As China prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many people in Taiwan will not be celebrating what for them is the loss of a civil war.
They will instead see the event as a reminder of a major turning point in history that dramatically impacted their lives.
“This was a historical tragedy - Chinese people fighting Chinese people. So many lives were lost, so many families ruined. It’s the biggest shame of Chinese people,” said Huang Shih-chung, an 84-year-old retired general who fought in the war against the Communists for the Nationalist side.
“I really hope... Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait will not forget the lives lost.”
Outside mainland China, Taiwan is the place most directly affected by Communist China’s founding on 1 October 1949.
The Nationalist or Kuomintang (KMT) army led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island after its defeat by Communist troops.
About two million refugees from China, including hundreds of thousands of soldiers, fled to the island - changing its political, economic and social structure, and leaving behind a legacy still strong today.
Mr Huang, a 24-year-old army major at the time, was one of the people who fled to Taiwan in 1949.
He joined the army to fight the Japanese, and did not expect that after Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II, in 1945, he would have to fight his own people.
When he had to retreat to Taiwan in 1949, he had no time to tell his family in his native Anhui province in eastern China. To this day, he does not know what happened to his parents, whom he believes died in the anti-Japanese war.
He also does not know the whereabouts of his only sibling - a younger sister.
Like many mainland Chinese people who had relatives in Taiwan, especially in the Kuomintang military, she was persecuted during China’s Cultural Revolution, especially because Huang’s family was of the land-owning class.
“I heard later she was sent to (northwest China’s) Xinjiang region to do hard labour. It’s impossible for me to find her now, and it would be impossible for her to find me,” said Huang.
His story is typical - many of the people who fled here have lost contact with their families back home.
Deborah Kuo, a local journalist whose parents both fled China for Taiwan, said her mother’s strong yearnings to contact her family indirectly led to the death of a relative.
Wanting to send a letter to her cousin in Sichuan province, her mother had her elder brother mail the letter from overseas, but the Communist authorities discovered it had originated from Taiwan, she said.
They put the cousin and her husband through days of interrogations, leading to the husband jumping out of the window to his death. “He could not stand the pressure,” Ms Kuo said.
Responsibility to history
Despite what happened in the past, Ms Kuo and others whose relatives suffered under the Communists say they are happy that China has developed.
“As an offspring of mainlander parents, I feel great for China that it has been able to achieve [so much],” she said.
Ms Kuo plans to write a book about her mother so that her sons, who show little interest in China, will understand history and how it affected their family.
“It’s my responsibility to write it down; if I do not, the younger generation will know nothing about their history,” she said.
Many young people in Taiwan have never stepped foot in China despite its proximity - they are more interested in Japanese and Western culture.
In a sign perceptions have changed over the past six decades, many Taiwanese do not see the weaponry to be displayed in China’s military parade to mark the 60th anniversary as necessarily aimed at Taiwan, but more as a symbol of China’s rise and power.
One young Taiwanese soldier, Kyle Shih, quipped that his main reason for watching the parade was “to see the Chinese female soldiers parading in their mini-skirts.”
More seriously, he said he had made friends with mainlanders when he studied in the US, but that as a soldier he is restricted from travelling to China.
“I would love to go to China. I would like to know more about how they think,” he said.
Increased interaction between young people could spell a new chapter of peaceful relations, he added.
The 84-year-old retired General Huang Shih-chung said both sides must remember the cost of the civil war.
“We really hope Chinese people won’t kill each other and go to war because of differences,” he said.
Huang plans to visit China this year, for the first time in 60 years.