Pop-culture tries to stay oblivious to politics and history, which is hard, especially in such volatile region as East Asia, where every country is hating its neighbors, while maintaining diplomatic, economic and cultural relationship. Russia and Japan still do not have peace treaty signed, ending the WWII, North Korea and South Korea are in the same situation since 1953 having only signed the armistice, North Korea kidnapped Japanese citizens and some never returned, S. Korea and Japan fight over Dokdo/Takeshima, China and Japan fight over Diaoyu/Senkaku and Taiwan was erased from world maps in 1972.
That's why I love history. It helps to understand the dynamics in some regions or countries, it provides a background to what is happening now, in 21st century. But the tricky part with the history is this: it's always written by the victors, so one needs to be extra critical when it comes to the sources. It helps to read from various perspectives, even if it's a little tiring. In the latest spat over a tiny flag held by a tiny girl, no side is without a fault.
The latest whirlpool of opinions and stances can be divided into two groups: pro-China and pro-Taiwan. But truthfully, the problem is much deeper and murkier than it initially appears to be.
Among the Han ethnic group that lives on this tiny island, around ~14% are classified as Waishengren (such as the former President Ma Ying-jeou). This signifies those who came to Taiwan after the war, when the Communists won in the mainland China. Since they belonged mostly to GMD, they formed the administrative and parliamentary majority in the country, hence there was a streak of dissatisfaction with the party. And of course those post-1945 incomers are not liked in every circle.
First Chinese settlers were brought to the island in 1624 by Dutch, who claimed it as their territory. They were supposed to work at sugar cane fields and factories. Things get wider here - since the 17th century, Tokugawa in Japan banned all foreigners to come to Japan, except for Dutch (and small number of British, Chinese and Koreans), so the trade was mostly done through Dutch companies. Japan got introduced to sugar and it turned out that the country liked it, however had no ways to produce it - hence the Dutch monopolized the sugar trade with Japan. Almost all sugar imported to Japan came from Dutch factories on Formosa.
However, the Spanish also wanted this tiny island, being in a nice place between Philippines and China. So some fights erupted.
Meanwhile, 17th century marks the bumpy transition of power in China too - the Ming dynasty was waning and power hungry Qing dynasty was waxing. Qing had problems especially on the South, because that's where the Ming loyalists’ lairs were and where people resisted Qing the most. The island was mentioned earlier in Chinese chronicles of the Sui dynasty, and troops from Wu kingdom earlier visited it, but no claims were made.
Long story short, Formosa became a nice place for all dissidents. Earlier, no Chinese kingdom was even remotely interested in the island because it quickly became a safe haven for all local pirates (including Japanese ones). When it became obvious that the island may become the stronghold of the resistance against Ming, the government decided on the incorporation of it into the Empire. It was the year of 1683. (I didn't mention the Zheng family rule over the island, because it's not important now).
The Qing officially nominated and sent governors of the island, however they were hated by the locals, both of Han and aboriginal origins. Qing had formal control over the island, but never really wanted it, treating it as some kind of a hot potato.
After Sino-Japanese war in 1894, Taiwan was handed to Japanese Empire as a part of the treaty of Shimonoseki deal. The next 50 years mark the Japanese occupation of the island, ended in 1945.
The war left the country completely ruined, with inflation reaching over 3000% (yes, I did not make a mistake). After the WWII, more and more people were fleeing the civil war in China to avoid the crushing dominance of the Communist Party. After the war, Jiǎng Jièshí (Chiang Kai-shek) came with Guomindang party elite. However, since 1945 they did not do anything to improve the economy, so the dissatisfaction among people grew with every day. To step down on the murmurs of the resistance, Jiǎng Jièshí started a martial law (which ended in 1986) giving birth to the period of “White Terror”. The so called “228 Incident” started the massacre of civilians, real or imagined opposition, anyone who had any ties to Japanese occupation period, educated people and basically everyone who was not with Jiǎng Jièshí.
Next decades show a strikingly similar fate to that of South Korea – the country was under a military rule, and thanks to neglecting every basic human rights, both countries managed to emerge from the post-WWII disaster (or Korean War, in the S.K. case).
Up until 1971 Taiwan was the sole representative of the whole China, however it was expelled from the UN the same year, following the recognition of Beijing as the capital of People’s Republic of China, not Taipei. In 1979, USA severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The country was renounced by the vast majority of the world countries (it’s recognized as a country only by a handful of other countries, and in Europe only Vatican did that).
1992 – year of signing so called “1992 Consensus”: as a part of “one country two systems” model, rejected by every party except for GMD, widely accepted by PRC. Which isn’t perceived as a consensus at all. More about it in this pdf article. Mainland China claims 1992 Consensus maintains status-quo, however eventually leads to the unification, and under President’s Ma term, the shift to that was fairly visible. So visible, we had students’ demonstrations (Sunflower Students Movement) and building occupations against this policy. Taiwan, having well developed civil society, being among the countries with the best free speech journalism level, education level (kids have to learn one additional language from any of 14 recognized ethnic minority group, ie), economic freedom, health care, is not overly thrilled to be part of China where journalists and artists disappear every so often.
2005 – Anti-secession law in PRC. It states: “Taiwan is part of China. The state shall never allow the "Taiwan independence" secessionist forces to make Taiwan secede from China under any name or by any means.” Basically, Beijing threatens to attack if Taiwan proclaims the independence. More here.
So here’s the background of the issue that’s been going on for over a week now. 16-yo girl holding a Taiwan flag was seen as the “independence supporter” and the whole shitstorm started. Of course, Chinese market is incomparably bigger and more lucrative than Taiwanese, so JYP had to salvage the company’s soft power export and sacrificed one girl in, what Washington Post called, a “humiliating apology”. Taiwanese consider themselves Taiwanese, not Chinese. The independence issue was diplomatically muted whenever cooperation was involved, especially when it comes to soft power. Many artists just don't speak openly about it, knowing it can be used against the whole country. China banned some Taiwanese artists from venturing into Chinese market just for that. I highly doubt Tzuyu would hold a flag on her own, it was handed to her by some from the staff during the shooting. Entertainers always tread on thin ice around political issues and I believe she would also. The company messed up and when the whole issue was blown to the gargantuan proportions, they just used her as a scapegoat to save whatever they could for the future contracts.
Which just proved JYP company is dumb as fuck.
There is no one good solution to that.
Taiwan’s fresh President-elect, Tsai Ing-wen, often criticized “one China” and “1992 Consensus” policy and opposed President Ma on various occasions. She’s an awesome, admirable woman to just add. And now, given her own background, the relationship of the countries on the both sides of the Taiwan Strait will be tense. Because China warns on Taiwan independence after election.
Apologies for some wikipedia links, since no one seems to be writing decent articles on some issues :(
This is just an outline, I provided some links to deepen the understanding of the situation. Or you can read some books about the issues here. Taiwan considers Taipei to be the capital of the whole China, and Beijing considers itself to be the capital of the whole China. The world doesn't consider Taiwan to be an independent country. Taiwan recognized Kosovo, and moments later, Kosovo didn't recognize Taiwan. Olympic Committee recognizes Chinese Taipei instead.
The situation is really murky.