Two current democracies, Mongolia and Taiwan, opposites in size and population, have a strange, intertwined past. Mongolia is now the world’s 19th largest state in area, but ranks 140th in population. Diminutive Taiwan barely makes 137th by area, yet it ranks 51st in population. However, their polar fate runs deeper and involves a shifting relationship vis-a-vis the nebulous character of what is or can be defined as “one China.”
The current twist in this relationship started in 1911. At that time, the island of Taiwan was part of Japan, but on the Asian continent, a developing Republic of China (ROC) — one which would ironically later be forced to seek refuge in Taiwan — declared a rebellious independence from the Manchu Qing Empire.
As the Qing Empire broke apart, Mongolia followed suit and declared independence from China. Unfortunately, it soon found that the formative ROC claimed Mongolia as part of its territory. ROC forces invaded Mongolia. Russia, which would have its own revolution in 1917, stepped in and ironically became responsible for making Mongolia the independent nation it is today. Aided first by White Russians against the Chinese and then by Red Russians, Mongolia broke free and declared a second independence in 1921.
Another player, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), founded in 1921, would soon enter and have a part in this developing scenario. The CCP became involved in an on-again, off-again civil war with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for control of China. They won that civil war and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. While the KMT’s ROC retreated to Taiwan, the PRC ruled China and, despite its 1921 origin, would still trace its roots to the 1911 uprising.
To complicate matters for Mongolia and Taiwan, a cliched canard of Han hegemony developed and has been used against each at different times by PRC and/or ROC proponents. That cliche would claim that Mongolia and Taiwan are “inalienable parts of China,” parts of the “motherland from time immemorial.”
If one would pursue this twisted form of logic, Mongolia might have the “greater claim” to be a “time immemorial part of China.” For after Genghis Khan unified the Mongols in 1206, he and his successors went on to conquer China and numerous other lands, creating an empire that stretched from the Korean Penninsula to the area now known as Budapest in Hungary.
When that empire was split into four Khanates, Kublai Khan eventually rose to take over the Khanate over eastern Asia. It included China, where it became known as the Yuan Dynasty. So was that Mongolia or China?
The Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) rose within that Mongol Khanate and chased the Mongols back to their steppes. Mongolia and Ming China then continued in separate existence and at war with each other. However, in 1644, the Manchus entered the picture. They conquered China, as well as Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia, and founded the Manchu Empire and its Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911).
And what about Taiwan? This island, which had been appearing on the maps of many different nations for some time, had been a haven for fishermen, pirates and those who traded with its Aborigines. After a battle between the Dutch and Ming China over Penghu, Taiwan’s subsequent colonization began in 1624. It would suffer the Dutch, the Spanish and finally Zheng Chenggong’s (鄭成功) — better known as Koxinga (國姓爺) — Ming loyalists as they fled the Manchus.