After the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894/95, by signing the Treaty of Shimonoseki on April 17th, 1895, China was originally forced to concede Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity. At the end, Japanese rule only lasted for half a century.
Taiwan Retrocession Day, which commemorates the end of the colonial period on October 25th, 1945, had been a public holiday since 1946 until the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government on December 30th, 2000 amended the Implementation Regulations on Memorial Days and Holidays to remove Retrocession Day’s its traditional status.
According to the official position of the Nationalist KMT, which took over the island after Japan’s defeat in World War II and ruled it alone until the turn of the 21st century, Taiwan officially returned to the domain of the Republic of China (ROC), established in Nanking in 1912.
For Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), Nationalist forces had liberated Taiwan and therefore had a right to embrace it. In fact, it was essentially a result of serious US efforts after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, especially the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945.
Following the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War on July 7th, 1937, the Chinese were definitely not fighting to free other countries from colonial rule. It was a struggle for the survival of the Chinese nation, with Taiwan as a Japanese colony on the opposite side.
The Potsdam Declaration on July 26th, 1945 about the Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender, which included those of the Cairo Declaration on November 27th, 1943, required Japan to give back all conquered territories, including Taiwan to China.
With the Japanese down on their knees, the supreme commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), entrusted Taiwan’s post-war administration to Chiang. Officials who accepted the Japanese capitulation were all representatives of the Allies and didn’t speak for the ROC in the strict sense of the word.
In addition, Taiwanese Independentists argue that it didn’t effect a transfer of sovereignty. US President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) on June 27th, 1950 confirmed Taiwan’s “undetermined status”.
Great Britain reiterated this viewpoint on May 4th, 1955: “The Chinese Nationalists began a military occupation of Formosa in 1945. However, these areas were under Japanese sovereignty until 1952.”
Japan’s permanent renouncement of sovereignty over Taiwan was indeed officially confirmed with the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty between Nippon and the Allied powers on September 8th, 1951 and the subsequent Peace Treaty between Japan and the ROC on April 8th, 1952. Nevertheless, neither treaty designated a specific country as the recipient of the renounced sovereignty.
The DPP considers the handover a lost opportunity for Taiwan to emerge as an independent entity in the postwar era. It strongly rejects the idea of Taiwan being taken back by China.
In consequence, it started downplaying the date during its first two terms of presidency from 2000 to 2008. Sticking to this line, incumbent female DPP President Tsai Ying-wen decided not to mark its 75th anniversary at all.
After Wang Yang, the chairman of the (Communist) Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, stated on October 22nd that Taiwan’s retrocession proved that the island «has always been part of China,» DPP spokeswoman Yen Juo-fang fiercely criticized that the KMT was holding commemorative events on the occasion.
Former President Ma Ying-jeou responded that those only highlighted the close links between the ROC and Taiwan. They had nothing to do with Peking’s «One-China principle» that sees Taiwan as an unalienable part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Although rather China-friendly, Ma also said that Wang’s remark just showed some people’s «ignorance of historical facts» and their «confused national identity.»
For all inhabitants of Taiwan, whether they are aborigines of Austronesian ancestry or descendants of immigrants from the Chinese mainland who arrived as settlers over centuries ago or as refugees after the civil war in 1949, “Retrocession Day” marks the beginning of a new chapter.
It might be a misleading term and open to very different interpretations. Though due to its historic significance, all responsible Taiwanese presidents should profoundly reflect on its many repercussions and not simply ignore it.