TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Koo Lingyang's three-paneled painting, "The Past, the Present, and the Future," could almost have been created by anyone who fled to Taiwan from the mainland when civil war tore China apart 50 years ago.
In "The Past," the Communists' red banner duels with the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party's flag above a burning village as a beggar looks on.
Mr. Koo, a retired Kuomintang soldier, says his art represents "the broken lives, traditions, families, and future of a generation of Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait" that he hopes to see healed through reunification with the mainland.
But his Taiwanese-born filmmaker daughter says Beijing's ongoing threats of reunion by force are alienating Taiwan, and adds that the island is beginning to forge its own identity.
A new era of democracy and free speech is exposing long-hidden splits in how the island views itself, and a sharp contrast is emerging between resident migrants from mainland China and their descendants over Taiwan's destiny.
The two views are part of a great debate in Taiwan over how traditional Chinese values and democracy, local culture and global links should shape the island's future.
Taiwan's 21 million residents are trying to decide whether to move toward or away from mainland Chinese civilization, which could set in motion the tides of war or peace across the Taiwan Strait.
A 1949 cease-fire halted fighting between the Communists and Nationalists, and Beijing has since stated that any declaration of independence would reignite the war.
Memories of the war, or fears of a new one, continue to ripple throughout Taiwan society.
Koo says when the defeated Kuomintang forces arrived here, leader "Chiang Kai Shek kept telling us that we would soon retake the mainland, that Taiwan was only a temporary resting ground." Instead, the days of separation stretched out into"half a lifetime."
In the second panel of his painting, China and Taiwan are separated not by a waterway, but by jagged, barbed wire that cuts through a divided heart; on the mainland rests the gravestone of Koo's ancestors, and on Taiwan, his children.
"The painting hit me like a thunderbolt," says Koo Shaoyu, the painter's daughter. "My father never talked about the depth of his sadness, of his split longing for China and Taiwan.
"When I was 5, my father began drawing maps for me of Fujian [the Chinese province opposite Taiwan], and explained how to return home after the war was over," she says. "So I always thought I had two homes."
That sense of division still compels the elder Koo and other members of the "mainland generation" in Taiwan to push for a cross-China rapprochement.
But many youths say the vision of Chinese and Taiwanese living under one flag may be an ideal that is fading as the mainland migrants pass into history.
"In college, I began to think of my father's stories of ... having roots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait as fairy tales," says Koo Shaoyu."My home, my family, my friends are all here, and Beijing's military threats have transformed the mainland from a romanticized motherland into a dangerous stranger."
China's firing of live missiles during Taiwan's first free presidential elections shattered the mainland's relatively benign image.
"The civil war is over," says Koo. "But the Communists revived the war-time anger of the past by launching missiles at us, and that has hurt support for reunification."
He hopes to see the divides caused by the communist revolution healed with the peaceful evolution of democracy on the mainland.
While radical communists destroyed China's social, philosophical, and religious foundations, he says, all have survived in Taiwan. "Taiwan should move ... Confucian thought, Buddhism, and other Chinese values across the strait" to recreate a common culture, he adds.
When the Kuomintang fled here, it transformed Taiwan into a miniature China: Temples and schools were named after their mainland counterparts. Residents were forced to speak guoyu, or the national language, and a generation of local culture was wiped out in a campaign to Sinicize the island.
Yet the past decade has seen a "revival of Taiwan's native literature, art, dance, music, and drama," says Tu Weiming, a China scholar at Harvard University.
Koo's daughter says a new culture is evolving here that combines elements of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Western thought, while nationalism is becoming the driving force across the strait. The distinct futures being mapped out by Taiwan and the mainland, she adds, are unlikely to converge.
"Of course we want closer contacts ... but I would never support reunification - that would only start new conflicts over political systems," she says. Yet she also rules out a confrontational call for independence.
"Both reunification and independence are extreme words," she says.
"A lot of young people look at the past strife ... and they don't want to relive the battles fought by earlier generations," she says. "Maybe the only way to avoid another explosive split with the mainland is for Taiwan to settle on something between reunion and independence, a gray area to stake out our future."