Free area of the Republic of China

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Free area of the
Republic of China
Traditional Chinese 中華民國自由地區
Simplified Chinese 中华民国自由地区
Taiwan area
Traditional Chinese 臺灣地區
Simplified Chinese 台湾地区
Taiwan Area of the Republic of China

The Free area of the Republic of China is a legal and political description referring to the territories under the actual control by the government of the Republic of China (ROC),[1] consisting of the island groups of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and some minor islands. As the island of Taiwan is the main component of the whole area, it is therefore also referred to as the "Taiwan Area of the Republic of China" or simply the "Taiwan Area" (Chinese: 臺灣地區). The term "Tai-Peng-Kin-Ma" (Chinese: 台澎金馬) is also equivalent except that it only refers to the four main islands of the region - Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.[2]

The term is opposed to "mainland area of the Republic of China", which reflects the territory that was lost to the Chinese Communist Party following the Chinese Civil War and is used in the "Additional Articles to the Constitution of the Republic of China" in order to grant political authority to the people of the free area[citation needed] without renouncing the ROC's territorial claims over mainland China.


Map showing the free area of the Republic of China (in dark blue) and the territories the ROC government claims.

The term "free area" or "Free China" was used during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) to describe the territories under the control of the Kuomintang (KMT) government in Chongqing (at the time romanised as Chungking) (as opposed to the parts of China under Japanese occupation, including Nanjing (Nanking) the capital of the Republic of China until the Japanese invasion in 1937).

The Japanese occupation ended with the imperial surrender in 1945, but the term "Free China" was soon to acquire a new meaning in the context of the early Cold War. Following the CCP victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the newly inaugurated People's Republic of China solidified its control of mainland China, while the Kuomintang government retreated to Taiwan and selected Taipei to serve as the provisional capital of the Republic of China. Mainland China was officially considered to be in a state of "Temporary Communist Rebellion" (this "Period of Communist Rebellion" would be officially terminated by the ROC government in 1991), and furthermore all territories still under Nationalist administration were said to constitute the "Free Area" of China.

Prior to the Battle of Dachen Archipelago in 1955, the Free Area also encompassed a group of islands off Zhejiang, up to then part of the ROC province of Chekiang. The islands have since been administered exclusively by the PRC.


Various names used to describe the geopolitical area include:

  • Taiwan Area (Chinese: 臺灣地區; pinyin: Táiwān dìqū) - referring to the general area surrounding the island of Taiwan
  • Taiwan-Penghu-Kinmen-Matsu Area (Chinese: 臺澎金馬地區; pinyin: Tái-Pēng-Jīn-Mǎ dìqū) - referring to the four main regions of the ROC under its administrative control
  • Tai-Peng-Kin-Ma (Chinese: 臺澎金馬; pinyin: Tái-Pēng-Jīn-Mǎ) - abbreviation formed from the first character of the four locations of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu
  • Tai-Min region or Taiwan-Fukien region (Chinese: 臺閩地區; pinyin: Tái-Mǐn dìqū) - referring to the two provinces of the ROC under actual administration, Taiwan Province encompassing the islands of Taiwan and Penghu and Fujian Province, ROC encompassing the Kinmen and Matsu islands. 閩 Mǐn is the traditional abbreviation for Fujian.
  • Free Area (Chinese: 自由地區; pinyin: Zìyóu dìqū) - "free" referring to the area that is not under control by the Communist Party of China

Legal use

With President Chiang Kai-shek, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower waved to onlookers during his visit to Taipei, Taiwan, in June 1960.

The term "free area of the Republic of China" has persisted to the present day in the ROC legislation. The Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China delegates numerous rights to exercise the sovereignty of the state, including that of electing the president and legislature, to citizens residing in the "free area of the Republic of China." This term was first used in the Constitution with the promulgation of the first set of amendments to the Constitution in 1991 and has been retained in the most recent revision passed in 2005.

The need to use the term "free area" in the Constitution arose out of the discrepancy between the notion that the Republic of China was the sole legitimate government of China and the pressures of the popular sovereignty movement. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were demands, particularly by the Tangwai movement and other groups opposed to one-party authoritarian KMT rule, to restructure the ROC government, long dominated by mainlanders, to be more representative of the Taiwanese people it governed. For example, until 1991, members of the National Assembly and Legislative Yuan elected in 1948 to serve mainland constituencies remained in their posts indefinitely and the President of the Republic of China was to be elected by this same "ten thousand year parliament" (萬年國會) dominated by aging KMT members. However, more conservative politicians, while acquiescing to the need for increased democracy, feared that constitutional changes granting localized sovereignty would jeopardize the ROC government's claims as the legitimate Chinese government and thereby promote Taiwan independence.

"Protect Kinmen and Matsu" postage stamp set, ROC, 1959

According to the Constitution, promulgated in 1947 before the fall of mainland China to the Communists, the national borders of the Republic of China could only be changed through a vote by the National Assembly (amendments passed in 2005 transferred this power to the electorate through the method of referendum). In the absence of such constitutional changes, the Republic of China's official borders were to be regarded as all of mainland China and Outer Mongolia (including Tannu Uriankhai) in addition to the territories it controlled. (Until the mid-2000s, maps published in Taiwan depicted mainland provincial and national boundaries as they were in 1949, disregarding changes by the Communist administration post-1949.)

While the 1991 revisions of the Constitution granted the sovereignty rights to the Taiwanese people, it did not explicitly name Taiwan and instead used the term "free area" to maintain the notion that the Republic of China encompassed more than Taiwan. In ordinary legislation, the term "Taiwan Area" is usually used, especially in contexts of trade and exchange. In contrast to the "free area" is the "mainland area", which the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area defines as "the territory of the Republic of China outside the Taiwan Area." However, on more practical grounds, the "mainland area" refers simply to mainland China.

In addition, there are two other Acts defining other "areas": the "Hong Kong Area" and the "Macau Area". The hand-over of these former European colonies to the People's Republic of China necessitated laws governing the relations of the Taiwan Area with them. The Acts are worded in a manner to avoid discussing whether the Republic of China claims sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macau..


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