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So, Taiwan Has Been Chinese For Two Millennia? Let’s Check the History

Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan Island on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan. Pingtan Island is part of Fujian Province and one of China's closest points to Taiwan. (Hector Retamal/AFP
Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan Island on August 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan. Pingtan Island is part of Fujian Province and one of China's closest points to Taiwan. (Hector Retamal/AFP
Qin Gang

Qin Gang

Chinese ambassador to the United States

“Taiwan has been an inseparable part of China’s territory for 1,800 years.”


U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial August 2 visit to democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, sparked Beijing’s fury.

Her brief stop in Taipei during an Asia tour defied Beijing’s threats of “consequences.” Pelosi said she wanted to show U.S. determination to “preserve democracy” in Taiwan.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (L) joined Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei on August 3, 2022. (Handout/Taiwan Presidential Office/AFP)
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (L) joined Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei on August 3, 2022. (Handout/Taiwan Presidential Office/AFP)

The U.S. has a one-China policy, under which Washington recognizes the communist government in Beijing as “the sole legal government of China” but leaves the status of Taiwan undetermined while only “acknowledg[ing]” Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China.

On August 4, The Washington Post published an op-ed by China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, titled “Why China objects to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.” The piece rehashed Beijing’s talking points on Taiwan and made this false claim:

“Taiwan has been an inseparable part of China’s territory for 1,800 years.”


The statement appears to be based on the first recorded contact between China and Taiwan in 230 A.D., when a Chinese emperor sent an expedition from the mainland to explore the island.

That exploration did not bring the island under Chinese rule.

The expedition was described in the "Records of the Three Kingdoms", a Chinese historical text that covers the 220-280 A.D. period. Referring to two islands, the text says:

“In 230 A.D., [Sun Quan, Lord of Wu, one of the three kingdoms] assigned General Wei Wen and General Zhuge Zhi to lead 10,000 soldiers to explore Yizhou and Danzhou by sea … Danzhou … was very far away and was not reached in the end, but they brought back several thousand people from Yizhou.”

Historians still debate the exact locations of Yizhou and Danzhou. Most believe Yizhou is modern-day Taiwan and that Danzhou falls within the territory of modern-day Japan.

According to the "Cambridge History of China", Sun Quan, who declared himself Emperor of Wu in 229, sought “opportunities to expand his imperial sway.” That 10,000-person mission to Yizhou was one of several expeditions he dispatched.

“These ventures, however, had limited success: the gains from Taiwan did not match the cost,” the Cambridge account says.

“[N]othing ever came of it,” wrote John Sullivan, a former U.S. Army China Foreign Area Officer and expert in ancient Chinese military texts. “No permanent base was established, nor were any continuous trade or diplomatic missions maintained.”

So much for being part of the Wu Kingdom.

Beijing has long held the official view that “Taiwan has belonged to China since ancient times,” but Taiwan did not actually come under Chinese administration until the 17th century.

Portuguese explorers arrived in the region by the 16th century and dubbed Taiwan "Ilha Formosa" (“beautiful island”), but it was the Dutch who gained a foothold there.

In 1624, they established the Dutch India Company in Taiwan. China then was ruled by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.).

“In fact, the Dutch – who had established a small fortress in the Pescadores in 1622 – were told by the Ming Tianqi Emperor that they should ‘go beyond our territory,’ so the Dutch moved to what was then called Formosa, and ruled the island for 38 years, establishing the first administrative structure on Taiwan,” wrote former Dutch diplomat Gerrit van der Wees.

“Thus, it certainly was never part of the Ming Dynasty,” he said.

The Pescadores, also known as the Penghu, is an archipelago in the Taiwan Strait between China and Taiwan.

Dutch rule ended in 1662, during China’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.), at the hands of a Ming loyalist, Koxinga. Leading an army of 400 ships and 25,000 men, Koxinga fled the Qing Dynasty and sailed to the Dutch fortress Zeelandia.

He expelled the Dutch from the island by force and established rule by his family, known as the Kingdom of Tungning, in the southwestern corner of Taiwan in 1662.

