Date: March 28, 2023 03:47PM
I'm impressed. Taiwan is one of those nooks and crannies of history, a bizarre little experiment that appeals to eccentrics like me. Now history. . .
China didn't exercise authority over Taiwan ever, really. In the 17th century Coxinga, a pirate, was based on the island and China basically ignored him. In 1895 Japan annexed the island and ran it as a colony until after WWII. As in Hong Kong, the French Concession and the Bund in Shanghai, and, to a lesser extent, Singapore, the prestigious government buildings in downtown Taipei were built by the Japanese.
When the tide turned in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), the Nationalist Party and most of its armies relocated to the island. The Taiwanese were happy when that happened because they wanted to be part of China and thought the Nationalists would be good rulers. Of that they were quickly disabused, for Chiang Kai-Shek's crowd were corrupt and ruthless. In 1947 an argument over a woman selling things on the street without a license escalated into the slaughter of 10-20,000 Taiwanese, creating rifts that have yet fully to heal. The Nationalists were in effect an occupation army supporting Chiang's dictatorship.
Enter the curious character Chiang Ching-Kuo (CCK), who was Chiang Kai-shek's son. When the Nationalists came to power on the mainland in the 1920s, they modeled themselves after the Soviet Union and its Communist Party. CKS sent his son to the USSR to learn about governance, and he stayed there for 13 years, grew fluent in the language, and even took a Russian wife. In China and on Taiwan, that son grew famous for visiting farmers and talking to the common people while his father ruled from on high, ignoring Taiwan and promising always to reconquer the mainland. He also quietly kept his wife and children out of the public eye and eventually fathered children with a Chinese paramour.
The father died in 1975 or 1976 and the son, CCK, took over. He was the one who had to deal with US derecognition in 1978-1979 and, as you note, also pushed for democracy in order to solidify the Nationalists' standing with the Taiwanese and to reinforce Taiwan's now-existential relationship with the United States. When he came to the end of his time in power, the son announced that none of his descendants would become president "because that doesn't happen in a democracy" and threw his support behind a native Taiwanese as his successor.
So you are right. Taiwan was not a democracy until the late 1980s.