany.
In 1917 China declared war on Germany in the hope of recovering its lost province, then under Japanese control. But in 1918 the Beijing government signed a secret deal with Japan accepting the latter's claim to Shandong. When the Treaty of Versailles confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and Beijing's sellout became public, internal reaction was shattering. On May 4, 1919, there were massive student demonstrations against the Beijing government and Japan. The political fervor, student activism, and iconoclastic and reformist intellectual currents set in motion by the patriotic student protest developed into a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement. The intellectual milieu in which the May Fourth Movement developed was known as the New Culture Movement and occupied the period from 1917 to 1923. The student demonstrations of May 4, 1919 were the high point of the New Culture Movement, and the terms are often used synonymously.
Fight against warlordism
The May Fourth Movement helped to rekindle the then-fading cause of republican revolution. In 1917 Sun Yat-sen had become commander-in-chief of a rival military government in Guangzhou in collaboration with southern warlords. In October 1919 Sun reestablished the Kuomintang to counter the government in Beijing. The latter, under a succession of warlords, still maintained its facade of legitimacy and its relations with the West. By 1921 Sun had become president of the southern government. He spent his remaining years trying to consolidate his regime and achieve unity with the north. His efforts to obtain aid from the Western democracies were ignored, however, and in 1921 he turned to the Soviet Union, which had recently achieved its own revolution. The Soviets sought to befriend the Chinese revolutionists by offering scathing attacks on "Western imperialism." But for political expediency, the Soviet leadership initiated a dual policy of support for both Sun and the newly established Communist Party of China (CPC). The Soviets hoped for consolidation but were prepared for either side to emerge victorious. In this way the struggle for power in China began between the Nationalists and the Communists.
In 1922 the KMT-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai. By then Sun saw the need to seek Soviet support for his cause. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers — the most prominent of whom was an agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin — began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the KMT along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CPC was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the KMT, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CPC was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The KMT in 1922 already had 150,000 members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in mass mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek, one of Sun's lieutenants from Tongmeng Hui days, for several months' military and political study in Moscow. After Chiang's return in late 1923, he participated in the establishment of the Whampoa Military Academy outside Guangzhou, which was the seat of government under the KMT-CPC alliance. In 1924 Chiang became head of the academy and began the rise to prominence that would make him Sun's successor as head of the KMT and the unifier of all China under the right-wing nationalist government.
Chiang consolidates power
Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in March 1925, but the Nationalist movement he had helped to initiate was gaining momentum. During the summer of 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, set out on the long-delayed Northern Expedition against the northern warlords. Within nine months, half of China had been conquered. By 1926, however, the KMT had divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also growing. In March 1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers, imposed restrictions on CPC members' participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the preeminent KMT leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the CPC, ordered Communist underground activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926.
In early 1927 the KMT-CPC rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CPC and the left wing of the KMT had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to destroying the Shanghai CPC apparatus and established an anti-Communist government at Nanjing in April 1927. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized warlord regime in Beijing; the Communist and left-wing Kuomintang regime at Wuhan; and the right-wing civilian-military regime at Nanjing, which would remain the Nationalist capital for the next decade.
The Comintern cause appeared bankrupt. A new policy was instituted calling on the CPC to foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong, who would later become chairman of the CPC and head of state of the People's Republic of China.
But in mid-1927 the CPC was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by their left-wing KMT allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime. By 1928 all of China was at least nominally under Chiang's control, and the Nanjing government received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The Nationalist government announced that in conformity with Sun Yat-sen's formula for the three stages of revolution — military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy — China had reached the end of the first phase and would embark on the second, which would be under KMT direction.
The decade of 1928-37 was one of consolidation and accomplishment by the Kuomintang. Some of the harsh aspects of foreign concessions and privileges in China were moderated through diplomacy. The government acted energetically to modernize the legal and penal systems, stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Great strides also were made in education and, in an effort to help unify Chinese society, in a program to popularize the national language and overcome dialectal variations. The widespread establishment of communications facilities further encouraged a sense of unity and pride among the people.
