Last month, Beijing and Taipei commemorated the 70th year of Taiwan’s emancipation from Japanese colonial rule. While it was the Republic of China that received the instrument of surrender from Japan in Taipei in 1945, the People’s Republic of China, which didn’t exist then but is now recognised by most as the successor state to the Republic of China and the Qing dynasty before that, saw fit to celebrate the anniversary and reiterate its opposition to formal independence for Taiwan.
The mainland cannot tolerate Taiwan’s secession partly because of the implications the breakaway of a Han-Chinese majority island might have for restive regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang.
Yet, formal Han Chinese rule came late in history. Pockets of Chinese colonists in Taiwan and Chinese administration of the nearby Penghu archipelago notwithstanding, it was only in 1662, when pirate-turned-Ming-loyalist Zheng Chenggong (better known as Koxinga) defeated the Dutch rulers, that Taiwan was administered by a centralised Han Chinese government.
The Manchu Qing dynasty, which had conquered the mainland decades earlier, invaded Taiwan in 1683 and the Zheng regime surrendered. There were proposals to abandon the island but the Kangxi Emperor decided to keep it as a prefecture of Fujian province. Two centuries later, in 1895, a modernising Japan took Taiwan as part of the spoils of its war against the enfeebled Qing dynasty, an event still considered by most Chinese as abject national humiliation.