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The BBC's Carrie Gracie
"It was Taiwan's fate to become a pawn in a bigger game"
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The BBC's Francis Marcus in Taipei
"They planned some day to reconquer the mainland"
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Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 09:51 GMT
Taiwan's 50th anniversary
Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek: Claimed to be China's rightful ruler
By Francis Markus in Taipei

Taiwan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government to the island after defeat by Mao's forces in the Chinese civil war.

As city after city on the Chinese mainland fell to Mao's victorious forces, hundreds of thousands of nationalist troops and refugees streamed across the Taiwan Strait to this island, which had been an outpost of the Ching dynasty and then a Japanese colony for 50 years.

They officially transferred the KMT government to what they hoped and believed would be a temporary capital, Taipei.

The plan was to some day to reconquer the mainland - but 50 years on they are still here.

Tiger economy

There are grounds for celebration.

By any standards, the island's economy has blossomed into a spectacular success story.

After nearly four decades of martial law ending in 1987, Taiwan is one of Asia's most vigorous democracies.

The ruling party has gradually been trying to transform itself from an alien elite into a group more representative of the majority of Taiwan's population, descended from those who came not with Chiang Kai-shek but hundreds of years ago.

shoppers in taiwan
Many Taiwanese enjoy a high standand of living
But for all that, the KMT's record in power remains a mixed one.

Critics charge the government with decades of repression and distortion of Taiwan's cultural identity.

They say the KMT has managed to cling to power not so much by competence as by corrupt and shady dealings.

And the real issue of what the future holds for Taiwan is as unclear now as it was in 1949.

The biggest challenge facing Taiwan's rulers as they head into the new millennium is how to handle the tension between the island's growing sense of its own identity, and China's determination to regain control of what it still sees as a rebel province.

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10 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
China bares fangs at Taiwan
20 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
Understanding Taiwan's tactics
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