The United States Military in China
Between 1901 and 1937, the United States military maintained a strong presence in China to maintain Far East trade interests and to pursue a permanent alliance with the Chinese Republic, after long diplomatic difficulties with the Chinese Empire. The relationship between the U.S. and China was mostly on-again off-again, with periods of both cordial diplomatic relations accompanied by times of severed relations and violent anti-U.S. protests.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Asiatic Fleet of the United States Navy was based from China, and a classic image of the "China Sailor" developed, as a large number of U.S. Navy members would remain at postings in China for 10-12 years then retire and continue to live in the country. The classic film The Sand Pebbles is a dramatization on the life of the China Sailors.
The United States military also created several awards and decorations to recognize those personnel who had performed duty in China. The China Service Medal, China Campaign Medal, Yangtze Service Medal, and the China Relief Expedition Medal were all military medals which could be presented to those who had performed duty in China.
With the approach of World War II, the United States military in China was slowly withdrawn to protect other U.S. interests in the Pacific. With the rise of Communist China, there was no further U.S. military presence in mainland China, a status which continues to this day. The U.S. military continued to be stationed in Taiwan until diplomatic relations were broken with the Republic of China in 1979.
Second Sino-Japanese War
Main article: Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
Few Chinese had any illusions about Japanese designs on China. Hungry for raw materials and pressed by a growing population, Japan initiated the seizure of Manchuria in September 1931 and established ex-Qing emperor Puyi as head of the puppet regime of Manchukuo in 1932. The loss of Manchuria, and its vast potential for industrial development and war industries, was a blow to the Nationalist economy. The League of Nations, established at the end of World War I, was unable to act in the face of the Japanese defiance. The Japanese began to push from south of the Great Wall into northern China and into the coastal provinces. Chinese fury against Japan was predictable, but anger was also directed against the KMT government, which at the time was more preoccupied with anti-Communist extermination campaigns than with resisting the Japanese invaders. The importance of "internal unity before external danger" was forcefully brought home in December 1936, when Chiang Kai-shek, in an event now known as the Xi'an Incident was kidnapped and forced to ally with the Communists against the Japanese as a condition of his release.
The Chinese resistance stiffened after July 7, 1937, when a clash occurred between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing (then renamed Beiping) near the Marco Polo Bridge. This skirmish not only marked the beginning of open, though undeclared, war between China and Japan but also hastened the formal announcement of the second KMT-CPC united front against Japan. The collaboration took place with salutary effects for the beleaguered CPC. The distrust between the two parties, however, was scarcely veiled. The uneasy alliance began to break down after late 1938, despite Japan's steady territorial gains in northern China, the coastal regions, and the rich Chang Jiang Valley in central China. After 1940, conflicts between the Nationalists and Communists became more frequent in the areas not under Japanese control. The Communists expanded their influence wherever opportunities presented themselves through mass organizations, administrative reforms, and the land- and tax-reform measures favoring the peasants — while the Nationalists attempted to neutralize the spread of Communist influence.
In 1945 the Republic of China emerged from the war nominally a great military power but actually a nation economically prostrate and on the verge of all-out civil war. The economy deteriorated, sapped by the military demands of foreign war and internal strife, by spiraling inflation, and by Nationalist profiteering, speculation, and hoarding. Starvation came in the wake of the war, and millions were rendered homeless by floods and the unsettled conditions in many parts of the country. The situation was further complicated by an Allied agreement at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 that brought Soviet troops into Manchuria to hasten the termination of war against Japan. Although the Chinese had not been present at Yalta, they had been consulted; they had agreed to have the Soviets enter the war in the belief that the Soviet Union would deal only with the Nationalist government. After the war, the Soviet Union, as part of the Yalta agreement's allowing a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria, dismantled and removed more than half the industrial equipment left there by the Japanese. The Soviet presence in northeast China enabled the Communists to move in long enough to arm themselves with the equipment surrendered by the withdrawing Japanese army. The problems of rehabilitating the formerly Japanese-occupied areas and of reconstructing the nation from the ravages of a protracted war were staggering, to say the least.
