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Taiwan Cross-Strait Directory: Historical Precedents

Examines Taiwan-PRC relations in light of five themes -- political history, historical precedents, military affairs, trade and investment, and international organizations.

Constructing Historical Precedents

No matter how conscientious one is about claimed facts, history is used differently for different purposes. For example, exactly which people and what geographic area are meant if one states that 21st-century China is one country? How much precision is possible? How much is necessary? If one speak of China both as country and as a transnational civilization but without acknowledging the distinction, what possible confusion might that generate? What are meaningful standards for defining such concepts, and what is the evidence? What are the implications?

The Communist Party of China and, since 1949, the People's Republic of China has not consistently demanded that all territories previously dependent, intermittently dependent or tribute-bearing be politically incorporated into the PRC. The policy of the Communist Party towards Taiwan after it fell to Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi)'s Kuomintang in 1945 contrasts, on the one hand, with its recognition of national independence for Mongolia and other countries and, on the other hand, with military occupation of what became Xizang [Tibet] Autonomous Region, as well as the rest of traditional Tibet. Mao Zedong's unelaborated but favorable comment to interviewer Edgar Snow on the prospect of an independent Taiwan on 16 July 1936 suggest more varied possibilities (See Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China, Left Book Club ed. [London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1937], p. 102; later editions have different pagination).

Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong's "The Chinese Nation" (December 1939) matter-of-factly referred to China's border with the "Mongolian People's Republic in the North" (Chapter 1, p. 305), even though Mongolia had seceded from China just eighteen years earlier. By 1941 if not earlier, Mao was not repeating his remarkable 1936 statement. According to Edgar Snow three decades later, Mao didn't quite mean what Snow said his translator said in 1936 (Cf. Red Star Over China, 1st revised and enlarged edition [New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1968], p. 421, n. 2.)

In contradistinction, “although the Chinese government today could construct a robust argument, filled with all sorts of facts, to support a claim to Vietnam, it does not do so. [China] does not do so because, one assumes, it realizes that pre-modern and modern notions of sovereignty are different. Putting aside all of Vietnam, it does not even make a claim to what is now the province of Ha Tien, even though this province was once a principality settled by Ming loyalists” (Shawn McHale, “China, Tibet and . . Vietnam??  Another perspective,” H-ASIA, 11 April 2008). Even though Vietnam paid tribute to China much longer than the period during Taiwan was directly administered by China, will that logic be publicly used to evaluate Beijing-Taipei relations?

During and after his successful 1999-2000 presidential election campaign, Chen Shui-bian proposed confederacy (joint rule) with China (former link= However, the PRC has not yet publicly responded favorably to specific confederal proposals. Nonetheless, in July 2001, the Kuomintang also advocated a form of confederacy -- only to be rejected by the PRC (former link=

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Content Author: Vincent Kelly Pollard
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Last Modified: 01-Mar-2023 09:42 HST