China has a magnificent civilization that dates back at least 4000 years. Although the infra-structure in many parts of the Chinese mainland today remains underdeveloped, the country is now emerging and looks to become an ambitious superpower in the 21st century and as a new economic powerhouse in Asia. Since undergoing economic reform in the 1980s, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has transformed itself into a vibrant export economy that supplies the world with textiles, toys, household electronics and many other products.
Today, the PRC is a country of great contrasts. It is a developing country where many people in rural areas subsist on an income of less than US＄ 1 a day, but is also as a nuclear power and a member of the exclusive club of nations with a manned space program. China is seen by some as a huge market and land of opportunity but regarded by others as a threat to the Asia-Pacific region and world peace—the PRC’s new economic and military might also creates concerns about a shift in the balance of power in East Asia, with worries particularly prevalent in Japan and the US.
The rise of the PRC has resulted in an enormous demand for information about the country, its people, rulers, history and culture. This book presents basic information and the most relevant data about the greater China area in a single volume. It focuses on the China mainland (under administration of the PRC) and the Taiwan area (under administration of the Republic of China, abbrev. ROC), since the mainstream culture in both the PRC and the ROC is unquestionably Chinese. To make this comprehensive reference book more useful, I have added traditional Chinese characters for all important terms as well as personal and geographical names.
Many important aspects of China and its culture, like history, arts or religion, certainly deserve a much more detailed description than the cursory glance this book provides, but since I am trying to offer a general, brief introduction to all aspects, I had to focus on the most basic content.
Why “Greater China”?
The political conflict that has existed across in the Taiwan Strait for decades proves that interpreting the term “China” is not easy—China is not only a geographical term, but also has political and cultural connotations. Over many years it has become common practice to use the word “China” as a substitute for the PRC and vice versa. Although this is convenient, it remains a fact that the PRC is not completely identical with China. Tibet and Xinjiang are controlled by the PRC government, but a majority of the population in those places is not ethnic Chinese, and the mainstream culture in these two regions is not Chinese either. Tibet and Xinjiang were in-corporated into the Qing empire through an imperialist policy that was continued by the Chinese communists. On the other hand, Taiwan is culturally part of China, but not a province of the PRC.
Despite the fact that there are two states governing the greater China area, most available reference books about China deal with the PRC only. The political rift between the PRC and the ROC, combined with Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation in the international arena, seems sufficient reason to many authors to exclude Taiwan from books about China. The title of my book “The Greater China Factbook” indicates that its content is not exclusively about the PRC, but also in-cludes Taiwan. I chose the term “greater China” instead of “China” deliberately to avoid mis-understandings, because the rulers of the PRC and the ROC disagree about the meaning of terms like “China” or “nation”. For the PRC, China includes Taiwan—“there is only one China in the
world, Taiwan Province is an integral part of the territory of the PRC”, as Beijing puts it. Supporters of Taiwan independence, on the other hand, object to the claim that Taiwan belongs to China, and they promote the establishment of a Taiwanese nation.
Taiwan’s relations with China have been difficult since 1945. After the end of Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945) when Taiwan became a part of the ROC, the people who had lived on the island for generations initially welcomed the Chinese government but before long grew deeply dissatisfied with the rule of the KMT, as it was corrupt and oppressive. Since the 2-28 uprising in 1947 and the decade of bloody repression (sometimes referred to as “white terror”) that followed, a deep rift had grown between Taiwanese and the mainlanders living on the island.
Since the 1970s the PRC has been continually pressuring Taiwan and maneuvering to isolate the ROC internationally, an approach that has failed to generate a desire among the people of Taiwan to unite with the mainland. In fact, the biggest factor contributing to the growth of the Taiwan independence movement is probably Beijing’s policy towards Taiwan, and surveys have shown a growing number of people in Taiwan regard themselves not as Chinese, but as both Chinese and Taiwanese or as Taiwanese only, a sign that they are developing their own identity to differentiate themselves from people on the mainland. As the communist regime continues to ignore the progressing democratization of the ROC and the feelings of the people in Taiwan, the future task of actually integrating Taiwan and China will prove to be extremely complicated, should Beijing ever gain control over the island without first changing its attitude and authoritarian system.
Some readers, especially those favoring Taiwan independence, may resent the inclusion of Taiwan in a book about China and the listing of Taiwan among the Chinese provinces. They should understand that this book is definitely not a statement about the “Taiwan question”, because it’s not I, but the people of Taiwan, who should have the last word in decisions about political unification between Taiwan and China or the declaration of an independent state. Yet regardless of the political factors, it is undeniable that the majority of people living in Taiwan today have ethnic, cultural and linguistic roots in Mainland China (although it can be argued that people who have a shared culture and shared ethnic origin do not necessarily have to belong politically to one nation-state). Since the culture and the language of China and Taiwan are so closely connected, a work about China like this one must not omit Taiwan. However, this book does not advocate the PRC’s “one China” principle either: Although Taiwan is culturally a part of China, it is not a part of the PRC, and according to surveys the majority of the people living in Taiwan—which is becoming a vibrant and contentious democracy—do not want Taiwan to be annexed by the non-democratic PRC.
Other readers might believe that this book focuses too much on Taiwan or that Taiwan is getting much more attention here than other provinces like, say, Anhui or Zhejiang. They should consider that in the world’s media and in most publications Taiwan is often neglected or ignored. The inclusion of facts and details about Taiwan in this book is an attempt to address that common imbalance. Ignoring Taiwan also risks a description of the cross-strait tensions that will represent the PRC’s version of the issues instead of providing a multi-faceted analysis.
This book is intended to be non-partisan, so inevitably supporters of the CCP, the KMT/“blue camp” or the DPP/“green camp” will find content they might not like or agree with; I am aware that I cannot please everybody. For me, facts matter more than considerations of political correctness in the PRC, the ROC, or elsewhere.
As this book went to press, relations between China and Taiwan were still tense. It is impossible to predict the future development of cross-strait relations and whether that path will eventually lead to unification or to Taiwan’s independence, but I sincerely hope a peaceful solution will be found that will ultimately benefit the people living in the Taiwan area. I also hope that the reader, irrespective of his or her political opinion, regards this book as what it is supposed to be—a useful tool, a comprehensive database and a rich source of information about the greater China area.
． provides comprehensive information about China’s population, geography, politics, economy, history, the Chinese zodiac and lunar calendar, weights and measures, and many other topics
． is subdivided into four parts—China today, the Chinese provinces, China’s history, and the Appendix
．contains all important terms as well as personal and geographical names with their Chinese names in both traditional characters and Hanyu Pinyin
． comprises 685 pages and 54 maps ‧ includes data and information about mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau
． is an indispensable, well-organized, and user-friendly reference for sinologists, businesspeople, tourists, and any-body interested in the greater China area