Main article: Chinese Civil War
During World War II, the United States emerged as a major actor in Chinese affairs. As an ally it embarked in late 1941 on a program of massive military and financial aid to the hard-pressed Nationalist government. In January 1943 the United States and Britain led the way in revising their treaties with China, bringing to an end a century of unequal treaty relations. Within a few months, a new agreement was signed between the United States and Republic of China for the stationing of American troops in China for the common war effort against Japan. In December 1943 the Chinese exclusion acts of the 1880s and subsequent laws enacted by the United States Congress to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States were repealed.
The wartime policy of the United States was initially to help China become a strong ally and a stabilizing force in postwar East Asia. As the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists intensified, however, the United States sought unsuccessfully to reconcile the rival forces for a more effective anti-Japanese war effort. Toward the end of the war, United States Marines were used to hold Beiping (Beijing) and Tianjin against a possible Soviet incursion, and logistic support was given to Nationalist forces in north and northeast China.
Through the mediatory influence of the United States a military truce was arranged in January 1946, but battles between Nationalists and Communists soon resumed. Public opinion of administrative incompetence of the Nationalist government was escalated and incited by the Communists in the nationwide student protest against mishandling of a rape accusation in early 1947 and another national protest against monetary reforms later that year. Realizing that American efforts short of large-scale armed intervention could not stop the war, the United States withdrew the American mission, headed by General George C. Marshall, in early 1947. The Chinese civil war, in which the United States aided the Nationalists with massive economic loans but no military support, became more widespread. Battles raged not only for territories but also for the allegiance of cross sections of the population.
Belatedly, the Nationalist government sought to enlist popular support through internal reforms. The effort was in vain, however, because of the rampant corruption in government and the accompanying political and economic chaos. By late 1948 the Nationalist position was bleak. The demoralized and undisciplined Nationalist troops proved no match for the communist Red Army. The Communists were well established in the north and northeast. Although the Nationalists had an advantage in numbers of men and weapons, controlled a much larger territory and population than their adversaries, and enjoyed considerable international support, they were exhausted by the long war with Japan and the attendant internal responsibilities. In January 1949 Beiping was taken by the Communists without a fight, and its name changed back to Beijing. Between April and November, major cities passed from KMT to Communist control with minimal resistance. In most cases the surrounding countryside and small towns had come under Communist influence long before the cities. After Chiang Kai-shek and a few hundred thousand Nationalist troops and 2 million refugees, predominantly from the government and business community, fled from the mainland to the island of Taiwan, there remained only isolated pockets of resistance. In December 1949 Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan, the temporary capital of the Republic of China.
Rule on Taiwan
Tension between locals and mainlanders
After Japan's surrender in World War II, Nationalist rule began in October 1945. During the immediate postwar period, the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) administration on Taiwan was repressive and corrupt, leading to local discontent. Anti-mainlander violence flared on February 28, 1947, prompted by an incident in which a cigarette seller was injured and a passerby was shot to death by Nationalist authorities.
For several weeks after the February 28 Incident, the rebels held control of much of the island. Feigning negotiation the Nationalists assembled a large military force (carried on United States naval vessels) that attacked Taiwan killing many Taiwanese and imprisoning thousands of others. The killings were both random and premeditated as local elites or educated Taiwanese were sought out and disposed of. Many of the Taiwanese who had formed home rule groups under the Japanese were the victims of 228. This was followed by the "White Terror" in which many thousands of Taiwanese were imprisoned or executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang military regime, leaving many native Taiwanese with a deep-seated bitterness to the mainlanders.
However, the number of victims are still in dispute. Some say that as high as 30,000 Taiwanese were killed, while others say the majority killed were innocent civilians from the mainland. The number is still being researched upon as the government declassified sensitive material recently. The government also set up a reparation fund for the victims or the families of victims, of 228. However, as of right now, only a few hundred have come forward to claim the money even though the deadline was pushed several times. This furthermore casts doubts on the number of victims.
