In 1949, China turned red. The CPC took the country and the KMT fled to Taiwan. Since then, the blue flag of KMT has never fluttered in mainland China again. Of course the CPC did not want to stop. However, the first a few attempts of taking back Taiwan by force failed, because the Taiwan Strait is too wide for wooden boats, which are the only things the PLA had. Then in 1950, due to the outbreak of the Korean War, most of the PLA were moved to the north. Thus, the only window to unify the country by force was closed.
Although there were several crises involving military actions afterwards, both sides were more showing a gesture than really trying to take down the other. Among those military actions, there was a very interesting battle, the “823 Artillery Bombardment”, which created a new kind of warfare. In this 21-year bombardment, except the first a few weeks, both sides always informed the other before the artilleries fired. Can you imagine that, “People on the other side, please hide. We are about to fire.” In the end, they even fired propaganda flyers instead of artillery shells. Chinese killing each other? Nah, we had enough.
Most of the people know that in the first a few decades after the war, China was not doing well. There were many attempts to boost the economy. However, most of them failed, including the Great Leap Forward, which was a total disaster. At that time, the whole country was to be industrialized. And people were aiming at one single number, which was supposedly the indicator of industrialization, the amount of iron and steel production. When every man and woman got obsessed by this number, they started to throw their frying pan into the flame and enjoy watching the melted iron coming out of the furnace. Of course, this iron would probably be used to make a frying pan. Immediately after the Great Leap Forward, came the “Three Years of Difficult Period”, which is a nicer official name for a famine. Even the most conservative estimation shows that there were more than 10 million people died of starvation. My father told me many stories about how he survived that period, and how someone else didn’t. There wasn’t a single sign that says this country would dominate the world’s economy in only 50 years.
On the other side of the strait, Taiwan was doing well, at least with its economy. In 1949, shortly after retreating to Taiwan, Chen Cheng, the Taiwan Garrison Commander, announced the “Martial Law of Taiwan Province”. Before being lifted in 1987, this world’s longest martial law had lasted for more than 38 years. This period is often referred as the White Terror, but even that couldn’t stop people in Taiwan to make money. From 1950s, Taiwan kept a GDP growth rate higher than 8% for more than 30 years. The whole island was transformed from farmland left by the Japanese to a big industrial park. The success of Taiwan partially owned to all the gold that KMT took from mainland. But more importantly, the people following KMT.
The success of CPC is partially due to its land policies, taking back the land owned by landlords and redistributing them to farmers. Therefore, it is supported by the majority of the farmers. In contrary, most of the supporters of KMT were city inhabitants. Some of them, especially the elite ones who had enough money or power and presumably well educated, followed KMT to Taiwan. These people later became a valuable asset to Taiwan.
Instead of radical “leap forward”, KMT government did some right things. One of them is the compulsory education implemented in 1960s. Through compulsory education, Taiwan accumulated the human resources, which were the key factor of its economic miracle. On the other side of the strait, compulsory education has been written into the constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1982, and never fully implemented before 2007.
Full of passion yet lack of knowledge, eager of development yet everything dictated by ideology, dared to challenge both of the super powers yet had trouble to feed its own people. That was a unique era of mainland China.
At the end of 1970s, when people in Taiwan enjoyed the wealth and prosperity they had created, people in mainland was suffering from poverty. However, on another stage, mainland China was gaining ground. In 1971, when the Americans found out China was having the worst time with its old alliance, the Soviet Union, they decided to get the enemy of the enemy onto their side, by offering a seat in the United Nation. From that day on, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the “Republic of China (ROC)” (Taiwan) has become a ministry of terminating diplomatic relations. Only a handful of banana republics and Vatican chose to recognize the “ROC” and ignore over a billion people on the other side of the strait.
Despite the unbalanced economy and politics, CPC and KMT governments each claimed there was only one China, and it was indisputably the only lawful government of China, respectively. The official territory of the “ROC” is even bigger. Of course, it exists only on paper. In 1975, Chiang Kai-shek, the party boss of KMT and president of “ROC”, died. Even today, his coffin still remains unburied in a temporary mausoleum, waiting to be buried in the soil of Nanjing, the theoretic capital city of “ROC”, supposedly after the KMT retake the mainland.