The existence of two Chinese states—one controlling mainland China, the other controlling the island of Taiwan—is often understood as a seemingly inevitable outcome of the Chinese civil war. Defeated by Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan to establish a rival state, thereby creating the “Two Chinas” dilemma that vexes international diplomacy to this day. Accidental State challenges this conventional narrative to offer a new perspective on the founding of modern Taiwan.
Hsiao-ting Lin marshals extensive research in recently declassified archives to show that the creation of a Taiwanese state in the early 1950s owed more to serendipity than careful geostrategic planning. It was the cumulative outcome of ad hoc half-measures and imperfect compromises, particularly when it came to the Nationalists’ often contentious relationship with the United States.
Taiwan’s political status was fraught from the start. The island had been formally ceded to Japan after the First Sino–Japanese War, and during World War II the Allies promised Chiang that Taiwan would revert to Chinese rule after Japan’s defeat. But as the Chinese civil war turned against the Nationalists, U.S. policymakers reassessed the wisdom of backing Chiang. The idea of placing Taiwan under United Nations trusteeship gained traction. Cold War realities, and the fear of Taiwan falling into Communist hands, led Washington to recalibrate U.S. policy. Yet American support of a Taiwan-based Republic of China remained ambivalent, and Taiwan had to eke out a place for itself in international affairs as a de facto, if not fully sovereign, state.
Hsiao-ting Lin is a research fellow and curator of the East Asia Collection at the Hoover Institution. He holds a BA in political science from National Taiwan University (1994) and an MA in international law and diplomacy from National Chengchi University in Taiwan (1997). He received his DPhil in oriental studies in 2003 from the University of Oxford, where he also held an appointment as tutorial fellow in modern Chinese history. In 2003–4, Lin was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California at Berkeley. In 2004, he was awarded the Kiriyama Distinguished Fellowship by the Center for the Pacific Rim, University of San Francisco. In 2005–7, he was a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he participated in Hoover’s Modern China Archives and Special Collections project. In April 2008, Lin was elected a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for his contributions to the studies of modern China’s history.
Lin’s academic interests include ethnopolitics and minority issues in greater China, border strategies and defenses in modern China, political institutions and the bureaucratic system of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), and US-Taiwan military and political relations during the Cold War. He has published extensively on modern Chinese and Taiwanese politics, history, and ethnic minorities, including Accidental State: Chiang Kai-shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan (Harvard University Press, 2016); Modern China’s Ethnic Frontiers: A Journey to the West (Routledge, 2011); Breaking with the Past: The Kuomintang Central Reform Committee on Taiwan, 1950–52 (Hoover Press, 2007); Tibet and Nationalist China’s Frontier: Intrigues and Ethnopolitics, 1928–49 (UBC Press, 2006), nominated as the best study in the humanities at the 2007 International Convention of Asia Scholars; and over a hundred journal articles, book chapters, edited volumes, reviews, opinion pieces, and translations. He is currently at work on a manuscript that reevaluates Taiwan’s relations with China and the United States during the presidency of Harry Truman to that of Jimmy Carter.
This event is sponsored by the Taiwan Democracy Project in the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. It is free and open to the public, and lunch will be served. Please RSVP by November 28.