If you were to receive a receipt in Taiwan today, the date would be marked with the year 109. It will be 109 when Taiwan holds its presidential and legislative election in what we might call 2020. That’s because it marks 109 years since the declaration of the Republic of China (ROC), the state created in the first Chinese Revolution in 1911.
This is just the first of many absurdities that mark the political existence of Taiwan. In 1911, when the republic was declared, Taiwan was not part of China but known as Japanese Formosa, a colony. And in 1945, after Japan lost the Second World War, and Taiwan with it, the Kuomintang (KMT) took over Taiwan and its 6 million residents. The KMT fled to the island four years later upon its defeat in the Chinese Civil War.
The KMT believed it would one day retake mainland China, and the ROC constitution that governs Taiwan – which was Japanese when the constitution was written – continues to reflect this outdated belief. Any move to adjust the constitution to reflect Taiwan’s political reality would be treated as a provocation by Beijing.
Fifteen countries officially recognise Taiwan as an independent country, but the United Nations has accepted that Beijing, as the capital of the People’s Republic of China (which has never controlled Taiwan), speaks for the island. Herein lies another absurdity: 23 million citizens travel the world on a Taiwanese passport – which is far more widely accepted than a Chinese passport, for example – but they cannot enter a UN building with one, even as a tourist.