During the 1950s, the ROC government implemented a far-reaching and seemingly highly successful land reform program on Taiwan. They redistributed land among small farmers and compensated large landowners with commodities certificates and stock in state-owned industries. Although this left some large landowners impoverished, others turned their compensation into capital and started commercial and industrial enterprises. These entrepreneurs were to become Taiwan's first industrial capitalists. Together with refugee businessmen from the mainland, they managed Taiwan's transition from an agricultural to a commercial, industrial economy.
Taiwan's phenomenal economic development earned it a spot as one of the East Asian Tigers.
The 1970s saw a switch in diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China. After WWII, the Republic of China had been one of the founding members in the United Nations and held China's seat on the Security Council until 1971, when it was expelled by General Assembly Resolution 2758 and replaced in all UN organs with the People's Republic of China government. (Multiple attempts by the Republic of China to re-join the UN have not made it past committee. See China and the United Nations. ) Since the 1970s, the number of nations officially recognising the ROC has decreased to 27. The People's Republic of China refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any government which formally recognises the ROC, leading to a complex political status of Taiwan.
Chiang Kai-shek's eventual successor, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, began to liberalize Taiwan's political system. Events such as the Kaohsiung Incident in 1979 highlighted the need for change and groups like Amnesty International were mobilizing a campaign against the government and President Chiang Ching-kuo. In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was inaugurated as the first opposition party in the ROC to counter the KMT. A year later Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law. Chiang selected Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese technocrat, to be his Vice President. The move followed other reforms giving more power to the native Taiwanese and calmed anti-KMT sentiments.
After the 1988 death of Chiang Ching-kuo, his successor as President, Lee Teng-hui, continued to hand more government authority over to the native Taiwanese and democratize the government. Under Lee, Taiwan underwent a process of localization in which local culture and history was promoted over a pan-China viewpoint. Lee's reforms included printing banknotes from the Central Bank rather than the Provincial Bank of Taiwan, streamlining the Taiwan Provincial Government. Under Lee, the original members of the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly, elected in 1947 to represent mainland constituencies, were forced to resign in 1991. Restrictions on the use of Taiwanese in the broadcast media and in schools were lifted as well.
However, Lee failed to crack down on the massive corruption that developed under authoritarian KMT party rule. Many KMT loyalists feel Lee betrayed the R.O.C. by taking reforms too far, while other Taiwanese feel he did not take reforms far enough.
Lee ran as the incumbent in Taiwan's first direct presidential election against DPP candidate and former dissident, Peng Min-ming, which prompted the PRC to conduct a series of missile tests in the Taiwan Strait to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate. The aggressive tactic prompted U.S. President Clinton to invoke the Taiwan Relations Act and dispatch an aircraft carrier into the region off Taiwan's southern coast to monitor the situation.
One of Lee's final acts as president was to declare on German radio that the R.O.C. and the P.R.C. have a special state to state relationship. Lee's statement was met with the PRC's People's Liberation Army conducting military drills in Fujian and a frightening island-wide blackout in Taiwan, causing many to fear an attack.
In the 2000 presidential election marked the end to KMT rule. Opposition DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian won a three way race that saw the pro-reunification vote split by independent James Soong and KMT candidate Lien Chan. Chen garnered 39% of the vote.
Chen Shui-bian was re-elected by a narrow 0.2% of the vote the 2004 presidential election over KMT party Chairman Lien Chan, who had People First Party Chairman James Soong as his running mate. On the day before the election, both Chen and Vice President Annette Lu were shot while campaigning in Tainan. Their injuries were not life threatening, but the incident is believe to have gained them enough sympathy to influence the result. Lien refused to concede and mass protests were held throughout the following weeks.
- Timeline of Chinese history
- Timeline of Taiwanese history
- History of Taiwan
- Political status of Taiwan
- History of present-day nations and states