The Koxinga regime lasted only 21 years. In 1683, the Qing emperor Kangxi “authorized the military conquest of the island to deny this base of operation” to the rebellious Ming loyalists, wrote Sullivan. “But it was never considered of any strategic importance to the Qing beyond this function.”

“In 1683, the Kangxi Emperor said specifically that ‘Taiwan is outside our empire and of no great consequence’ and even offered to have the Dutch buy it back,” wrote van der Wees.

British historian Bill Hayton wrote in August 2022 that “even after its partial annexation in 1684, the Qing treated the island as a dangerous frontier, notable mainly for its wild ‘aborigines’ and deadly diseases.”

In any case, 1684 marked the beginning of more than 200 years of Qing rule over Taiwan.

“But under Qing rule there were a total of more than 100 recorded rebellions, some requiring more than 50,000 troops to put down,” van der Wees added. “The population considered the Manchu very much as a foreign colonial regime; there was no appetite for being part of China.”

In fact, Taiwan didn’t become a formal province of China until the late Qing Dynasty in 1887, two years after the end of Sino-French war, “in which control of the island’s ports had become strategically important,” wrote Hayton.

Qing rule ended after the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. After losing and signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan to imperial Japan, “in perpetuity and full sovereignty.”

Taiwanese people organized resistance to Japanese colonial rule and declared an independent Formosa Republic that was short-lived.

While there was fierce and consistent rebellion by the local Hoklo, Hakka and aborigine populations against the strict Japanese colonial rule, “the Japanese did much to improve infrastructure, building roads, railroads, harbors, hospitals, and schools,” wrote van der Wees.

According to Hayton, the Chinese showed no appetite to “restore” Taiwan to mainland control during the Japanese rule.

“Even the nationalist revolutionary Sun Yat-sen ignored [Taiwan’s] plight. He used the island as a revolutionary base during his campaign to overthrow the Qing Empire, but did nothing to try to foment anti-Japanese activity there,” Hayton wrote. “For the (Chinese) Nationalists, Taiwan had been lost and that was that.”

The loss of Taiwan was written into China’s new constitution after the Nationalist Revolution of 1911-12, Hayton noted.

“Article 3 stated simply: ‘The territory of the Chinese Republic consists of 22 provinces, Inner and Outer Mongolia, and Tibet,’” Hayton wrote. “The choice of ‘22’ provinces explicitly excluded the former province of Taiwan. This vision of China’s territory, one limited to the mainland, was printed on all the country’s maps throughout the Twenties and Thirties. Taiwan was not part of the country.”

Historians have also argued that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shared the same view of Taiwan until after the 1943 Cairo Conference, a meeting between the heads of the United States, the Republic of China (ROC) and Great Britain “to discuss the progress of the war against Japan and the future of Asia.”

Then, both the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government of the ROC and the CCP reversed their positions on Taiwan and claimed that Taiwan should be “returned to China.” The Cairo Declaration “pledged to continue the war against Japan and to eject the Japanese forces from all the territories it had conquered, including the Chinese territories.”

“[The CCP] reversed positions by disavowing Taiwanese ethnic ‘separateness’ and rejecting the independence of political movements on the island,’” wrote historians Frank Hsiao and Lawrence Sullivan in their 1979 peer-reviewed paper about the CCP’s change of position after 1943.

Japan gave up Taiwan after its 1945 defeat and surrender in World War II.

“During the period 1945-1949, Taiwan was officially considered ‘occupied by the ROC on behalf of the Allied Forces,’” wrote van der Wees.

The KMT government “itself took the position that Taiwan had been ‘returned’ to China” on October 25, 1945, but the U.S. government “had not taken the position that during the period ‘Taiwan was part of China,’” said van der Wees.

In 1949, the KMT, after suffering heavy losses against the CCP forces, fled the Chinese mainland and retreated to Taiwan. The CCP then founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and claimed Taiwan as its territory that must be “reunited.”

The KMT declared martial law in Taiwan in 1949 and maintained authoritarian rule over the island until Taiwan’s democratic transformation in the early 1990s. has previously reported on the status of Taiwan and the U.S. government’s stance on the issue.