This was a vocabulary term in one of my Chinese textbooks: “Zhonghua Minguo.” The definition: “the Republic of China (1912 – present, the government moved to Taiwan in 1949).”

“… So, wait …” I started. That didn’t make sense.

Were you confused, too, dear reader? China’s government was where? Taiwan? Since when? Wasn’t it in Beijing?

I know, right? I live in a home that’s a stone’s throw from the iconic Forbidden City, former headquarters of China’s government. I wasn’t sure what I was reading.

But once I saw “Taiwan,” I knew it would be a touchy subject.

I’m not going to attempt to explain all this. The intricacies in China’s history are too much for a pithy column like mine. I would, of course, encourage you do some research. But more importantly, I’d encourage you to approach it with an open mind.

See, the 20th century in China was a big deal. The gist of that vocabulary term, Zhonghua Minguo, refers to the time just before and after the Communist party took power in China. The previous government fled to Taiwan, and a new government took over mainland China. You may have heard about this tension between China and Taiwan. Didn’t that island belong to China? Yet wait, didn’t Taiwan have their own government?

See how tricky this all gets?

As an expat in China, I learned quickly how touchy these topics are. Imagine the gun control and abortion debates in America — that’s how strongly people here feel about Taiwan.

So, as I did in America, I’ve avoided the sore spots. Kept things casual.

A lot of folks may hate my passivity, but I avoid these discussions because, well, they’re often not discussions at all. They’re shouting matches from folks seeing only their own side of things. The only reason I ventured into this conversational minefield with my teacher was because I trusted it wouldn’t be so biased. Instead, I hoped it would be a chance for education and understanding.

I only saw Taiwan the way many foreigners do — as its own country. It sort of bothered me when I heard the mainland China perspective. I’d sit on my idiotic high horse of allegedly superior foreign education rather than really listen to how people in China felt. Which is strange, because I always sat through both sides of the debate back home. In China, though, I didn’t always take off those foreigner-tinted glasses.

At the end of class, I told my teacher this — how I needed to approach everything abroad this way. She agreed that we all need to.

And while it may not have changed my opinion, our class made me feel more educated about that opinion. More than that, it made me more sure than ever that this kind of mature conversation was one thing we all needed a whole hell of a lot more of.

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