On July 31 Taiwan’s badminton duo Li Yang (李洋) and Wang Ch’i-lin (王齊麟) won the country’s first Olympic gold after defeating China’s Liu Yuchen (刘雨辰) and Li Junhui (李俊慧).

Li Junhui later issued a statement on China’s micro-blogging platform Weibo claiming that Taiwan’s victory was also a victory for China.

“Sorry, we did our best, but regardless of the outcome, we thank our great motherland,” Li wrote. “Congratulations to our China’s Taipei team.”

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Taiwan is part of its territory and has vowed to use force to seize it if all “peaceful” options are exhausted. In his July 1 speech on the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), President Xi Jinping said:

“Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China … We must take resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward ‘Taiwan independence,’ and work together to create a bright future for national rejuvenation.”

Taiwan competes in the Olympics under the name “Chinese Taipei” and a special Olympic flag that features a white sun on a blue circle and the five Olympic rings, enclosed by the outline of Taiwan’s flower, the Plum Blossom.

The disputes surrounding Taiwan’s name and flag date back to the late 1940s and highlight its complex history as well as its fraught relations with the PRC.

China’s Qing dynasty was forced to cede Taiwan to Japan in 1895 after a war between the two countries. In 1911 – 1912, the Qing dynasty was overthrown by a group of revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen and the Republic of China (ROC) was established.

In 1945 the defeated Japanese empire handed over Taiwan to the ROC according to the Cairo Declaration of 1943, which stated that “all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.”

However, in 1949 the ROC government itself was overthrown by the Communists led by Mao Zedong after a protracted civil war. The ROC government and troops retreated to Taiwan, while Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the PRC in Beijing.

The All-China Sports Federation (中華全國體育協進會, ACSF), which had been founded in mainland China on July 1924, relocated to Taiwan with the ROC government. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) at that time maintained that the China’s Olympic Committee had simply moved to Taiwan. But in 1960 the IOC Executive Board insisted that the ROC must compete under the name Taiwan/Formosa.

As more countries began to switch diplomatic ties from the ROC to the PRC, the issue of the ROC’s Olympic team name became highly contested. In 1976 the ROC boycotted the Montréal Olympics because Canada refused to let the country participate under its name (Mallon, B., Buchanan, I., Heijmans, J. (2011). Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement, pp. 78-79).

Canada had recognized the PRC diplomatically in 1970. The Canada-PRC Joint Communiqué stated: “The Chinese Government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Canadian Government takes note of this position of the Chinese Government.” Canada further recognized the PRC as “the sole legal Government of China.”

The IOC and the ROC government struck a deal in March 1981 which allowed Taiwan to compete under the name “Chinese Taipei” (中華台北).

The name is controversial in Taiwan. Last Friday a number of Taiwanese associations launched the ‘Call Us Team Taiwan, Let’s Go Taiwan’ initiative, arguing that there is a “need to avoid a mix-up, as some have mistaken Taiwanese athletes as coming from China.”

Taiwan has competed in the Olympic Games under various names: the Republic of China (1956), Taiwan/Formosa (1960), Taiwan (1964-1972), and Chinese Taipei (1984-present). In the Olympic Winter Games, it competed as Taiwan (1972-1976) and then as Chinese Taipei (1984-present).

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