In East Asia's subtly acted drama of the ''two Chinas'' there is a lesser-known subplot: the story of the ''two Taiwans.''
The first is the familiar Taiwan, created by the Kuomintang (KMT)--Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists who took over Taiwan in 1949. The United States sells it millions of dollars of military equipment a year. Peking sends it attractive reunification proposals.
The second is the less well-known Taiwan of the Taiwanese.
The native islanders have little say in their own government. It is controlled by the so-called ''mainlanders''--the 15 percent who fled here in 1949.
But go walking and motorcycle-dodging in Taipei and you'll see no open rebellion--no riots, demonstrations, or boycotts. In fact, even among the Taiwanese, President Chiang Ching-kuo--unlike his government--enjoys a widespread popularity that one government figure describes as the traditional Chinese adulation of a father figure.
It is an adulation that can hold back political reform.
Taiwan is a fast-paced, developing island with a six-day workweek. City streets are full of deafening traffic jams and choking pollution. Everyone is busy.
People frequently claim to have little time for talking politics. But it's not just a lack of time; it's an instinct to avoid destructive controversy, to keep a strong economy primed, and to ward off unsettling change.
Under that surface of busy normality, strange things sometimes happen. A Taiwanese professor returns to Taiwan to visit his family, is interrogated by a branch of the island's security network. Later he is found dead, apparently murdered by unknown assailants. A Taiwan Air Force pilot defects, making an unscheduled landing in China, and the incident is initially hushed up.
There is little or no public response to such events among the Taiwanese. At least it does not show up in the Kuomintang-controlled news media, or on the streets, or in front of Taipei's government bureaus.
But two distinct groups of Taiwanese--one moderate, the other more radical--are acting to influence the island's future:
* The moderate oppositionists are in Taiwan. They advocate the democratic principle of majority rule. Thus they oppose the KMT's martial-law rule, which has been in effect since 1949. However, because they do not challenge the KMT's claim to be the government of all China, they are not considered an immediate threat to the authorities. They are allowed an on-again, off-again voice in the public arena.
* The ''independence movement,'' however, takes a radical stand for Taiwan autonomy. It challenges head-on the KMT's contention that because it is the government of all China, it has the right to rule the ''province'' of Taiwan. Revolution, some members of the movement contend, is the only way to achieve self-government.
Most members of this wide-ranging and amorphous group are in the US or Japan. They are allowed neither voice nor place in Taiwan.
But they claim to have a strong following in Taiwan among the peasant and worker classes. And they appear to have growing influence among Taiwanese who attend university in the US.
Both moderates and radicals express themselves in print, the moderates within Taiwan, the radicals outside. Leading the moderates is Kang Ning-hsiang, longtime member of Taiwan's legislature and publisher of the island's most respected opposition journals.
Kang makes no waves. In an interview, much of what he says does not drift far from the official KMT line. He says that now is a time for less public outspokenness and more silent action.
What Kang means by that, says one Western observer, is to attract young Taiwanese candidates for the legislature--young people who have roots in Taiwan and a stake in its future. In this way, the strength of the legislature (currently a weak branch of the government) can be built so that it will in future serve as a powerful catalyst for government reform. It could then become an effective check and balance for the powerful executive branch of what one American expert calls the ''family-run KMT government.''
Although Taiwan's security and police bureaus have no problem slapping radical dissidents in jail, they find Kang hard to deal with, according to one observer. Kang is unpredictable. He knows the intricate workings of the internal security police. So they can't pin him down.
If it silenced Kang, the KMT would damage its public image. And KMT credibility, according to Kang and many of his colleagues, is already in trouble among Taiwanese businessmen and educators, who view the government's inefficiencies as a growing obstruction to economic well-being.
Political magazines - including Kang's--have a precarious existence in Taiwan. Antonio Chiang will attest to that. He met Kang when he covered the legislature for the China Times, one of Taipei's biggest newspapers. The China Times is known to be carefully controlled by the KMT.
Chiang was a frustrated reporter. Most of his copy (his beat was politics) got censored. So, after eight years of reporting for the establishment, Chiang was easily pursuaded to edit the opposition magazines--even with a 50 percent cut in pay.
But the frustration wasn't over. One of the magazines, The Eighties, was banned the day after the ''Kaohsiung incident'' of Dec. 10, 1979.
That incident (a rally that led to violence and arrests) was a turning point for all oppositionists--moderate and radical. It sapped their strength, Kang told this reporter. But at the same time, he says, the Kaoshiung incident raised a new political awareness among the Taiwanese when the US withdrew diplomatic relations. And, Kang added, KMT propaganda consequently reached new heights.
The rally was originally intended to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it ended with violence--incited, according to many observers, by KMT-sponsored rabblerousers. Those accused of initiating the violence were indicted on charges of sedition and jailed.
Two other journals that Chiang edits, the Current and the Asian, were banned for a year each after the Kaohsiung incident. Neither Chiang nor anyone else at the magazines' offices professes to know what the specific objection of the Garrison Command, a security bureau, was. The notice on the door read:
''This publication is banned because it is destructive to the public spirit and divisive of the relationship between the government and the people.''
