The ‘One China’ thing can be really annoying sometimes

Found out why I wasn’t getting a magazine subscription I ordered a couple of months ago.

First a capsule history: China used to by run by an emperor. The emperor ceded Taiwan to Japan. Then the Nationalists (KMT) overthrew the emperor and established the Republic of China government. The Communists started a civil war to overthrow the Nationalists to make China communist. Meanwhile Japan was invading parts of eastern China. After WWII, Japan abandoned their claim to Chinese territories, including Taiwan. The civil war then picked up steam with the communists eventually capturing from the Nationalists all territories except Taiwan which continues to be administered by the Republic of China government, while the communist territory is administered by the People’s Republic of China government. Each side has maintained a general policy that their government is the rightful government of all Chinese territories, while various countries have established diplomatic relations with one side or the other, and maintain a ‘One China’ policy. ‘One China’ policy is an intentionally vague concept which various sides try to interpret as meaning different things at different times. It’s hard to write all this up in an objective way, but I think that comes pretty close.

The terminology I prefer to use is to refer to the People’s Republic of China or PRC when referring to the communist government ruling the mainland, and Republic of China or ROC when referring to the government ruling Taiwan. When referring to one or the other geographically, I use the terms China for the PRC bits and Taiwan for the ROC bits. While somewhat inaccurate, that’s the terminology that most people are familiar with. Sometimes though, I have to use the term ‘Chinese Taipei’ because that’s one of the few terms the PRC finds acceptable for referring to Taiwan in international groups it participates in, and will refuse to participate when groups use other terminology.

For my mailing address, I usually use “Taiwan ROC” as the country. This combines the form most people are familiar with and the abbreviation for the proper name of the governmental entity. Alternatively, “Taiwan” or “Taiwan Republic of China” would probably work fine, though spelling out “China” like that will confuse some people, as would just writing “Republic of China”.

Because this is all very confusing, and because the PRC often objects when they see certain references to Taiwan or the Republic of China, there’s often some very creative ways people have come up with to refer to Taiwan in their ordering systems. It’s common to see such things as “Taiwan, Province of China”, “Taiwan, China”, or “Chinese Taipei” in some ordering systems. These forms are variously confusing, inaccurate, and in some cases intentionally demeaning. And they can all lead to mail going astray.

So back in the middle of January, I decided to order a subscription to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. With most subscriptions, I have them sent to my US address and pick them up on my occasional trips. The difference in cost for F&SF was not that much, so I decided to have it sent directly here. I don’t remember what they had in place back then, but currently they have a free-form box to enter the country yourself, so chances are I put in “Taiwan ROC” or maybe “Taiwan”. I got an email confirmation that said to allow up to 12 weeks for International subscriptions to start, so I waited until a few days ago and then shot off an email to them asking what’s up.

The response was sadly that they have invented yet another broken way to write my address, and were sending my issues to “PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA”. And even more sadly, though I’d included my correct mailing address in my email to them, they only noticed that the postal code was different. (We just expanded from three digit to five digit postal codes, and both old and new still work, just like both 5 and 9 digit zip codes in the US still both work.) My reply was quite restrained, given that “Wrong country, DUMBASS!” would probably not be too far out of line. I will make sure they extend my subscription as well as soon as they sort it out.

4 thoughts on “The ‘One China’ thing can be really annoying sometimes”

  1. I’ve always used “Taiwan, R.O.C.” myself, on the rare occasions I had to send mail to private parties there.

    My local library has readers from the PRC (as I was always used to calling the “zhongguorenmingongheguo” (a.k.a. the part with Beijing in it) and I was fascinated to see several stories in there about Taiwan. The setup is they have some kids visiting other kids in “Taiwan Province” who are so used to the weather there, they don’t know about snow, etc. But it’s very clear it’s just a province.

    It was cool the early readers had pinyin (including tone marks) on all the characters.

    Alas, the only Taiwan-affiliated (using original characters and all that) readers there are ones designed for foreign-born Chinese kids in the US, so I have no idea what readers in Taiwan itself are like. These ones have several stories devoted to “I am American! But I am also Chinese!” and the like in the early ones, and are mostly set in California.

    FWIW both versions of Harry Potter are available.


  2. Your summary of Taiwan’s history is pretty good, but leaves out some of the most important details. In particular, after WWII, the military forces of Chiang Kai-shek were directed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to come to Taiwan to accept the surrender of Japanese troops. That mission was completed on Oct. 25, 1945, thus marking the beginning of military occupation of Formosa and the Pescadores. However, military occupation does not transfer sovereignty. In December of 1949, the ROC went into exile on Taiwan. In the post-war peace treaty which came into effect on April 28, 1952, the sovereignty of Formosa and the Pescadores was not awarded to the ROC.


  3. It is difficult in a capsule history to include everything someone might find important. The treaty of 1952 did not specify who Japan was returning sovereignty of Taiwan to, which is why I only said that they abandoned their claim to Chinese territories. This is indeed one of those unresolved issues that leads different people to argue in favor of different points of view as being fact. The only fact that I can derive from this is that the PRC government has never had sovereignty over Taiwan, and some would even argue against that as being fact. Whether you believe the ROC government gained sovereignty over Taiwan or not is a matter of opinion. Some have even argued from this that the US, the liberating force that drove Japan from Taiwan is the one which gained sovereignty. My opinion is that the ROC government was the one to gain sovereignty, but I will grant that the situation is murky enough to allow for many different opinions.


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