Taiwan was claimed by China’s Manchu dynasty in 1683 after large-scale immigration from the Chinese mainland to the island.
Japan gained control of Taiwan in 1895 after defeating China in the first Sino-Japanese war. The Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek took Taiwan back at the end of World War II, and retreated to the island following its overthrow by Mao Zedong and his communists in 1949. The two sides then waged their own Cold War — two dictatorships each claiming to be the sole government of all of China.
The United States staunchly backed anti-communist Taiwan. But after the Nixon administration achieved detente with Mao, Taiwan’s U.N. seat was awarded to Beijing. In 1979 Washington recognized Beijing as the government of China and severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but continued to maintain close quasi-official ties.
China launched far reaching economic reforms in the 1980s that would transform it into a global economic powerhouse. However, it has remained a one-party communist state.
Taiwan began to shed the mantle of Chiang’s Nationalist Party dictatorship in the mid-1980s. It held its first direct presidential election in 1996, and four years later elected Chen Shui-bian as president, ending the Nationalists’ half-century monopoly on power.