The magazines (now back in circulation) have a high-quality look about them--bright three-color covers artistically designed with a literary look and style. Opinion leaders are the targeted audience. Much of the content is written by graduate students, professors, and young professionals. Most use pseudonyms. Political cartoons are printed cautiously, as they are a Western phenomenon new to Chinese society, according to Mr. Chiang.
The most popular item in the magazines is the controversial ''Taipei Topic.'' It includes commentary on debates within government circles, relations among officials, government investments in private business, criticism of the media, election ethics, and KMT connections overseas.
Another subject, very close to the hearts of their publishers, is covered extensively by the opposition editors: Taiwan's national identity. The KMT-controlled school system teaches children Chinese mainland history, geography, and culture--but doesn't teach the students anything about their own homeland.
Yet Taiwanese children seem able to maintain a sense of national identity different from the one they get in the classroom.
As one American analyst describes the situation, many Taiwanese students who study in the US and Europe want to return and use their education to Taiwan's benefit. Not so with the children of mainlanders.
''They have no reason to go back --no homeland. So the mainlander elite is not reproducing itself,'' says the analyst.
This is exactly what the moderate oppositionists hope for--a war of attrition in which the results are a generation of spirited, well-educated young Taiwanese and the demise of what they see as incestuous and inefficient KMT-style government.
By contrast the Taiwan independence movement in the US speaks with a more revolutionary zeal. In the US, these radicals publish magazines, circulate newsletters, give speeches, correspond with friends and constituents in Taiwan, testify before US House and Senate hearings, and compete with KMT activity on American university campuses.
Hsu Hsin-liang, an ex-patriate Taiwanese revolutionary and founder of Formosa Weekly--the publication that initiated the peace rally later dubbed the ''Kaohsiung incident''--speaks for the Taiwan independence movement in the United States.
Hsu agrees with most of the questions raised by more moderate compatriots. But he wants to push those questions further. He contends that the Kuomintang authorities are sitting on a kind of populist volcano, which has been building pressure since early in the current regime. He says this volcano will have to erupt in the form of a populist revolution.
He asserts government reform cannot be an evolutionary process in Taiwan. The KMT will never allow its power to be jeopardized. And he scoffs at the suggestion that the KMT elite is succumbing to ''survival of the fittest'' theories. ''I don't think we can change the basic system with only democratic ways,'' Hsu says. ''You have no real democracy in Taiwan. If there were, the opposition would control the major slate. I'm organizing for revolutionary forces here.''
His magazine is one of his means of organizing support for the uprising. But Hsu maintains that Formosa Weekly is only a bubble on the surface of the hot spring. He seems certain that there is little he or his US-based publishing and speaking effort can do to improve or promote the antigovernment movement he says is steadily building on its own in Taiwan.
Formosa Weekly by no means has the political pull it used to have. It was founded in August 1979 as the figurehead and ''institutional structure,'' as one supporter describes it, of a new political party. The first issue ''broke all records'' for new magazines on Taiwan, printing 52,000 copies and then reprinting another 10,000 for a second edition. But it was banned just months later at the time of the Kaohsiung incident, which was initiated and advertised by Hsu and his colleagues from Formosa Weekly headquarters in cities across Taiwan. It is now published in Los Angeles and maintains a US circulation of only 3,000.
After serving in the elected office of provincial assemblyman for five years, Hsu was elected Taoyuan County magistrate in 1977. He was suspended by the KMT in June 1979--discipline for his controversial political activities. By September, three months before the Kaohsiung incident, his coalition colleagues were all arrested. Hsu had already left Taiwan.
According to one of Hsu's supporters, his election was the ''first major, successful mobilization of the population--a period of new awakening. Just at this time a new generation was coming of age.''
That generation, this Hsu supporter contends, was willing for the first time to ''use the power of the population against the government.'' The strategy was to form a ''unified rank of candidates, holding a congress,'' and, based on an established platform, call for immediate abolition of martial law and reelection of Taiwan's entire central government.
Such unified political audacity seemed unprecedented in Taiwan's history. Even Kang Ning-hsiang could not support such a dangerous stance and dropped out. His stand was for only gradual reform - not for immediate change in the central government, nor for social or agricultural reform.
But this spurt of effort collapsed when the entire Formosa Weekly and coalition leadership was jailed after the Kaohsiung incident. None of the central circle are still at large in Taiwan.
Hsu insists that the dissatisfactions allowed to surface for that brief time run deep and steady. The democratic movement, he says, is not over. When asked if revolution in Taiwan would encourage the People's Republic of China to take over the island, he said, ''I never worry about that. If the people rise up, that means that Taiwan (would be) stronger than (at) any time before . . . and the PRC could do nothing.''
Many on Taiwan would take issue with the assertion that an uprising on the island would decrease the threat from the People's Republic. As one longtime observer of Taiwan affairs puts it, ''Moderation, above all, is a basic attribute of the people on Taiwan.'' They revere that quality because, many believe, it promotes stability, avoids offending the US, keeps the economy healthy, and decreases the danger of a takeover by mainland China.